The Gold Cup and Grand National-winning trainer had not tasted success since November 19 and while he has not had anywhere near the amount of runners usually associated with the yard for this time of year, going 61 runners and 50 days without a winner still represented a significant drought.
After Kelvingrove was beaten as favourite at Taunton earlier in the day, O’Neill must have thought the wait was going to be extended but with the help of Tony McCoy he can now look forward with a bit more enthusiasm.
It was not straightforward in the £210 Annual Membership Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race as the filly, second on her Newbury debut, proved wayward under the champion jockey and then had to move sharply close home to avoid a temporary rail, but they beat Nicky Henderson’s Clemency in a photo.
It wasn’t such a good day for Jake Launchbury after the teenager was banned for 21 days and Paige Fuller for 10 days after a dramatic conclusion to the Annual Members Racing Excellence “Hands And Heels” Handicap Chase.
David Bridgwater’s Bally Sands looked to have the race in the bag for Launchbury, who was having just his fourth ride under Rules.
However, he appeared set to go the wrong side of the final fence before Launchbury corrected his path very late, and nearly knocked over the Fuller-ridden Petit Ecuyer, who had followed.
Having lost momentum he had no answer when Martin Keighley’s Always Bold (12-1) and Conor Smith jumped to the front with Kings Apollo second.
Looking into the incident, the stewards found the riders were “negligent, in that by initially attempting to bypass the final fence, they had failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to obtain their best possible placing”.
Launchbury was suspended for 21 days, as the stewards considered that if he had ridden the most direct course he would have won the race.
Fuller was handed 10 days because the officials considered her actions could have materially affected her finishing position.
Bridgwater said: “Jake hasn’t taken the wrong course, ultimately.
“The lad is only 16 and looked like he was going to ride his first winner, so he’s a bit upset.
“I’m a bit upset, not because I’ve missed out on a winner, but because Jake and the young girl have been given very long bans and in their world they might not ride again for three months.
“She was the innocent victim, if anything.
“This was his Gold Cup, it’s been the plan for a long time, but that is secondary to me. He didn’t take the wrong course and I just feel very sorry for him. He feels bad enough as it is.”