Sam Spinner shakes up Stayers' market as O'Keeffe caps golden year
Jedd O'Keeffe's ambition is to train the winner of a Group 1 Flat race but a Grade 1 victory over jumps tasted just as sweet as he produced rapidly improving Sam Spinner to shake up the staying hurdle division.
This year has been the Middleham trainer's best on the Flat, including an 8,881-1 summer four-timer and a first Listed success, and it ended with confirmation he also trains a live Cheltenham Festival contender after Sam Spinner made all to beat L'Ami Serge and Unowhatimeanharry in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle.
O'Keeffe battled throat cancer in 2011 and faced financial ruin but, with the support of Sam Spinner's owners Paul and Caron Chapman, has fought back to establish a small but thriving operation.
Sam Spinner won a Catterick bumper in February 2016 and after just seven runs over hurdles is now vying for favouritism for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
'It's paid off'
"I'm absolutely thrilled," said O'Keeffe. "He was rated 136 at Chepstow and 139 at Haydock. He's shot up the rankings and we had to take a bit of a leap of faith to come here but it paid off. We've got quite a nice horse.
"His jumping wasn't as slick as I've seen it. Hopefully we can tidy that up and we might get another pound or two of improvement."
Under now regular partner Joe Colliver, Sam Spinner set out to make all and was never headed, despite the attentions of previous race winners Lil Rockerfeller, Unowhatimeanharry and finally L'Ami Serge.
"Gradually I could see Lil Rockerfeller weaken a bit and then Unowhatimeanharry coming under pressure, and then just started to think this might happen," said O'Keeffe. "Then L'Ami Serge came and I thought it wasn't going to happen, but it did.
"It's a landmark win. When people have asked me what's my ambition in racing I've always said I'd love to train a domestic Group 1 winner on the Flat, but this feels pretty good, a Grade 1 winner jumping. For a smallish trainer we have some nice horses."
Sam Spinner could now head straight to the festival, for which he is a top priced 6-1 for the Stayers' Hurdle, vying for the head of the market with defending champion Nichols Canyon.
'He couldn't get past'
L'Ami Serge travelled with his customary ease but again confirmed he is a hard horse to win with.
Trainer Nicky Henderson reflected: "He got there but he couldn't get past Sam Spinner. You think you've got there and can go past, but the winner's a very tough horse. Fair credit to him."
Unowhatimeanharry was beaten by a rival four years his junior but his yard is in the midst of a barren run.
Trainer Harry Fry said: "He wasn't good enough. He was beaten by younger legs and we have no excuses.
"The winner is a five-year-old going the right way and we couldn't live with him.
"Mine aren't red-hot at the moment – we've had one winner in the last fortnight. They clearly aren't firing on all cylinders but it's not like he was beaten a couple of lengths, he was beaten a long way."
He added: "I doubt he'll go for the Cleeve. We'll probably go straight to the Stayers' Hurdle. He'll be ten then so maybe needs a bit more time between races."
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