Cheltenham Festival: O'Keeffe steers Sam Spinner towards Aintree after valuable lesson

TRAINER Jedd O'Keeffe has given stable star Sam Spinner a clean bill of health after the horse's fifth-place finish in the Grade One Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Sam Spinner has been given a clean bill of health after his Cheltenham heroics.

He suspects a slowish early pace did not play to the strengths of the Joe Colliver-ridden favourite who could reappear at Aintree next month before connections contemplate a possible switch to steeplechase fences.

“The horse is absolutely fine,” the North Yorkshire trainer told The Yorkshire Post. “He ate everything when he got home on Thursday night and trotted up beautifully. There are no cuts or wounds, everything is great with the horse.”

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A bargain £12,000 horse, Sam Spinner’s rise to prominence caught the public’s imagination. Here was a rags-to-to riches horse competing against the best; trained by a cancer survivor in O’Keeffe and ridden by a Sheffield-born jockey who has also had to overcome personal adversity.

The Willie Mullins-trained Penhill, left, clears the last in the Stayers' Hurdle.

Despite leading for most of the three-mile race, his jumping wasn’t foot perfect at a couple of flights because of the pedestrian pace and he just didn’t have enough to see off the Irish battalions headed by the victorious Penhill who won at Cheltenham last year, and who had been on the sidelines since last April.

As such, O’Keeffe draws comfort from the fact that his horse was beaten by an inspired piece of training by Willie Mullins, now the most successful trainer in National Hunt Festival history.

“We were surprised we were left alone to do our own thing so easily,” reflected O’Keeffe. “He ran a great race. In hindsight, a stronger pace would probably have suited us more.

“You have to remember he was still an inexperienced novice at the start of the season and was lining up as favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

The Willie Mullins-trained Penhill, left, clears the last in the Stayers' Hurdle.

“All the horses we beat in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot were behind us again.

“We are aiming for Aintree, but we will monitor him over the next week or so because we wouldn’t want to take too much out of him.”

O’Keeffe is convinced the horse wasn’t quite at his best – Colliver said Sam Spinner might have been distracted by the Cheltenham hubbub – and his Aintree run will have a significant bearing on whether the gelding is schooled over larger obstacles with next season in mind.

Stout stayer Hainan, fourth in last month’s Eider Chase at Newcastle, is due to represent Bingley trainer Sue Smith and jockey Danny Cook in today’s marathon Midlands National at Uttoxeter and should relish conditions.

The meeting, which must pass an early morning inspection because of heavy rain, is also due to see Smith’s Grand National contender I Just Know have an Aintree prep race in a novice hurdle.