IT IS invariably said that good horses make good jockeys because of their class.
Yet North Yorkshire trainer Jedd O’Keeffe says the reverse is true when it comes to his top Cheltenham prospect Sam Spinner.
He believes Joe Colliver, one of the weighing room’s more unheralded riders, has been the making of his stable star, one of the favourites for the Grade One Stayers’ Hurdle at the National Hunt Festival.
Narrowly beaten on his seasonal reappearance in Chepstow’s Silver Trophy, Sam Spinner and Colliver were wide margin winners of Haydock’s Grade Three Stayers Hurdle last November.
They proved this was no fluke when winning the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last December after making every yard of the running to beat a competitive field.
Though it will require another tactically perfect ride to win the three-mile Stayers’ Hurdle on March 15, a race due to feature Jessica Harrington’s Irish Champion Hurdle hero Supasundae among others, O’Keeffe has every confidence in Sheffield-born Colliver, who is a graduate of Northern Racing College.
“I don’t think the key to him is making the running. The key to him is going a decent, even pace and getting into a really nice rhythm,” said the Middleham trainer.
“Joe Colliver has found the magic for that, he seems to do that quite comfortably. He and the horse just gel together and have got an understanding and that works.
“We don’t feel he’s got to make the running, just do his own thing, which is quite nice rather than having a hold-up horse depending on others.”
O’Keeffe believes the six-year-old Sam Spinner, one of the most progressive horses in National Hunt racing, is versatile in terms of ground, although more testing conditions could be in his favour.
“I’d like to see the ground quite soft, not so much because he needs it like that, just because it might be more to our advantage than his main rivals,” he added.
“I think he’s very versatile ground-wise, I’d be quite happy with good to soft or even heavy – but it won’t be that.
“He’s grown up quite quick. When he went to Chepstow first time out he got quite sweaty and I think that was because it was his first run.
“We took him to Newcastle last week to stop him getting fresh and I think now he’ll be fine, he was cool as a cucumber at Ascot.”
A serious threat to Sam Spinner could be La Bague Au Roi who narrowly beat the Phil Kirby-trained Lady Buttons in the Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day under champion jockey Richard Johnson.
She has subsequently won at Kempton and Ascot, with trainer Warren Greatrex now considering a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle or a mares-only race at Cheltenham.
Significantly, the bullish Greatrex compares the seven-year-old favourably to Cole Harden, who won the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in 2014 before landing the Stayers’ Hurdle the following March under an inspired Gavin Sheehan, who made every yard of running.
“I’m excited about La Bague Au Roi. I’m not sure yet which race she will go for,” he said.
“There is probably more depth in the Stayers’, but there is a talented horse (Apple’s Jade) and a few others in the mares’ race. She is in great nick. She definitely stays three miles. I think I will leave it until as late as possible.
“She is more talented than Cole Harden. He won his races by being very tough and he would grind them into the ground. She has got a lot more class.”
Kim Bailey is hoping for respite from the freezing weather to allow him to get Charbel to Southwell for his final public appearance today ahead of a tilt at the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday week.
Charbel is one of three horses the trainer has declared for the the jumpers’ bumpers card at the Nottinghamshire all-weather venue, which was added to the fixture list because of the cold snap.
Charbel’s last race came in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December when he was fourth to the Harry Cobden-inspired Politologue.
The steeplechaser is reunited with jockey David Bass, who was in the saddle when Charbel made a winning debut over larger obstacles in the Kalahari King Novices Chase at Uttoxeter.