JOE Colliver hopes to kickstart his season when he is reunited with his Grade One hero Sam Spinner in today’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Like many riders in the North, the unseasonably dry autumn has meant a shortage of opportunities and the Sheffield-born jockey has a disappointing five wins from 47 races to his name in the 2018-19 campaign that has been slow to get going.
However he enjoys the continuing support of Sam Spinner’s trainers, Jedd and Andrea O’Keeffe, and this race is a prelude to next month’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot which the Leyburn team won last year with this staying hurdler who is hopefully coming into his prime as he approaches his seventh birthday.
This high-profile success on the eve of Christmas was the catalyst for a number of big race wins by National Hunt trainers from Yorkshire that has given renewed optimism to the winter sport here.
And Colliver believes the gelding, who runs in the distinctive orange and black colours of Paul and Caron Chapman, could be even better after an extended summer lay-off – and then missing Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle with a slight niggle.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” the Northern Racing College graduate told The Yorkshire Post.
“He galloped well and schooled well last Friday so it’s all systems go.”
Colliver rarely schools the horse over hurdles on the gallops – he tends to leave it to the O’Keeffe team so not to upset Sam Spinner’s routine. “I just do what I’m told. It’s the only way. It’s the easiest way,” he jokes.
Yet he senses the horse is fitter and stronger than last year when the Ascot win was followed up by a fifth place finish in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – the slowish pace did not play to the strengths of Sam Spinner who is a relentless galloper at his best.
The horse’s last run was a third place finish at Aintree’s Grand National meeting when two runs in quick succession at the major festivals took their toll after a campaign that began at Chepstow in October 2017.
“Physically, I think he is stronger,” reports Colliver. “Mentally, I think he’s grown up a bit. Just his whole attitude. Everything is so laid back and he takes it all in. When I schooled him in the past, he used to play around a bit. This time it is straight down to work.”
Given Sam Spinner’s running style, Colliver intends to keep the tactics simple in a race where the well-regarded Wholestone, from the in-form yard of Nigel Twiston-Davies, appears to be the horse to beat in a competitive renewal of this three mile contest.
“If somebody wants to go on and give me a lead, so be it,” he says. “If nobody wants to go on, it’s not a problem. As you saw last season, he’s a very straightforward horse. As long as he’s in a rhythm and in his comfort zone, he’s away.”
By his own admission, Colliver has lost count of the number of occasions that he’s watched replays of last season’s success at Ascot. “Loads,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll get another day like that.”
But he is also aware that high-profile days like this are an oppoertunity to showcase his horsemanship and be noted by other trainers. “It seems there are more jockeys than there is horses,” he adds. “You’ve just got to take the chances when they come and make the most of it.”