JEDD O’KEEFFE retains every confidence in the ability of Grade One-winning hurdler Sam Spinner following two disappointing runs this season.
The North Yorkshire trainer was speaking after the seven-year-old was handed an entry in the Sun Bet Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The three-mile race has attracted 51 entries including Sue and Harvey Smith’s Midnight Shadow, who won at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
However, Leyburn-based O’Keeffe accepts Sam Spinner, owned by Caron and Paul Chapman, will need to show improved form to take up his place.
The popular horse looked a potential star when making all to land the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December 2017 under regular rider Joe Colliver – a victory that also signalled Yorkshire jump racing’s renaissance at the elite level after a fallow period. They then paid the price for a slow pace in last year’s Stayer’s Hurdle when finishing a far from disgraced fifth to the eventual winner Penhill.
Yet it is Sam Spinner’s jumping this season that has been particularly perplexing after connections decided to stick to hurdles for another year.
He made several errors – and was already well-beaten – when unseating Colliver at Newbury at the end of November after they were hampered by another faller.
Their defence of the Long Walk Hurdle only got as a far as the second flight when the horse appeared to duck out and left his rider with no chance.
“Sam Spinner is in good form,” said O’Keeffe.
“We don’t really know why he behaved like that at Ascot. The padded hurdles may have given him a fright, but he has schooled since and seems fine.
“The plan is still to go to the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham (January 26) and hopefully all will be good and his confidence will be okay.
“Basically we have got to try to get his career back on track.
“If we can get everything right again the plan would be to return to the Festival for the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle.”
This year’s field for the feature race on day three of the Cheltenham Festival is headed by the defending champion Penhill who defied a 323-day absence to defeat Supasundae last year under an inspired Paul Townend ride.
From the yard of Ireland’s multiple champion trainer Willie Mullins, who is responsible for 11 contenders in total, Penhill has yet to appear this season and is likely to go to Cheltenham without the benefit of a prep run.
He will be going for a third successive win at the Cheltenham Festival having also won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2017.
Another contender is Paisley Park who provided jockey Aidan Coleman with a long-overdue Grade One triumph when landing last month’s Long Walk Hurdle when the aforementioned Sam Spinner crashed out.
Meanwhile One For Arthur, the 2017 Grand National winner, is among 12 horses declared for the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock tomorrow.
Lucinda Russell’s stable star missed the Aintree showpiece through injury last season, but the world’s greatest steeplechase is the objective again.
However, the 10-year-old is on a retrieval mission as he only got as far as the third fence on his comeback run over the Mildmay fences at the Liverpool track last month.
His rivals include Daklondike, who took the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock four weeks ago under jockey Tom Scudamore.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballyarthur, who was only beaten a length by David Pipe’s charge that day, renews rivalry.
The weights are headed by French import Valtor, who put an impressive performance to win the Silver Cup at Ascot on his first run for Nicky Henderson.
High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith has entered Wakanda while Stuart Coltherd, who trains in the Scottish Borders, has declared course specialist Captain Redbeard after his son Sam was passed fit to ride the Grand National prospect.