Cheltenham Festival journey begins at Wetherby for Sam Spinner

Sam Spinner and Joe Colliver, pictured winning the 2017 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, make their novice chase debut at Wetherby today.
Sam Spinner and Joe Colliver, pictured winning the 2017 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, make their novice chase debut at Wetherby today.
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CONNECTIONS of Sam Spinner are full of “nervous anticipation” as the Grade One-winning hurdler prepares to make his novice chase debut at Wetherby’s season-opening meeting.

Winner of Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in 2017, and runner-up to Paisley Park in last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the seven-year-old heads a select line-up.

Grade One-winning hurdler Sam Spinner - the mount of Joe Colliver - makes his novice chase debut today.

Grade One-winning hurdler Sam Spinner - the mount of Joe Colliver - makes his novice chase debut today.

But Joe Colliver’s mount, owned by Paul and Caron Chapman, has pleased Leyburn trainer Jedd O’Keeffe, and his team, in schooling sessions over larger obstacles, and they are hopeful Sam Spinner will enhance his reputation.

However, they are also taking nothing for granted. “We’re all quite excited. Every time we have schooled him, he’s been very professional and we’re looking forward to the race,” assistant trainer Tim Hogg told The Yorkshire Post.

“Every time he has schooled, he has got better and better. We schooled him on Saturday morning and he was very clever. The acid test comes when you take him to the track – that’s when they have got to do it.

“There’s no given right, as he was a very good hurdler, that he will be a very good chaser. But we hope so and, over two-and-a-half miles, it will be a competitive race.

To have a horse like him who gets your stable on the front and back pages of the newspapers, it means a great deal.

Assistant trainer Tim Hogg

“As long as he gets in a nice rhythm and jumps super, the boss will be delighted.”

Hogg – who has been assistant to the aforementioned O’Keeffe and the trainer’s wife Andrea for nearly four years – has been integral to the success of Sam Spinner who has won six races, and nearly £250,000 in prize money, from 16 starts.

The man who has the responsibility of driving horses like Sam Spinner to and from the races, he speaks with glowing pride about the stable star and what he means to the yard.

“A horse in a million. An absolute dream where he taken us. We never expected him to be the horse that he is now – anything else he does will be an absolute bonus,” explains Hogg who has been supervising Sam Spinner’s final preparations while O’Keeffe is at the horse sales in Newmarket.

“To everyone here, he means everything. To have a horse like him who gets your stable on the front and back pages of the newspapers, it means a great deal. For a yard that doesn’t have many superstars, it is a great feeling. It’s very exciting, albeit nervous anticipation.”

Conscious that Sam Spinner’s critics wrote the horse off after his first two starts last season did not go to plan, Hogg is also keen to play down expectations ahead of the In-Site Property Solutions Novices’ Chase – part of the annual Spinal Research charity raceday at Wetherby.

The long-term plan, he says, is an appearance in one of the elite novice chases at next year’s Cheltenham Festival if Sam Spinner’s form at home is replicated on the racetrack.

“Win, lose or draw, this is just a stepping stone,” added Hogg. “Everyone will jump up and down if he gets beaten but Cheltenham next March is the main plan and our job is to get him right for then. We’re going to take it one race at a time.”