JEDD O’KEEFFE is looking forward to stable star Sam Spinner continuing his steeplechasing ‘education’ at Wetherby today.
The former Grade One-winning hurdler made a successful debut over larger obstacles at the West Yorkshire track last month.
Yet, while the win delighted owners Caron and Paul Chapman, O’Keeffe drew even more encouragement from the horsemanship of jockey Joe Colliver.
And it explains why a safe round of jumping is the priority in today’s five runner novice chase over three miles.
As Leyburn-based O’Keeffe stresses, the ultimate target remains the Grade One novice chases at next year’s Cheltenham and Aintree festivals – form and fitness permitting.
“He seems to be in very good shape. He schooled great on Saturday and we were 100 per cent happy with his jumping,” the in-form trainer told The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s race.
“Ideally, we would have liked another week between races but there is nothing else really suitable for him in the coming weeks. We’re also looking forward to stepping him up to three miles.
“That should be in his favour and we’re hoping for a very good run.”
O’Keeffe, now regarded as one of the North’s most respected dual purpose trainers, was at the Newmarket sales when Sam Spinner, small in stature, made his long-anticipated chase debut.
Watching the race on a TV screen, he admitted that he was even more nervous than usual because this is a horse that has helped put his stable on the map – the seven-year-old has amassed almost £250,000 of prize money from seven successes – that include Ascot’s Grade One Long Walk Hurdle in December 2017.
But unlike those who were present at Wetherby, O’Keeffe was unperturbed when Sam Spinner trailed his rivals as the field left the back straight for the final time.
“He was actually given a very good ride,” explained O’Keeffe who, coincidentally, was born in Wetherby.
“What I had stressed to Joe (Colliver) wasn’t winning the race but making Sam a future chaser.
“Joe is very important to everything we do with the horse and was letting him find his feet down the back straight.
“He didn’t rush him, he let him find a stride and gain confidence. He shaped well at his fences.
“When he put Sam in the race, he took off up the home straight. When he came up at the last, and got racing, that was the best thing of all for me.”
As for today’s race, O’Keeffe said: “Now the horse has got a bit of experience, and the step up in trip will help, I guess Joe will look to get the horse in a good rhythm before he does his own thing.
“It’s all about teaching Sam about his new job, and growing in confidence, before we throw him in at the deep end. If he’s not going to be a very good chaser, we will be switching back to hurdles after finishing second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.”
Asked if he gets nervous before races, O’Keeffe, whose past struggle with cancer has inspired and encouraged many in racing, said: “Very. It’s not because I don’t think he can’t jump but you don’t want the bubble to burst for owners who have gone through thick and thin, and had their own ups and downs, with the horse.”
O’Keeffe is also fulsome in his praise for Sheffield-born Colliver and his work on the gallops. “Personally I think Joe is a very under-rated rider and doesn’t get the opportunities he deserves,” added the trainer.
“Joe and Sam know each other well – and they trust each other as well.
“They’re not many horses that can gallop as fast as Sam for three miles – and Joe knows the horse better than anyone. I believe Joe has been instrumental to Sam and vice-versa.”
On the first day of Wetherby’s eagerly-awaited Charlie Hall Chase meeting, the feature bet365 Handicap Chase is headed by Sue and Harvey Smith’s Cracking Find who won last season’s Castleford Chase at the track.
Owned by Ann Ellis, the admirably consistent chaser was fourth on his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby last month and is likely to come on for the run.
Meanwhile Neil King has high hopes for Bryony Frost’s mount Nordano ahead of the Weatherbys Hamilton Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle.
“Wetherby has been the plan since his last win at Chepstow,” said the trainer. “He came out of Chepstow really well and we were delighted with that performance. He loves to make the running and he again jumped really well under Bryony. He has made a brilliant start in this sphere.”