Fifth in the 2018 renewal of the three-mile test, Paul and Caron Chapman’s horse of a lifetime was a gallant second to Paisley Park 12 months later.
Sam Spinner then won his first three novice chases before suffering an injury that ruled him out of last year’s National Hunt Festival.
And, when he did return to action, he was pulled up in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase before switching back to smaller obstacles and finishing last to Thyme Hill at Newbury.
However Leyburn-based O’Keeffe has never lost faith in the former Grade One-winning hurdler despite a number of setbacks with both form, fitness and jumping proficiency.
“Sam Spinner is fine at home and the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is a definite target for him,” reported the trainer. “He has had a little bit of time off after his run at Newbury as an old foot injury has flared up again.
“Due to that injury, the plan is to stay over hurdles this season and so the Stayers’ Hurdle will be his main spring target.
“I think we are going to struggle to get a run into him before the race, so he will be going to Cheltenham fresh. The Rendlesham at Haydock was something we were thinking about, but I think it might just come too soon.”
O’Keeffe added: “He is a very talented horse, and he has obviously run well in the race before. Sam Spinner was fifth in 2018 and then a good second to Paisley Park in 2019.
“He obviously would have to reverse form with Paisley Park and now there is also Thyme Hill thrown into the mix. But he has solid form at Cheltenham, so hopefully he can get there in one piece.”
The 51 high quality entries include Kim Bailey’s Vinndication who was runner-up to Cyrname in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase when Sam Spinner failed to fire.
Vinndication was then running a huge race in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before parting company with the luckless David Bass at the fifth last fence.
However, the horse returned home with an injury and Bailey, who completed the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double with Alderbrook and Master Oats in 1995, is keen to keep his Cheltenham options open.
“To this day, I don’t know what happened in the Ladbrokes – but anyway, he parted company with his jockey,” he said. “He banged the inside of his near-hind joint, which he was very sore on for a few days.
“Although he’s 100 per cent sound, he spent time on Jason Maguire’s (retired jockey) horse treadmill to try to help him. He’ll come back in time. The Gold Cup entry is very much there for the simple reason that I think he’s a Gold Cup horse.”
Bailey is in no doubt the best is yet to be seen of Vinndication. “He needs to go and have a run (before a Gold Cup),” he added.
“If he had completed the race at Newbury and gone and won, he’d be a very laudable favourite, or bang there for the race.
“David (Bass) is convinced he would have won, but it’s very easy to say that. Even if we’d have finished second to him (impressive winner Cloth Cap), we’d have run a great race, giving him all that weight.”
Even though Vinndication has not run over timber since completing his unbeaten novice campaign with a third successive victory almost three years ago, the trainer is adamant that the horse would not be making up the numbers if the Stayers’ Hurdle becomes the preferred target.
“He’s still a good hurdler,” said the Cotswolds trainer. “So, from the owner’s point of view, what races have we got in mind for him? If I can’t get a prep race into him for the Gold Cup – which I’d like to have – I do have the option of the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
Asked if he has yet reached his full potential, Bailey said: “No. He’s had very little racing. He’s only run 12 times. It is such a difficult situation. Do I go back the handicap route, do I go for the Gold Cup? It will have to work itself out.”
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