A breakthrough year on the Flat has been followed by further success over jumps thanks to stable standard-bearer Sam Spinner.
And there could be more to come – the progressive five-year-old bids for Grade One glory in today’s feature Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
A wide margin victor of Haydock’s Stayers Hurdle last month, the step up to three miles could suit this galloping machine even more.
It is not quite unknown territory for O’Keeffe who freely admits that he is “a bit green about the gills on the jumping programme” – his Habitual Dancer was third in the 2004 Juvenile Finale at Chepstow.
Yet it has been some rise to prominence for the Caron and Paul Chapman-owned gelding who was purchased for a very modest £12,600 from Doncaster Sales. Neither O’Keeffe or Sheffield-born jockey Joe Colliver believed Sam Spinner was a potential champion when he won a modest Bumper for conditional riders at Catterick in January 2016.
“I was a little bit surprised that he won that one because he was such a big baby at home,” O’Keeffe, 48, told The Yorkshire Post. “Until relatively recently, he never struck me as a horse who could win first time out, but he’s done nothing but improve.”
Sam Spinner’s consistency speaks for itself – eight starts, five wins and runner-up on the other three occasions. The horse has particularly excelled at Wetherby and Catterick.
Yet his last two runs were standout performances – a short-head defeat in Chepstow’s Silver Trophy, a Grade Three handicap hurdle, before turning one of Haydock’s premier contests into a one-horse race after Colliver chose to make all on bottomless ground.
Today’s contest is a different proposition. Multiple winners in the past include the legendary Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola.
And, if the O’Keeffe year is to end on a high, Sam Spinner will have to beat Harry Fry’s defending champion Unowhatimeanharry who runs in the colours of leading owner JP McManus.
A solid run would be good enough to see Sam Spinner enter the equation for next March’s Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – the three-mile hurdling division appears wide open this season.
“It’s exciting, but I’m also very nervous,” admitted the Middleham trainer.
“When you get this far, you want the dream to be kept alive. But you’ve got to get on with it. You can’t not run.
“It was a demolition job at Haydock. It didn’t shock me that he won after how well he ran at Chepstow, but it did surprise me how far he won (17 lengths).
“His training has gone absolutely perfectly since then. He is in great shape, whether he is good enough remains to be seen.”
This said, O’Keeffe believes the aforementioned Colliver’s rapport with Sam Spinner is a plus.
“Joe’s a very likable lad and listens very carefully,” he said. “He’s a very good horseman, jockey and judge of pace, and he deserves more opportunities.
“A bit of luck would be great. But it’s been a fantastic year.
“We are very lucky we have been supported by some great owners who have given us some great horses, and we have a great team of staff. We hope we can repeat it again.”