Contender- Sam Spinner (Black Sam Bellamy – Dawn Spinner)
Race- Stayers’ Hurdle
Trainer- Jedd O’Keeffe
Owner- Caron and Paul Chapman
Jockey- Joe Colliver
There are some people that, in some ways, deserve a winner at Cheltenham and you could say the connections of Sam Spinner do. There is a large chance he could provide them with one.
Jedd O’Keeffe is mainly a flat trainer and, if anyone asked him what his main aspiration in racing was, he would say that it was to win a Grade One flat race. He recovered from throat cancer in 2011 and faced possible financial ruin but, with support of Sam Spinner’s owners, Caron and Paul Chapman, they have developed a small, but thriving, operation located in North Yorkshire and, in doing so, gained one of the most exciting young hurdlers around. O’Keeffe bought Sam Spinner for a miniscule £12,000 from the Doncaster Sales in May 2015. The team’s white-faced gelding is spear-heading the Northern resurgence down south at the Chelteham Festival where he is favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
His horse is to be partnered by twenty-six year old Joe Colliver. Sheffield-born Colliver rode ponies as a child and, as a teenager, played horseball, a combination of rugby and polo, in which he represented Britain. He quit that to focus on racing. His first win came in January 2011 but it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. In the early morning of Boxing Day 2015, Colliver crashed his car into a wall whilst twice over the drink-drive limit and fled from the scene, later paying an accomplice £2,000 to say he had stolen the vehicle. It earned him a ten month custodial sentence but he only spent three in prison and, after that, resumed his role at Micky Hammonds yard, where he currently works. Colliver feels that everyone has given him a second chance, “I suppose everyone has given me a second chance, thinking about it. I’d definitely say I’ve grown up a lot more. I was probably a bit naive about life before, but I’m a lot more awake now, let’s say.”
Colliver hadn’t even seen Sam Spinner before he rode him in his debut race at Catterick, a course the horse has come to love, in February 2016. They won by one and a quarter lengths to Raised On Grazeon. Next time out, he was quite keen and could only manage second behind Betameche with Colliver in the saddle. Brian Harding took over the ride and piloted the son of Black Sam Bellamy to a three and a quarter length win on his hurdling bow. That season, he won three of his four starts and was only beaten by Mount Mews, subsequent Grade Two winner. Then Harding retired and Sam Spinner was Colliver’s to ride. They kicked off this season with a decent second behind older horse Court Minstrel in a Grade Three contest. Next time out, he bolted up in the Grade Three Betfair Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock by a whopping seventeen lengths and none of the other runners could lay a glove on him. Impressed, O’Keeffe stepped the gelding up to Grade One company in the JLT Reve De Sivola Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Like in his Grade Three win, he made all but this time was only up one length at the last but he battled away from L’Ami Serge with the likes of Unowhatimeanharry and The Worlds End in behind. Colliver was impressed with the six year old’s improvement, “I said to Jedd when I first rode him that he’s a nice horse but I never thought he’d win a Grade Three, let alone a Grade One and be favourite for the Stayers’ at Cheltenham.”
Does he have a chance?
Well he is one of the favourites, so obviously he does have a chance. Surprisingly, he is the lowest rated of all the runners at 139, despite the fact that he beat L’Ami Serge, Unowhatimeanharry, The Worlds End, Thomas Campbell and Lil Rockerfeller in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle. His low rating could be because of his age and the fact that he has only ran over hurdles seven times. He isn’t ground dependant and doesn’t have to lead like has in most of his runs. A negative is that he hasn’t been around Cheltenham before but he has won on a left-handed track. Supasundae will be his main Irish challenger and has an advantage over Sam Spinner as Jessica Harrington’s gelding by Galileo has Cheltenham Festival form to his name. The distance shouldn’t be a problem for the Irish horse as he was only just denied by super-mare Apple’s Jade over the trip in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. Sam Spinner’s Grade One victory was fifteen seconds quicker than Supasundae’s race, where he was only half a length down on the winner. That surface was soft whereas the English horse’s ground was good to soft.