In 2011 O’Keeffe, who has a degree in Russian and Soviet studies, very nearly packed up training when he was diagnosed with cancer, but owners Caron and Paul Chapman stuck with him, and in the front-running chestnut they now have a genuine Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle contender.
The career of Sam Spinner’s jockey, Joe Colliver, also looked like it had hit the buffers but for very different reasons in 2016 when he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for a driving offence. But he was released after three months just over a year ago, put his head down and has gone about rebuilding his career in a determined manner.
Yesterday, he made every yard of the running on Sam Spinner. Turning for home all his rivals, including two benchmark horses in the division, Unowhatimeanharry and Lil Rockerfeller, were off the bridle apart from L’Ami Serge, who had ghosted into contention and on to Sam Spinner’s quarters.
However, a terrific jump at the last put pressure on L’Ami Serge and Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old, who has been a revelation since stepping up to three miles, found nothing from the last, allowing Sam Spinner to win by two and three-quarter lengths, going away. It was then eight lengths back to Unowhatimeanharry.
This was a first Grade One winner for trainer and jockey. “We’re so lucky,” said O’Keeffe. “He loves it, he’s tough and genuine and he wants to be a racehorse. He’s very easy to keep fit and fresh and I’d be quite happy to go straight to Cheltenham now.”
Colliver said: “It was my biggest winner when he won his previous race and it keeps getting better. It didn’t feel like I was going that fast, but he loves being out in front and jumps so good. It felt like he was idling in front – every time something jumped up to him he went on again.”
It was also a big day for Olly Murphy, who sent out the biggest winner of his first season as a trainer when Hunters Call ran out an impressive winner of the valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle.
The 9/1 shot, under Jack Kennedy, was having his first start for the Stratford yard having not run since finishing third at Sligo in August.