Sam Spinner is as short as 4-1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after landing a dream victory for trainer Jedd O’Keeffe and jockey Joe Colliver at Ascot.
The five-year-old made all the running for a two-and-three-quarter length win from L’Ami Serge in the Grade One JLT Long Walk Hurdle. Favourite Unowhatimeanharry finished third.
The prospect of Middleham-based O’Keeffe having a serious Cheltenham Festival contender would have looked a hopeless long shot when he was almost forced to quit training after contracting cancer in 2011.
Sam Spinner (centre) stepped up a class after success in a handicap at Haydock last time out
Only the loyalty of his owners, including Paul and Caron Chapman, whose colours are carried by Sam Spinner, convinced him to continue.
The career of Colliver also seemed derailed after he served three months of a 10-month jail sentence for lying about the circumstances of a drunken car crash in 2015.
Sam Spinner had earned a crack at a Grade One contest with victory in a big handicap at Haydock but the 9-2 shot showed he was at ease in the big league.
O’Keeffe, 48, said: ‘We had to take a bit of a leap of faith coming here but it has paid off.
‘It’s a landmark victory. When people asked what my ambition is, I said I would love to train a British Group One winner on the Flat but this Grade One winner jumping feels pretty good.’ Colliver, 26, who was having his first ride at Ascot, added: ‘I have just sat, steered and looked pretty and he has done the rest.
‘I regret everything [I did]. I thought the day I went to court was me over and done with as a jockey. I had almost mentally prepared myself for that. This is just a dream.’
Meanwhile rookie trainer Olly Murphy landed his biggest win when Hunters Call, ridden by Jack Kennedy, won the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle.