John Eamon Declan Dunderdale O’Keefe, known universally as Jedd, is in the enviable position of training Sam Spinner, who is currently 5/1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018. Bought for 12,000 guineas as a 3-year-old, the son of Black Sam Bellamy has won five of his seven races over hurdles including, most recently, the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, and amassed over £142,000 in total prize money. O’Keefe said recently, “It’s very exciting for all of us in a small stable to have a real star, and I’m really grateful it’s happening as it is.”
Of course, O’Keeffe is no stranger to the winners’ enclosure, having saddled 148 winners on the Flat and 36 winners over Jumps in his career to date but, with a few obvious exceptions, has lacked the firepower to make much of an impact at the major meetings. Sam Spinner aside, the highlights of his career, so far, were the victories of Shared Equity in the Coral Sprint Trophy at York in 2015, More Mischief in the Betfred Mobile/EBF Hoppings Stakes at Newcastle in June, 2017 and Lord Yeats in the Betfred Fred Archer Stakes at Newmarket the following month.
O’Keefe served an eight-year apprentice, as pupil assistant, travelling head lad and assistant trainer to Micky Hammond, before applying for a training licence in his own right. He moved into Highbeck Lodge and Stables, which is part of the Brecongill Estate, in Coverdale, in the extreme east of the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire in 2000. At that time he had just three horses – the minimum number allowed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) – but saddled his first winner, Route Sixty Six, in a novices’ hurdle at Musselburgh the following January. From small beginnings, by honest, old-fashioned hard work, O’Keefe gradually increased his number of horses in training, to an average of 20 or so over the last decade.
In 2011, O’Keefe underwent an intensive course of treatment for throat cancer and although he recovered, his business very nearly did not. He later recalled, “Though I’d finished the treatment, I was still very ill, and needed staff to cover. With the cost of all that, and the financial crisis, we felt we couldn’t go any further, and rang the owners to say we were giving up.” Thankfully, he did not and now, with Sam Spinner just one of 45 horses in his yard, can hopefully look forward to a happy, healthy and profitable future.