Horses To Follow » Johns Spirit

Johns Spirit

Johns Spirit was really well backed for the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, from 12/1 in the morning and again on course into 5/1, and he could have been called the winner from a long way out.

He travelled really well in rear in the hands of Richie McLernon, his jumping, which has failed in the past in the face of a stiff examination at Cheltenham, was generally very good on this occasion. Indeed, he made ground at several of his fences, his jump at the open ditch at the top of the hill in particular was spectacular. He cruised down the hill, McLernon was still motionless turning for home, he eased to the front going to the final fence and he cleared away up the hill to win by three and a half lengths. He probably won with more in hand than the winning margin, and the time was fast, the fastest by far on the day and 0.12secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.

Jonjo O’Neill’s horse is still only six, and he remains highly progressive judged on this performance. He won a good three-mile handicap chase on Tingle Creek weekend at Sandown last December, and he ran a couple of big races in defeat after that, finishing second to Katenko back at Sandown and third to Battle Group at Aintree, both over three miles.

He started this season on a good handicap mark, 4lb lower than he was for those two placed runs last season. If he can continue to jump like he jumped on Saturday, a 10lb hike for his win may not be enough to stop him progressing further. He is only 6lb higher than he was for his peak last season, and he is a young horse who still has bundles of scope for progression. Also, given how well he was backed here, it is logical to conclude that his trainer has been happy with his progress at home.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is a legitimate target now, as long as the ground is not too soft. No winner of this race has won the Paddy Power in 12 years, but winners of this have run well in the race since then, which makes sense given that it is over the same course and distance. There is a chance that AP McCoy would ride him if he did take his chance in the Paddy Power – JP McManus does not appear to have a more obvious contender at this stage – and, if he did, the 16/1 that is currently available could look big. Interestingly, Shooting Light, the last horse to win both races, had gone up 14lb for winning the October race.

19th October 2013