Past Winners » Johns Spirit


(Message of 30th October)

I was trying to hold off on backing Johns Spirit for the Paddy Power Gold Cup until more than six main firms were betting on the race, but Pricewise are going to be previewing the race in the Racing Post tomorrow, so it is time to back him now, in case they put him up.

I think that the 14/1 that two firms are going is a fair bit too big, and that even the 12/1 that two other firms are going is still too big.

He has a lot in his favour. He was a really exciting novice chaser at the start of last season, he ran a cracker to win a good novices’ handicap chase over two and a half miles at Sandown on Tingle Creek weekend last December, and he then ran really well again to finish second to Katenko back over three miles at the same track a month later. He was the only horse who could give Katenko a race that day, and Venetia Williams’ horse won a really good handicap chase at Cheltenham on Argento Chase day off an 11lb higher mark, and developed into a Gold Cup outsider before injury ruled him out. He is now rated 21lb higher than he was when he beat Johns Spirit.

Jonjo O’Neill’s horse’s season did not progress from there as it looked like it might. He disappointed at Cheltenham in January on heavy ground, and he only ran okay at the Cheltenham Festival and Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr (his jumping was unreliable), which sandwiched a good run at Aintree, when he did well despite not being able to get close to the enigmatic Battle Group.

The positive about those indifferent runs was that his handicap rating dropped from 133 to 129, which is the mark off which he made his seasonal debut, at Cheltenham 11 days ago. He looked really good that day. He travelled really well in rear, he jumped well, he made his ground impressively, took it up at the second last and came clear to win really impressively, probably with a lot more in hand than the three-and-a-half-length winning margin.

That is normally a good race, and it is often a good pointer to the Paddy Power Gold Cup, run, as it is, over more or less the Paddy Power course and distance a month beforehand. Also, Astracad, who finished fifth in the race, came out and was only just beaten in a good handicap chase at Aintree on Saturday.

It is 12 years since any horse won the October race and followed up in the Paddy Power, but several winners have gone close since then. Also, the horse who did the double 12 years ago was Shooting Light, and he won the Paddy Power off a 14lb higher mark than the mark off which he won the October race. Johns Spirit has been raised just 10lb.

More than that, a 10lb hike could seriously under-estimate his ability. It brings him up to a mark of 139, which is just 6lb higher than the mark off which he raced against Katenko at Sandown as a novice. That was just his fourth run over fences, he was only five at the time, and it is reasonable to assume that, with more experience and another year’s development, he could be a significantly better horse now. He is still a young horse, he still has bundles of scope for progression.

As well as that, he was really well backed for his debut this term. Available at 12/1 in the morning, he was backed all the way down to 5/1. That suggests that they may have found the key to him at home, he was obviously impressing in his homework. He travels like a classy horse and, now that his jumping appears to be more assured than it was as a novice, he has the potential to be a fair bit better than a handicap rating of 139 suggests.

Very soft ground would be a worry, but that chance is worth taking at the price. Jonjo O’Neill said after he won 11 days ago that the Paddy Power was the obvious target, and it is, so hopefully they stick to that plan. There is a chance that AP McCoy will ride him – JP McManus does not appear to have a more obvious contender at present – and, if he does, his chance would be enhanced even further.

The race could cut up a fair bit, Simonsig is already out, new ante post favourite Dynaste is running over hurdles this weekend and has the Betfair Chase as an option, Walkon fell at Aintree on Sunday, and Unioniste runs in the Charlie Hall on Saturday. It is easy to Johns Spirit going off a lot shorter than he is at present. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that, if AP takes the ride, he will go off as favourite on the day.


1 point each-way, Johns Spirit, 14/1 (Paddy Power, Boylesports) or 12/1 (Stan James, Skybet)