PADDY POWER GOLD CUP
★ ★ ★
There are no greater honours in Jump Racing than to be spoken of in the same breath as the incomparable Arkle. Johns Spirit is one of those few, being born on 19th April 2007, precisely 50 years to the day after 'Himself'. The similarity does not stop there. This attractive Gold Well gelding also had a distinct affinity with Cheltenham.
When he was retired in 2016 to enjoy a life of leisure in Ireland, Johns Spirit had won 7 times from 36 starts, including 3 at Cheltenham, and been placed second or third, 12 times. Career earnings were £280,609.
He won his Bumper and first Chase with AP aboard but, for much of his career, he became Richie Mclernon's ride. Richie was on top when he first won over hurdles and they were back in the winners' enclosure at Cheltenham's October meeting in 2013 after the 2 ½ mile Handicap Chase. From there, the Paddy Power became an obvious target and, a month later, they put in a repeat performance to land the big race which Jonjo had previously won with Exotic Dancer back in 2006.
They returned another month later but, having been raised by 9lb to a rating of 148, Johns Spirit found a couple too good for him on the day. They were back for the Byrne Group Plate in March, finishing a creditable fourth.
The same campaign was marked out for the following season and part one was completed successfully with another win at Cheltenham in October. Now running off a mark of 156 and shouldering top weight, they were narrowly out-gunned in the Paddy Power when a repeat victory looked likely. He was 'rewarded' with a rating adjustment to 160.
Owner, Christopher Johnston had named the horse in memory of a great friend and he now had a potential champion. Grade One Chases had to be the next step and Christopher opted for the 2014 King George, a race he had always admired. Richie had him in contention throughout, eventually finishing sixth.
The Gold Cup was ruled out as an option, at least for that year, and his Festival target was the Ryanair. Again, Richie had Johns Spirit in the right place from where he could win if good enough and they went down fighting, finishing fifth. Next stop was Aintree's Grade One Melling Chase and another compelling performance, finishing a close third.
Johns Spirit has become a stable star, heir to that brand of consistency reminiscent of Exotic Dancer and Alberta's Run. After a run at Aintree in October, Johns Spirit next six outings were all at Cheltenham, finishing ninth in both parts of the 'autumn double', sixth and fouth in January and being pulled up at the Festival in the Brown Advisory Plate. He was even back there in April, finishing third in the Silver Trophy.
A summer campaign in 2016 with runs at Market Rasen and Bangor failed to ignite the spark of his former glory and the decision to retire him whilst still in brilliant health allowed him and his sporting owner time to enjoy many years together, a credit to Team Jackdaws.