Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 17 February 2019

Black Op avenges Cheltenham miss

Black Op ridden by Jockey Noel Fehily (left) wins the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Black Op ridden by Jockey Noel Fehily (left) wins the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire Sportsdesk

Cheltenham Festival runner-up Black Op went one better with a determined display in the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree yesterday.

Tom George's charge found only the much-heralded Samcro too strong in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Prestbury Park and was a 3-1 shot to claim Grade One glory on Merseyside, with Cheltenham absentee On The Blind Side the 11-8 favourite.

Black Op travelled powerfully throughout the two-and-a-half-mile contest in the hands of Noel Fehily and hit the front early in the home straight.

Lostintranslation emerged as a huge threat after the final flight and briefly nosed to the front, but after a stirring battle Black Op passed the post half a length to the good. The previously-unbeaten On The Blind Side was under pressure some way out and proved disappointing.

Fehily said of the winner: "He's a tough horse. I was in front far sooner than I wanted to be and he was really tough on the run-in to battle back."

In the proceeding race, Diego Du Charmil caused a minor upset in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices' Chase.

The two-mile Grade One looked relatively uncompetitive on paper, with dual Grade One-winning hurdler Petit Mouchoir setting a high standard following his placed efforts in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown and the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

However, the warning signs were there for his supporters before the off, as Henry de Bromhead's challenger got worked up in the parade ring and was free on the way to the start and that wasted energy may have proved crucial in the result.

Later in the day, Identity Thief (14-1) took a step up to three miles in his stride to claim the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle.

De Bromhead's charge is a Grade One winner over two miles having landed the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle back in 2015 and proved he retains plenty of ability when fourth in last month's Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Having never raced beyond two and a half miles, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned eight-year-old was taking a step into the unknown on Merseyside, but saw out the extra distance comfortably to record a first victory since October 2016.

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