Mission accomplished as Black Op triumphs at Aintree
Diego Du Charmil floors Petit Mouchoir; Identity Thief scores for Henry de Bromhead
Black Op ridden by Noel Fehily (light blue and white colours) wins the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Cheltenham Festival runner-up Black Op went one better with a determined display in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.
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 ultimately proved disappointing.
Fehily said: “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.
“His run at Cheltenham was fantastic against Samcro. We all know what a great horse Samcro is and he ran a great race to finish second to him. He deserved to win a big one.”
George was delighted and relieved in equal measure, having not saddled a winner since Summerville Boy won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 13th.
He said: “Noel didn’t want to be in front that long, but they weren’t going quick enough. He was babyish in front, but picked up again when the other one came at him.
“I would have thought he’ll be going chasing [next season], though nothing is set in stone. He jumps his hurdles likes fences so that’s what we’ll be doing, I think.
“He might just have a school over fences before he goes out to grass, we have done that before as the ground in the autumn can be too quick to school.”
George confirmed Summerville Boy is likely to remain over hurdles next season.
He added: “It looks like we have the two best novices in Britain and without sounding big headed, we always thought we did.”
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.
Shantou Rock took the six-strong field along for much of the way, with Petit Mouchoir always on his tail.
The 4-5 favourite moved to the front early in the home straight, but the Paul Nicholls-trained Diego Du Charmil (5-1) covered the move under 19-year-old Harry Cobden and kicked two and a half lengths clear of the market leader at the line.
Cobden, who won the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences on Friday, said: “He travelled well and apart from last time, which I think is the only time he’s ever fallen, his jumping really takes him into the race.
“I could fill the horse was with confidence and he pricked his ears going down to the last. He absolutely hacked up. He winged the fence and it was ideal.”
Nicholls said: “He would have bolted in at Ascot the other day if he hadn’t fallen as he was doing a half-speed.
“He is just a progressive horse that is fresh. The ground was a big worry, but he is getting stronger.
“He was a progressive horse in the autumn before he had a near fatal injury. He was a millimetre away from having a fatal injury.
“He got over that and then we had to wait. We’ve only minded him because of the ground.
“We were thinking of going for the Grand Annual but the ground went soft, then today was the plan.”
The Ditcheat handler raised the possibility of giving Diego Du Charmil one final outing this season in the Celebration Chase at Sandown – but only if Altior does not run.
He added: “Mark my words, he is a good horse. He just needs to mature a little bit. He has got loads of toe and he jumps well.
“There is a lot to come from him. He has got a load of boot so you wouldn’t want to go further.
“The only thing I might look at is Sandown if Altior didn’t turn up and the ground was quick, but we will see.”
Nicholls was saddling his second Grade One winner in two days following Politologue’s thrilling triumph in Friday’s Melling Chase.
“It is nice to have young horses winning Grade Ones. Politologue should have won this last year, but he made up for that yesterday,” said Nicholls.
De Bromhead did not want to make excuses for the beaten favourite.
He said: “He always gets worked up before his races, so I don’t think it was that.
“He’s just been beaten on the day, sadly. It’s disappointing but the winner won well.
“I don’t know if he goes to Punchestown, we’ll just have to see how he is.”
Identity Thief took a step up to three miles in his stride to claim the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree.
Henry 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.
Coole Cody adopted a pacesetting role for much of the way before folding, allowing 6-5 favourite Sam Spinner to take the initiative rounding the home turn.
However, both Identity Thief and Wholestone picked him up fairly readily and it was the former who forged five lengths clear after the final flight in the hands of Seán Flanagan.