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 13.
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.”
Colin Tizzard was thrilled with the performance of runner-up Lostintranslation.
He said: “I thought coming into the week he was our best chance. He was staying on at Cheltenham (seventh in Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and that was the best form. If he hadn’t made a mistake he could have been third or fourth (at Cheltenham).
“He’s a gorgeous horse and they were 10 lengths clear of the third, so the trip was fine.
“He will be chasing for sure next season.”
Momella, the only mare in the field, was third for Dan and Harry Skelton.
The trainer said: “She has run really well. I’ve got a lot of respect for the winner and the second has run exceptionally well and they have been talking about that all week, so it’s not a shock.
“Unfortunately there is nowhere left to go now. If the ground sticks around I may just give her one run over fences in May as she has done nothing all winter.
“Next year I will be looking to go the Rene’s Girl route with her over fences.
“She is a helluva tough mare.”