Black Op set to get up and running at Exeter

Tom George is looking forward to unleashing Grade One-winning hurdler Black Op over fences in the RGB Building Supplies Beginners' Chase at Exeter today.

Black Op, ridden by Jockey Noel Fehily (centre), wins the Betway Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree in April. Picture: Tim Goode/PA

The seven-year-old, who is the general 8-1 favourite for the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, will face nine rivals in the two-and-a-quarter-mile contest.

After finishing second in the Ballymore at Cheltenham in March, the Roger Brookhouse-owned gelding went one better on his final start last season by claiming victory at the top level in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

George said: “He is great and is ready to go. He schooled on grass on Monday and Noel Fehily came in to ride him, and he jumped well.

Trainer Tom George. Picture: David Davies/PA

“There is a long winter ahead of us, but it is a good place to start off. He has had a clean run since he has come in.

“He is the same as he always was in that he is a very laid-back horse, but he wakes up at the races when he needs to.

“Two-and-a-half is probably his ideal trip, but this is a good starting point. It is a good track to start them on, and we will see where we are with him after.’’

Lining up in opposition once again will be the Ben Pauling-trained Kildisart, who finished down the field when the pair met at the Merseyside track.

Pauling said: “It’s a hell of race to start off in. It took him a run to get fit last year, and he might just need it again.

“The ground is fine, so we have decided to let him take his chance – and he is certainly a novice chaser we are looking forward to seeing. He has been brilliant schooling.

“He didn’t turn up at Aintree on his final start, it was just a case of one run too many, so a line can be put through that.’’

Samcro and Faugheen could potentially clash in a high-class renewal of the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.

Gordon Elliott has already confirmed his intention to send Samcro to the Grade One contest – in which he will bid to restore his lofty reputation, having surprisingly been beaten on his return at Down Royal.

Winner of this race 12 months ago, former Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen was last seen producing something like his brilliant best over three miles at the Punchestown Festival in April.

He is one of five possibles for trainer Willie Mullins – with Melon, Sharjah, Wicklow Brave and high-class mare Laurina all in the mix.

“Samcro is going to run – we’ve left Melon, Faugheen and Laurina in,” said Ruby Walsh, who will have the pick of the Mullins runners,. “I’m sure Willie will finalise plans in the week as to what we are going to take on Samcro with.

“The three of them worked this morning.

“They all seem to be in good form, and I imagine they’ll work again on Thursday and see how they are on Friday morning.

“But they all seem to be in good old order. They’re coming along and improving by the week, so hopefully this weekend will be a bit better than last weekend.’’

Asked about Melon, Walsh said: “He improved throughout the season last year. Obviously he fell at the same hurdle as Samcro at Punchestown, but he looks really well and is a fine, big horse. We’re really pleased with him.

“I know Faugheen went to three miles last year, but he’s in really good order. Willie said he was leaving him in, and I didn’t ask any more questions.’’