Grade One-winning hurdler Black Op returned a smile to the face of trainer Tom George after posting an impressive success in the Charlotte Cole Memorial Beginners’ Chase at Stratford.
Comfortably held in two starts over fences last season, the Roger Brookhouse-owned eight year old left further questions to be answered during the second half of the campaign, when failing to sparkle in three subsequent outings back over hurdles.
Looking a different proposition on his return to fences, the 5-2 shot — who underwent a breathing operation in the summer — put in assured round of jumping from the front before crossing the line 15 lengths clear of Mr Antolini.
George said: “Everything last season went wrong. We couldn’t school him as it was firm ground and we had other little issues, but we have had a good run of it this time round.
“He has done loads of schooling and has had a few mornings with Henrietta Knight, while Johnny Burke has been doing a lot of work with him.
“We decided to be positive with him today and he is a very high-class horse, as we all know. It was great to get him back on track.
“We got to Christmas and it was going completely wrong over fences — it was a big call from Roger to pull up stumps and start again and he has been rewarded.”
Imperial Flem (12-1) made a winning debut under rules in the British Stallion Studs EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.
Winning trainer Evan Williams said: “He is genuine and tough, and showed a commendable attitude to win.
“Ellis Collier, the lad who rides him every day, has been raving about him for a long time and said he was a genuine little horse, but we discounted it a bit.
“Sadly Ellis lost his mum this week, so hopefully this result will give him a boost.”
Rocco gained compensation for a final-fence fall while still in contention at Uttoxeter last time out when showing plenty of heart to complete a double for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies in the Charlie Longsdon Racing Handicap Chase.
Twsiton-Davies — also on the mark with Ballyellis (5-4) in the selling hurdle — said of the 7-1 winner: “He fell at the last at Uttoxeter and he was bang there. In all these novice races there is often a 150-rated horse in there, so handicapping made more sense.
“He jumps so well for a novice and he showed them how to do it.”
Richard Johnson expects dual point-to-point scorer Winter Getaway (4-1) to give owners The Kingpins plenty to cheer about throughout the season following victory in the 25 Club Maiden Hurdle.
Johnson said of the Philip Hobbs-trained winner: “She has got lots of experience in point-to-points and that has probably stood her in good stead. She ran a nice race around Fontwell first time out.
“The Kingpins are a fantastic group of owners that have been with Philip for a long time, so it was good to ride a winner for them. She is honest and should give them a lot of fun.”