FOR Tubber’s Derek O’Connor the Grand National meeting represented another landmark in his glittering jump racing career with his success in last Thursday’s Foxhunter’s Chase representing his first ever winner at the Liverpool festival.
For 35-five-year old O’Connor it was a case of going one better than last year on Balnaslow in the Foxhunter’s that’s run over the National fences — in 2017 he was a fast-finishing second in the race but this year he timed his run up the home straight to perfection to be first past the post.
He had him closer to the pace and the Graham McKeever-trained 11-year-old appeared on the scene on jumping the second-last, before digging in and pulling two and a half lengths clear of Bear’s Affair.
“Balnaslow is a fabulous horse,” said an elated O’Connor afterwards. “He’s a brilliant jumper, he tries his heart out and I couldn’t have asked for the race to go any better.
“I love that horse. I’d say if I could have an affair with a racehorse I’d go off with him! This is a massive thrill for me. Riding winners around the country is lovely but there is something about the challenge, the trials and tribulations of the Aintree fences. The late Mrs Hogan [Balnaslow’s owner] was a lovely and wonderful woman and it’s great that her family are all here to enjoy this,” he added.
For the 11 times Irish point-to-point champion it was his second major race victory on the track this year — in February he guided Edwulf home to victory in the Irish Gold Cu pat Leopardstown and the rode him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
O’Connor has scored three Cheltenham successes in his outstanding career amateur career stretched back nearly two decades — the National Hunt Chase on Chicago Grey in 2011, the Foxhunter’s Chase the same year on Zemsky and the National Hunt Chase once more on Minella Rocca in 2016.

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