Jockey O’Connor comes up trumps on Balnaslow at big Aintree festival

Balnaslow and Derek O'Connor winning the Foxhunters Chase at the big Aintree festival last Thursday.
Balnaslow and Derek O'Connor winning the Foxhunters Chase at the big Aintree festival last Thursday.

DEREK O’Connor’s horse racing bucket list is getting smaller after the Galway jockey achieved another of his life-long ambitions when triumphant over the unique Aintree fences for the first-time last week.

O’Connor produced a masterful ride on veteran Balnaslow in going one place better than 12 months ago when they combined to land the Foxhunters Chase on the opening day of the Aintree festival.

The 35-year-old admitted this week that it was a “huge feather in his cap” to have broken his duck over the Liverpool obstacles, especially on a horse that he has had a long and successful association with.

Having finished a closing seventh in the Foxhunters equivalent at the recent Cheltenham festival, O’Connor and Balnaslow made no mistake in Aintree – the 11-year-old was noticeably much more prominent and travelled sweetly on the inside.

Significantly, O’Connor switched his mount off the rail approaching the third last and entering the straight it was clear that the Graham McKeever trained Balnaslow was about to take a big hand in the finish.

Greensalt led the field over the last, but nothing was going better than Balnaslow which surged into the lead approaching the elbow to come home a decisive winner from Bear’s Affair by two and a half lengths.

In recalling the nuts and bolts of the race, O’Connor said: “That was only his third run of the season and he was much fresher this time. He travelled and jumped well, and was always carrying me. I could see a few of those in front of me tiring and there was also a loose horse, so that’s way I switched him out.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.