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O’Neill hopeful Minella Rocco can step up a gear

MINELLA ROCCO, potentially one of the nicest young horses in training, takes the next step in his fledgling career when he tackles five rivals in the £23,000 Harrison James And Hardie Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon.

The manner of the five-year-old’s two novice hurdle wins under AP McCoy last season left a deep impression and it is likely he wasn’t anywhere near his best when finishing last of three behind Silsol on his debut over fences at Haydock last month.

Kings Palace (2014), Time For Rupert (2010) and What A Friend (2008) are all recent winners of this 3m1½f event, and it will be a disappointment if today’s renewal does not produce a good horse or two.Jonjo O’Neill, trainer of Minella Rocco, said: “He’s fine and came out of his race at Haydock in good shape. I’d say he’ll definitely come on for that run. He jumped well there and the step up to three miles should suit him, so hopefully he’ll go well.”

‘Very classy’

Useful hurdler Blaklion shaped nicely on his Chepstow debut over fences when fourth to Cocktails At Dawn and was travelling strongly when falling three out over today’s course last month.

Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Blaklion, said: “He was travelling very well when he fell at the bottom of the hill. He’s schooled well since and everything is fine with him. He’s a very classy horse.”

Blaklion’s departure smoothed the way for Vicente to go and get the better of Un Temps Pour Tout by two and three-quarter lengths.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Vicente, said: “He won quite well last time. He had a hard race, but seems okay now.”

‘Step up in class’

Onenightinvienna and Fletchers Flyer were separated by a length and a quarter when first and second at Exeter 19 days ago.

Philip Hobbs, trainer of the winner, said: “I was delighted with his first run over fences. It’s a step up in class, but hopefully he’ll be competitive.”

Emma Lavelle’s Private Malone, who finished in front of Minella Rocco on his chasing debut at Haydock, completes the line-up.

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