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O'Neill hoping Minella Rocco has 'woken up' after Ireland flop

Minella Rocco, seen winning at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, returns to the venue for the first time since his Gold Cup second
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1.50 Handicap Chase | Grade 3 | 3m3½f |ITV/RUK

Minella Rocco has something to prove after disappointing at Punchestown last month and trainer Jonjo O'Neill is expecting the sight of Cheltenham and its hill to inspire the seven-year-old back to form.

Runner-up in the Gold Cup on his last visit, the seven-year-old was beaten into third in this race last year and is now burdened with top weight.

That was on his seasonal return after winning the 2016 National Hunt Chase at the festival, and again this term Minella Rocco was beaten into fourth on his reappearance in the Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown.

His class keeps four of his eight rivals out of the handicap and most eyes will be fixed on the JP McManus-owned star.

O'Neill said: "I was disappointed with him at Punchestown. He never got going but that was a funny race and it's hard to work out – Outlander was tailed off behind us but won well next time.

"I hope Minella Rocco has woken up now. The trip and track will help him more and he's in good form."

The 11st 12lb burden does not worry O'Neill, who added: "He's a big lad and will be able to carry it, and the longer trip will help him as well as the hill."

Seven is the best age

Minella Rocco is certainly the right age to land this prize, which has been won by a fellow seven-year-old for the last three years and for five of the last six runnings.

O'Neill trained the first of those seven-year-old winners in Galaxy Rock in 2011, and Kim Muir third Premier Bond is the only other contender in that age group.

Eight-year-olds have won the other two runnings in the last seven years and only Sizing Codelco, who scored at Aintree and Punchestown after disappointing in the Plate at the Cheltenham Festival, and Scottish Grand National winner Vicente, a faller at Aintree, represent that age group this year. 

What they say

Colin Tizzard, trainer of Sizing Codelco
He’s very high in the handicap but has sharpened up for his first run. He’ll probably go for the Becher after this.

Fergal O'Brien, trainer of Perfect Candidate
He's quite high in the weights and isn't getting any younger, but he loves Cheltenham so it's worth him taking his chance.

Paul Nicholls, trainer of Vicente
It's a long season and he normally needs his first run, but he'll love the ground and he gets in on a proper weight with Minella Rocco running. He isn't without a chance.

Philip Hobbs, trainer of Three Faces West
He hasn’t run for a long time but seems well. I hope the longer trip will be in his favour.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Premier Bond
He's had a few respiratory issues but showed such promise earlier it would be disappointing if he cannot get back on track. He promises to be a smart staying chaser.

Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Benbens
He made a bad mistake early last time, which is unlike him, and hopefully won't this time. I'm looking forward to running him.

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He’s very high in the handicap but has sharpened up for his first run
E.W. Terms