Rocco becomes National favourite as Djakadam's stamina gives way
He may not have always been the sport's safest conveyance but when finishing second in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, Minella Rocco jumped well enough and stayed well enough to prompt some bookmakers to make him favourite for the Randox Health Grand National.
Last season's National Hunt Chase winner went into the sport's most prestigious prize with the letters 'F' and 'U' against his name, but motored up the Cheltenham hill under Noel Fehily to deny Native River second on the line.
The layers cut him to between 8-1 and 14-1 for Aintree's £1 million spectacular, but the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old's participation is far from certain.
"He ran a fantastic race – but he was only second," said trainer Jonjo O'Neill with a smile.
"I'm thrilled to bits with him. He jumped great and Noel got him into a lovely rhythm. Everything went right but a better horse beat him.
"He's entered in the National and the Irish National but we wouldn't be making any decisions at the moment."
He added: "More Of That [sixth] ran his race but wasn't good enough."
Nor was Native River but he was mighty brave, racing prominently throughout and rallying to every one of Richard Johnson's calls.
"You can't be disappointed about finishing third in the Gold Cup with a seven-year-old," said owner Garth Broom.
"He ran his heart out, as he always does. I was delighted with him. He could go on to Aintree as he won so well there last year."
Kempton could be the main target for the 2015 and 2016 second Djakadam, sent off 3-1 favourite but only fourth after clouting the penultimate fence when narrowly in front.
"I was disappointed he only finished fourth but that's as good as he is," said Willie Mullins, still without a win in the Gold Cup after 18 runners.
"He looked like a favourite turning in but once he got to the second last, the winner was travelling better and I knew it was going to take two miracle jumps.
"I don't know if he'll come back for it next year. We could think about doing something else with him. You wonder, does he really stay? Maybe he could be a King George horse?"
Owner Andy Stewart hopes the Paul Nicholls-trained Saphir Du Rheu could be a Grand National horse after he outran his 33-1 odds to take fifth.
"He'll definitely go for the National," said Stewart.
"I think he'll go up about 6lb, so we'll definitely go for the National and I think he might be well in. He'll stay the distance, no problem."
Champagne West and Outlander, already scratched from the National, were unable to shine in the Gold Cup, filling the last two places.