Many have deemed Minella Rocco as an ‘unlucky horse’, having had a fair share of highs and lows throughout his racing career. However, in a swift change in fortunes, The Cheltenham Festival is now on the cards following two consectutive wins this year.
The 10-year-old Gelding made a comeback last month by securing first place in The Open Hunters Chase at Warwick, his first victory since his 2016 Cheltenham Festival win. Connections were pleased to see Minella Rocco gain his confidence back after multiple seasons of struggle.
The victory did not stop there though. Minella Rocco also went on to win The Open Hunters Chase at Wetherby earlier this month, beating rival and Cheltenham champion Hazel Hill. Trainer, Jonjo O’Neill believes both victories may have been down to a much-needed dose of good luck. ‘For an unlucky horse all his life, he’s hit two lucky strokes this time,’ said O’Neill. ‘At Warwick, David Maxwell got cramp and at Wetherby, something wasn’t right with Hazel Hill.’
Down to luck or not, O’Neill is happy for Minella Rocco to enter next month’s Cheltenham Festival for a fourth time in The Foxhunter Chase. ‘He’s enjoyed going at a slower pace and is entitled to have a crack at the Foxhunter. It seems that both slowing down and a drop in grade have certainly helped in Minella Rocco’s progression, following a series of joint issues. ‘He’s pretty frail – his wind catches him and he’s had problems with his joints – but he’s in grand form at the minute’ said O’Neill.
Minella Rocco has experienced previous success at The Cheltenham Festival, having won the Chase Challenge back in 2016, beating 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River. Other Cheltenham ventures saw him placing 2nd in the 2017 Gold Cup to Sizing John and being pulled up in the Handicap Chase in 2019. Thanks to his recent success, he is now a leading contender for this year’s Foxhunter.
O’Neill has experienced multiple successes recently, particularly with Annie Mc who has won her last three races at Wincanton, Wetherby and Bangor-On-Dee. ‘We’re pleased with the way she’s going and she likes jumping, but we’ll have to see how she gets on when we step her up a gear,’ said O’Neill. Hopefully, Minella Rocco can add to O’Neill’s string of victories.
Having experienced his fair share of setbacks, it would be fantastic to witness Minella Rocco take the win at Cheltenham once again. Will his two recent victories provide enough power to fuel further wins this season? Watch this space!