Cheltenham Festival: Gutsy Minella Rocco rocks up with National Hunt Chase success

Minella Rocco showed stamina in abundance to run out a gutsy winner of the 146th Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup over four miles and 25 fences at Cheltenham.

Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 5:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 5:16 pm
Minella Rocco ridden by Derek O'Connor jumps the last fence on the way to winning the 146th Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup during Champion Day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Top Irish amateur Derek O'Connor rode a patient race on the Jonjo O'Neill-trained six-year-old as first Vintage Vinnie and then Johnny Og ensured a proper gallop.

Taking it up at the final fence, the JP McManus-owned Minella Rocco (8-1) kept on resolutely and, despite running around up the hill, went on to score by a length and a quarter from Native River.

Measureofmydreams was six lengths away in third place.

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O'Connor, winning the race a second time, said: "The horse gave me a tremendous ride - he was as brave as a lion.

"I don't think anyone can ever question his jumping ever again as he was big, brave and bold.

"He has a huge amount of potential going forward. It's a fairytale."

O'Neill said: "I was a bit worried about the track for him. He's run twice here before and not gone well. He put in a good run at Ascot where he jumped well and did everything right.

"Derek O'Connor gave him a fantastic ride. He got him into a nice rhythm and bided his time. He is a massive big horse and he has a massive stride and you have to give him a little bit of room, but Derek did everything he needed to do.

"He stays well and is just a decent horse. I'd say the ground was also key. Although he is a very big horse, decent ground is a big plus. He has been beaten a few times on soft.

"I was disappointed that he didn't win at Haydock over two and half miles as, while it would have been plenty sharp enough, I thought he was good enough to do that.

"It's great for the team at home as they do a lot of work and it's great to see them rewarded on the first day as it takes the pressure off."