Minella Rocco out of Grand National but More Of That runs
Last Updated: 21/03/17 6:59pm
Ante-post favourite Minella Rocco will not run in next month's Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.
The seven-year-old posted his best effort to date in finishing second to Sizing John in last week's Cheltenham Gold Cup and appeared to be favourably treated for the extended four-and-a-quarter-mile contest.
However, trainer Jonjo O'Neill has confirmed he will not line up on Merseyside, with connections taking a long-term view on the gelding's future.
O'Neill tweeted: "Minella Rocco has been taken out of the Grand National this morning. He's absolutely fine and we'll aim him at the Gold Cup again next year."
Owner JP McManus' racing manager Frank Berry added: "He's finished for the year now, he won't be going to Punchestown either.
"He's only seven and he had a hard race in the Gold Cup. It will take him a while to get over it so we felt we'd just look to next year with him."
While Minella Rocco will not represent O'Neill and McManus at Aintree, former World Hurdle winner More Of That will tackle the Grand National.
He finished sixth in the Gold Cup, beaten just under 10 lengths in what was his best effort since switching to fences following his 2014 Festival triumph.
O'Neil said: "More Of That came out of the Gold Cup well and will now head to Aintree for the National."
The Jackdaws Castle handler also ruled the McManus-owned Shutthefrontdoor out of Aintree, with that one heading to Fairyhouse in an attempt to repeat his 2014 Irish Grand National success.
O'Neill concluded: "Shutthefrontdoor has also been taken out of the Grand National and will head for the Irish Grand National next month."
More Of That will renew rivalry with the horse that finished one place in front of him at Cheltenham, Saphir Du Rheu.
Paul Nicholls believes Saphir Du Rheu's trip to Kelso prior to the Cheltenham Gold Cup gave him the confidence boost he needed to be competitive in the blue riband.
In finishing fifth, the Andy Stewart-owned grey produced his best performance over fences since winning a Grade One as a novice at Aintree
The Randox Health Grand National now beckons, but whether he will be schooled over Aintree-style fences has still to be decided.
"He's always been capable of being a decent horse, but things fell a little bit apart with his jumping," Nicholls told At The Races.
"Funnily enough, when he fell in the Hennessy it might have woke his ideas up because he's jumped well since that day, his concentration has improved and I think there's more to come from him.
"At Cheltenham he showed us he was coming back and that confidence booster at Kelso made a difference to him, that was good. The other day was a very good run and now he's going to Aintree with a chance.
"Sometimes we put a bit of spruce over our schooling fences - it's a funny thing because we made National fences at home for Double Thriller and when he got there he spooked at the first and landed upside down.
"Then again Neptune Collonges (who won the National) never saw one at home. With these good horses you've got to evaluate each one and have a look."
Others to have been scratched include Road To Riches, Alary, Sausalito Sunrise, Carole's Destrier, Junction Fourteen and Out Sam and they could be joined by Foxrock who appears increasingly likely to run in the Irish equivalent at Fairyhouse - despite being left in the Aintree showpiece at the latest confirmation stage.
The Ted Walsh-trained nine-year-old is a best priced 25-1 for the Aintree spectacular, but owner Barry Connell is favouring the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse nine days later.
Connell said: "At the moment, we're leaning towards the Irish National.
"I think the only thing that might make us change our minds is if it looked like it would come up soft in Aintree.
"We'll have a better idea in 10 days or so, but the intention is to go to Fairyhouse as things stand.
"Not having to travel would be a plus and he's still only a nine-year-old, so he could go for the Irish National this year and the English National next year.
"That would be the line of thought at this stage."
Foxrock has made the most of having his sights lowered this winter, winning four consecutive races in the hunter chase sphere under the trainer's daughter, Katie.
"To be winning those Grade One races consistently I think you need to be rated in the mid-160s," Connell added.
"When you're rated in the low to mid-150s, you can be placed, but you always seem to have a hard race as the horse is going a stride quicker than they're comfortable with.
"That's why we decided to switch him to hunter chases and it seems to have worked out well.
"He's got his confidence back and it was always the idea to give him four or five runs and then give him a go in a big handicap at the end of the season.
"If he did happen to win (the Irish Grand National), that would be great, but if he doesn't he still qualifies for all the hunter chases next season again, including Cheltenham and Aintree."
Seventy-nine horses were left in the race.
Vieux Lion Rouge, the Becher Chase and Grand National Trial winner, is firmly on track for the race.
Trainer David Pipe said: "We have six left in the Grand National and probably only two will get in, Vieux Lion Rouge and Ballynagour.
"I don't think the ground will be too much concern for him (Vieux Lion Rouge) over the Grand National trip.
"He seems to like the fences and Tom Scudamore is very much looking forward to the ride.
"Ballynagour is a hard horse to predict, but is a very good one on his day.
"He seems to come alive on the spring ground."
Last season's Scottish Grand National winner Vicente now races in the silks of Trevor Hemmings, who has won the race three times.
Hemmings' racing manager Mick Meagher said: "He is a nice horse and only an eight-year-old so he might have a few years to go.
"I went to look at Vincente, who is lovely and he flew through the vet. He has some good form which would give him a right chance.
"He is a bit dependent on the ground - he does not like it too wet."
Highland Lodge just missed the cut last season but Cumbria trainer Jimmy Moffatt is in optimistic mood.
He said: "He is a big, fine horse and obviously has an engine as well and has taken a liking to this place.
"He is stronger again this year and we believe the best way to run him is to keep him fresh.
"I am expecting him to win - you have got to have belief in what you are doing."