2018 Grand National: Can Minella Rocco return to form at Aintree?

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Minella Rocco hasn’t had the ideal preparation for the 2018 Grand National.

The eight-year-old has completed just two of his four runs since returning to action in October 2017.

On his reappearance at Punchestown, the eight-year-old could only finish fourth behind future Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Road to Respect.

He made no impression on the leaders in the final stages and failed to justify 7/4 favouritism around the 3m1f circuit.

One month later he tried again. This time he failed to complete the required 3m3f distance in the November meeting at Cheltenham.

He was pulled up by jockey Barry Geraghty after blundering at the 18th, allowing fellow Grand National fancy Perfect Candidate to ride on to victory.

The Irish-bred raider returned to action once again at the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown in December.

In a field that included Road to Respect, Outlander, Sizing John and Djakadam amongst others, Jonjo O’Neill’s runner put in a much improved performance.

His jumping was still a little clunky, but at odds of 25/1, a fourth-place finish on the yielding ground must be considered a handy return.

However, his most recent run in the Irish Gold Cup concluded in an extremely disappointing finish.

The son of Shirocco never really got into the contest and after being ridden along in fourth fell at the last to make it four incomplete runs in seven starts.

That must be a worry for O’Neill, who last saddled a winner in the Grand National in 2010 with Don’t Push It.

The trainer will be hoping for better from his main Grand National runner this year after Minella Rocco underwent wind surgery following his latest capitulation at Leopardstown.

It is hoped the surgery will remove any issues in that area, although it could be the eight-year-old’s erratic jumping style that does for him over the 30 fences at Aintree.

O’Neill has suggested that the bigger fences in Liverpool could make the horse concentrate more. And if the ground comes to him, the Irish-trained raider could go well.

So far this season his runs have been blighted by far from ideal ground. His four runs have all come on either soft or yielding ground.

For the bay gelding to perform to his true potential, the Merseyside course will need to dry out. His form on good or good to soft reads 13F2.

The trends should also give Minella Rocco plenty of hope.

Eight-year-olds have won two of the last three runnings of the Grand National after a lean spell dating 13 years.

However, he will carry top weight. And that could be a worry for connections. Many Clouds in 2015 is the only horse since Red Rum in 1974 to carry 11-9 or more and go on to win the renewal.

Mark Walsh will likely take the ride. He was unseated by Gallant Oscar on his last Grand National attempt in 2016.

He does have fair pedigree, though, landing the World Series Hurdle on Jezki in 2015 and the Irish Gold Cup aboard Carlingford Lough in 2016.

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