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O'Neill looking to 'class horse' Minella Rocco to defy Grand National burden

Minella Rocco will have top weight in his belated bid for springtime glory at Aintree next month.

Last year’s Gold Cup runner-up missed Cheltenham this season due to the testing ground and is being aimed at the Randox Health Grand National instead.

But Definitly Red (who finished sixth behind Native River last week), Edwulf (eighth) and Outlander (pulled up) were all taken out of the £1 million Aintree marathon on Tuesday, leaving Minella Rocco to head the handicap on 11st 10lb, with the weights rising 3lb.

The eight-year-old, who will be bidding to give JP McManus and Jonjo O’Neill a second National triumph on April 14, has had a wind operation since his last outing, when falling in the Irish Gold Cup.

Speaking at Aintree on Tuesday, his trainer said: "He's got top weight but he's a class horse. We took him out of Cheltenham because the ground was heavy. Hopefully with another three weeks the ground here will dry out a bit and that would suit him.

"We know he gets the trip and though he's fallen a couple of times he's normally a good jumper, so we'll be fairly confident coming here."

Minella Rocco had last week's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River behind him at the festival in 2016, when winning the National Hunt Chase, and again in the 2017 Gold Cup, but O’Neill has no regrets about bypassing the Gold Cup this year.

"There's a lot of prize-money here and it's better to come to Aintree with a live chance rather than with a tired horse," he said.

"He's in great form and he's been schooling well. So long as the ground dries up a bit we'll be happy on the day."

O’Neill also has Go Conquer in the National and added: "He's in the Topham as well and I'll have to speak to Paul and Clare Rooney as to which way he goes. He's a grand horse and a great jumper and he’s probably a two-and-a-half-miler on park tracks."

The scratching of 17 horses at the second forfeit stage means Katie Walsh is guaranteed another crack at a race in which she finished third on Seabass in 2012, the best effort by a female jockey.

She will be on Baie Des Iles for her husband Ross O'Sullivan and Walsh, an ambassador for Aintree, said: "It's a great excitement – we're extremely lucky to have a horse in the race."

Gordon Elliott, fresh from being crowned top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year in a row, aims to have four runners in a race he won with Silver Birch in 2007.

Cross Country Chase winner Tiger Roll and last year's Grand National runner-up Cause Of Causes – pulled up behind Tiger Roll last week at Cheltenham – are to be joined by Bless The Wings and Ucello Conti.

Elliott said: "A lack of concentration caused Bless The Wings to fall at Cheltenham last week and he's in great form, while Ucello Conti was travelling very well when he came down in the National last year."

BHA handicapper Phil Smith identified Anibale Flyer as potentially the best-treated runner in the field, as he put the Gold Cup third up 9lb for his good effort behind Native River last week.

Smith is retiring after compiling the weights for two decades and his departure was marked by a presentation from Aintree chairman Rose Paterson, who said: "He is one of the greatest friend and advocates the National has ever had."

A total of 73 horses have been left in the National, although Seeyouatmidnight and Knock House still need to start in a chase to qualify.

Number 40 on the list, and the last horse guaranteed a run, is the Willie Mullins-trained Childrens List.

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