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.
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.
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."