Catching Pigeons: Rocco appeals

Our Catching Pigeons column returns with news of high hopes for Minella Rocco's prospects at Aintree on Saturday.

Minella Rocco: Could he still be on his way to the top?

Fortunes took a turn for the better at Jackdaw's Castle when Taquin Du Seuil took the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago and after a quiet spell in October and the start of last month, Jonjo O'Neill's team do seem to be running better now.

From a punter's point of view, O'Neill's stable is not the easiest to second-guess, but there's no great plan with Minella Rocco this season – connections hope that if he can keep improving and tidy up his still somewhat hit-and-miss jumping, he could progress into an outside Gold Cup hope.

He can take a step towards that sort of aspiration by taking advantage of the weight he receives from the more experienced Many Clouds and Irish Cavalier and win the Betfred Lotto Cash Giveaway Chase at Aintree on Saturday.

Minella Rocco very much caught the eye when keeping on for third place in a high class staying event at Cheltenham three weeks ago and he will be sharper with that run under his belt.

Silvergrove can give Ben Pauling his biggest handicap success in the Betfred Becher Chase. Pauling has long had this valuable prize in mind for Silvergrove, who has been pleasing on his home gallops and will improve plenty from a fairly ordinary comeback effort in a competitive event at Cheltenham 22 days ago. A feature of his solid performances for Pauling last season was his bold jumping, and he looks likely be at home over the Grand National fences.

Henryville, freshened up by connections after a seven-week break, is a slightly enigmatic character and needs to be held up for a late dash for the line, but he is a solid jumper and could be worth an interest in the second race over the National fences, the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase.

Flat courses bring out the best in him and he will give last season's one-two, Bennys Mist and the admirable Seventh Sky, plenty to think about in what promises to be another cracking race.

Tom Cannon is a most sought-after rider these days and quite rightly so, and he heads to Wetherby to partner Minella Charmer for Alan King in the Constant Security Services Novices Chase.

Former World Hurdle winner Cole Harden is bound to want plenty of beating on his chasing bow, but the two miles and three furlongs is on the sharp side and Minella Charmer has always been highly rated by the Barbury Castle maestro. He should improve considerably on his very useful form in novice hurdles last term and could be one to follow.

Doing Fine can make a successful second appearance for Neil Mulholland in the Betfair London National at Sandown. This is a favourite event of Mulholland's, and he will be keen to take it again after Carole's Destrier's success in this race 12 months ago. Ironically the pair met in a novice handicap at Ffos Las when the selection was trained by Rebecca Curtis, and he only fell short of last weekend's gallant Hennessy runner-up by a narrow margin. Doing Fine lost his way during Curtis' nightmare 2015-16 season, but is now well handicapped as a result, and will be all the better for his promising debut appearance for his new trainer at Sedgefield five weeks ago.

Sire de Grugy is reported in great nick for his bid to follow up last season's win in the Grade One Betfair Tingle Creek Chase, and he could be the one to make the most of the situation if the front running Un de Sceaux and Ar Mad set too fast a pace on what should be very good ground.

Bardd took the scalp of the promising Potter's Approach in a bumper here last month and he has schooled nicely in preparation for his debut over timber in the Barry Rawlings National Hunt Novices' Hurdle. He took his time to find his feet in that event, but he powered up the hill in the manner of an above average youngster, and gets a handy 6lb from the Bangor winner Dashing Oscar here.

Volnay de Thaix can beat his well fancied stablemate Josses Hill and notch his most significant success over fences in the Grade Two Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday. Nicky Henderson has had to be very patient with both inmates since they turned their attention to the larger obstacles, and Josses Hill has so far produced the best form. However, this sharp course will bring out the best in Volnay de Thaix, and he can take full advantage of the 6lb he receives from his Seven Barrows colleague after some very useful preparatory homework.

Melangerie, a half-sister to highly-rated novice hurdler Cultivator, has had to swerve a couple of possible entries before now because of unsuitable ground, will be well suited by the good going at the Fenland course. He has shown more than enough at home to suggest a bold show in the Betfred Henrietta Knight National Hunt Flat race.

Things are at last starting to quieten down in Newmarket, but there are still a few points of interest to note for the days ahead, even if the main talking point in the town at present is the reported sale of local newspaper The Journal to new interests.

John Gosden has brought out the odd good youngster on the All-Weather at this time of the year before and his Bois de Boulogne is worth a look in the Maiden Stakes at Wolverhampton on Saturday evening. He appeals on pedigree and fellow Newmarket raider Lucrezia is singularly failing to live up to her illustrious pedigree thus far.

Another Newmarket trainer who could be celebrating at Dunstall Park – and one who has half a chance of actually being there – is Charlie Fellowes, who saddles Erhaaf in the Betway Handicap over 14 furlongs later on the card.

An import from Owen Burrows' team for Hamdan al Maktoum, he shaped with promise on his first start for Fellowes and new connections hope he could yet emerge as a contender for All-Weather Finals Day next year. It's time to see what he can do here.

Looking further into next week, the penny appeared to have dropped for Roger Varian's backward gelding High Command last time out and he's an interesting contender for whichever of his entries he takes up.

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