Mitchell sights set on next term with Lieutenant Rocco

Lieutenant Rocco is expected to return to action next season after a tendon injury ruled him out of an intended appearance at the Cheltenham Festival.

Placed on his first three starts over fences for Nick Mitchell, the six-year-old opened his account with an impressive display at Ffos Las in February and was towards the head of the market for the Ultima Handicap Chase at Prestbury Park.

However, Lieutenant Rocco was found to be lame just three days before the showpiece meeting – and while the extent of the problem was not immediately obvious, Mitchell has now been forced to draw stumps for the current campaign.

He said: “He’s got himself a very slight tendon injury, but we got it in time and hopefully he’ll be back next season.

“It was very disappointing, obviously, but these things happen. We’ve got plenty of nice horses to think about and the thing about Lieutenant Rocco is he’s young enough (to come back).

“Most of his contemporaries are a year older than him, so even if he has to have a bit of time off, it won’t hurt him.

“We caught it in time and it’s not severe. It just needs treating and we’ll then resume his career.”

Blow for Mitchell with Rocco ruled out

Trainer Nick Mitchell has been dealt a blow having confirmed that his leading Ultima Handicap Chase hope Lieutenant Rocco is to miss the race.

Since joining Mitchell from Colin Tizzard, Lieutenant Rocco had run well over inadequate trips before opening his account over fences at Ffos Las in some style over three miles.

He was a general second favourite for the Ultima behind Kim Bailey’s Happygolucky but will unfortunately not be lining up.

Mitchell, who has only recently returned to the training ranks, tweeted: “Lieutenant Rocco is to miss Cheltenham this year as he is lame this morning. The extent of the injury is not known yet but he will not be ready in time.

“Such a blow for the owner and the yard but also for the support he has received from the jump racing fans.

“Great boxers hit the canvas and get back up. He’s young and will be back better than ever.”

Lieutenant Rocco ready to roll at Festival

Nick Mitchell is out to cap his first season back in the training ranks with a Cheltenham Festival winner next week.

Best known for his handling of prolific top-class chaser The Listener, Mitchell relinquished his training licence at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

But with the backing of owner Syd Hosie, he resumed his training career from a yard in Dorset in October and has a genuine chance of striking gold in the Cotswolds next week with exciting novice chaser Lieutenant Rocco.

Formerly with Colin Tizzard, the six-year-old ran well on his first three starts over fences for Mitchell before opening his account with an impressive display at Ffos Las last month.

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Lieutenant Rocco is entered in the Ultima Handicap Chase, for which he is towards the top of the market, as well as the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Mitchell said: “We’re leaning towards the Ultima, but he’s going to be confirmed for that and the Brown Advisory. We’ll be taking him out of the Marsh.

“It will depend on the weather, as much as anything – that goes for any sort of participation at Cheltenham, to be honest. There’s rain forecast every day until next Tuesday, so we’ll just have to see what comes. For him, the more the better really.

“We’ll also wait and see who gets there.

“Fingers crossed, everything has gone smoothly. He had his final tough bit of work (on Tuesday morning), which went very well, and Daryl Jacob will be coming down to school him on Friday.

Nick Mitchell (left) and jockey Daryl Jacob
Nick Mitchell (left) and jockey Daryl Jacob (Damien Eagers/PA)

“I’ve been ticking off every day for six weeks now. All we want is to get there and then let him do what he can do.”

Mitchell, who trains a string of just 17 horses, is hoping to be doubly represented at Cheltenham, with Milanford considered a “live each-way” player in the Kim Muir.

He admits his return to training has gone better than he could have expected, adding: “It’s unthinkable really – I’m very privileged.

“To be hopefully going to Cheltenham with two gorgeous, staying novice chasers is fantastic.

“We’ve got 17 horses in training at the moment and we actually have an open licence now to train for other people, rather than only being a private trainer.”

Shearer scores late to bring up Nicholls’ century

Shearer provided trainer Paul Nicholls with his 100th winner of the season – going one better than on his debut as he took the final National Hunt race of the year at Warwick.

Named after former Newcastle and Blackburn striker Alan Shearer, the Max McNeill-owned gelding dominated in the Join Today £99 Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Racing prominently throughout over two miles, the 8-13 favourite cleared away smartly late on to win by nine lengths from Bowtogreatness.

It is only the second time the 11-time champion trainer has reached a century of winners before the new year, having previously achieved the feat in 2016.

Nicholls, speaking away from the track, said: “That was just the job. It’s a nice milestone to reach before January 1.

“It’s credit to all the staff who have worked so hard. It reflects well on them and gives them pride in what they are doing, and is good for morale.

“It is only the second time we have reached 100 winners before the new year – and this is more of an achievement, given the circumstances.”

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The Ditcheat handler will continue taking small steps with Shearer for the remainder of the campaign, before sending him over hurdles next season.

He added :  “He is one that needs time and patience, and we wouldn’t be going to one of those speedier tracks in the spring.

“He is a real stayer and he will make a lovely novice hurdler. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is one for the Challow Hurdle next season. ”

Winning rider Adrian Heskin was recording his first success since returning from a recent spell on the sidelines with a broken arm.

Heskin said: “I’m delighted to get my first winner back on a nice young horse like him.  He has a nice future ahead of him.

“We know he has plenty of stamina, and Paul was confident he was fit, so we just wanted to get him rolling good and early.”

Nick Mitchell celebrated his first winner since resuming his training career in October, as 16-1 shot Trump Lady scored by a length and three-quarters in the LPS British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Having relinquished his licence at the end of the 2018-19 season, Mitchell – who saddled The Listener to Grade One glory in the Champion Chase at Down Royal in 2009 – was delighted to be back among the winners.

He said: “I stopped training, and the National Trainers Federation were very good and I did some work for them, then for the BHA – but nothing really came of it.

“I’ve known Syd Hosie, who owns Sherborne Utilities, for years – but I didn’t know he was setting up this new yard. He gave me a ring and asked if I would be interested in training them.

“We’ve been knocking on the door with a few, so to have one get its head in front is really good.”

Mitchell pointed to a change of training routine for Trump Lady after her first success under rules.

He said: “I blame myself for her pulling up at Exeter, because I was too hard on her at home and I didn’t lay off her.

“She improved markedly at Ludlow, and we just do nothing at home with her now as she is a busy little thing and she gets herself fit. ”

The Tom Symonds-trained Mr Washington made it four wins from as many starts this season in the Jonjo O’Neill Racing Club Handicap Hurdle, which the 15-8 favourite collected by three-quarters of a length.

Assistant trainer David Dennis said: “He takes a bit of time to warm to it, and I thought he was beat turning in.

“I thought he would appreciate the step up to three and a quarter miles, and he has got the job done.

“He went over fences last season but he didn’t enjoy it, so we put him back over hurdles this season to get his confidence back – which he has.”