Croco Bay gives Case his first Cheltenham Festival winner

Edgcote trainer Ben Case was in dreamland tonight (Friday) after saddling his first Cheltenham Festival winner.
Trainer Ben Case and jockey Kielan Woods with Croco Bay and his winning connections at the Cheltenham FestivalTrainer Ben Case and jockey Kielan Woods with Croco Bay and his winning connections at the Cheltenham Festival
Trainer Ben Case and jockey Kielan Woods with Croco Bay and his winning connections at the Cheltenham Festival

Croco Bay won the Grade 3 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase in the hands of Kielan Woods, who was riding his first ever winner at National Hunt racing’s showpiece event.

The 12-year-old was always prominent and led from the tenth fence. Under a great ride from Woods, the 66-1 shot kept on gamely when strongly challenged after the last fence by Bun Doran (Paddy Brennan), before being ridden out up the run-in to score.

The Wardington Gate Farm handler didn’t even know at the start of the week whether Croco Bay would get into the race, having been off for more than 12 months with an injury before returning at Worcester in July last year. It was the fourth time Croco Bay, who is owned by Lady Jane Grosvenor, had run in the race, having been third in 2015.

Case said: “A week ago I wasn’t sure we would get in. But I knew he was fit, after he went to Newbury the other day for a racecourse gallop. He was in great form, he just runs with his heart on his sleeve and I’m thrilled.

“There has been a lot of work gone into Croco Bay, we brought him back from a long lay-off to run at Worcester when he ran very well. But I thought if we are ever going to have the chance of winning a big race, he has to come back here.

“We gave him the winter off and brought him back after Christmas. He loves it around here. He has been third and fifth – and the time I really did fancy him he fell at the water which is very unlike him – but he has made up for it today.

“He is 12-years-old but he is like a six-year-old at home. He has a great attitude, if he was worked up, I would be worried. He has been to all the festivals - here, Aintree, Galway, Punchestown - and to win here is fantastic.

“He is proper handicapper. He is what he is, but he goes out there and runs his heart out every time. For a small yard like ours to have a horse like him, it is great for us.

“This is what we do the job for, to have days like this, I am just really pleased for everybody. It is an emotional occasion.”

Woods added: “I am so shell shocked! I have been dreaming of this ever since I first sat on a horse. As the years go on, you think maybe it’s not going to happen.

“We wanted to pop out handy away because we always do, any time he’s run in this race we’ve been very handy. I couldn’t believe how well he was jumping down the back. I gave him a kick at a few and he was meeting Gino Trail [Richard Johnson] on the same stride and landing a stride in front of him.

“He was really enjoying it and I kicked on downhill, winged three out, I was tight to the rail to give us a little chance. He winged two out, winged the last and just stuck his head down and went all the way to the line.

“What a little horse he is, he hasn’t run in nearly a year. It’s an amazing training performance. Not many horses have their prep run round Worcester in July!”