Croco Bay tomorrow (Fri) bids to bring county trainer Ben Case a fresh career highlight in the final contest of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival when he lines up for the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
The nine-year-old finished third of the 20 runners behind Next Sensation last year and while he has failed to sparkle in three outings this term, Case hopes a return to better ground will prove beneficial, and with drying conditions expected all week the timing seems ideal.
Case has had to wait all week before unleashing his only Festival runner but said: “We’ve kept him back for the spring, because, more than anything else, ground is the key to him.”
The fact that Croco Bay will also be running off a 1lb lower mark than last year is a handy and healthy pointer while his last run in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last month can be discounted as the race was run in desperate conditions.
Case added: “We are lucky to have a horse that is good enough to go to the Festival. We know how difficult it is and there are plenty of trainers who haven’t got anything to run there. Just look at Gary Moore... a few weeks ago he was heading there with a few big chances and then all but one falls by the wayside.
“So first of all we need to get there in one piece and then make sure we enjoy the day and make the most of it. If the horse runs well on Friday so much the better.”
Two runners from the Wardington Gate Farm yard last week brought a winner and a third place with Themanfrom Minella scoring in the 3m novices’ handicap chase at Exeter while Phare Isle was placed on the same card in the 2m 7f handicap hurdle.
COUNTY owners Rob Rexton and Simon Hunt both planned to be doubly represented at the Festival this week, with the former already having plenty to celebrate following a valuable success with Flying Angel in Saturday’s Close Brothers Imperial Cup at Sandown Park which brought with it a first prize of £39,000.
Not a bad pot, but sadly the traditional £100,000 bonus awarded to any horse winning the Sandown race before going on to victory in any contest at the Festival, no longer applies.
Even so, Rexton and his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies were weighing up options of running in one of the 2m Festival handicaps.
Rexton, the managing director of Brackley firm Agetur UK, also had his colours pinned to the mast of Bally Beaufort which pulled up in Tuesday’s 4m National Hunt Chase. Agetur UK not only also sponsor the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard but also the stable’s conditional rider Ryan Hatch...
Meanwhile, Hunt and his trainer David Bridgwater were delaying a decision over whether to run The Giant Bolster in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Kim Muir Challenge Cup today.
Hunt’s check colours were also due to be carried by Jot’em Down, fifth on his debut in this country at Towcester before winning at Plumpton 17 days ago, in Wednesday’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
THE Stuart Edmunds-trained San Telm brought a welcome winner to the Newport Pagnell yard at Market Rasen on Sunday, on a card which also saw Reyno finish fourth.
After the 11-year-old Oscar gelding had powered clear of Pilgrims Bay by two and a quarter lengths, syndicate manager Nick Brown said: “He’s a bonny little horse who deserved this. We put the cheek pieces on him because if anything he is too polite. He may go back to Market Rasen in a week.”
Meanwhile, the yard was expecting new recruit Visible Light to be well suited by the Towcester undulations today.
TUESDAY not only signalled the start of the Cheltenham Festival but it also marked another weighty landmark in the world of National Hunt racing in Northamptonshire, being the 80th birthday of former Towcester clerk of the course Hugo Bevan, still actively involved in looking after winning owners at the track.