English jumps jockey Charlie Case hadn’t even considered the possibility of riding in New Zealand two months ago. But he hasn’t taken long to take advantage of his surprise opportunity.
Case arrived less than two weeks ago after leading trainer Paul Nelson started looking for a jockey to boost New Zealand’s somewhat thin jumping rider ranks.
He made his mark quickly, scoring his first victory at his eighth New Zealand ride when guiding Leitrim Lad (NZ) (Tavistock) to victory in a maiden hurdle over 3000m at Rotorua on Sunday.
“People have been really good to me since I got here,” Case said. “It’s fantastic working with Paul, he’s a great trainer, and everyone has been really welcoming.”
A son of Oxfordshire trainer Ben Case, he has ridden as an amateur for a few years in Britain, having had 65 mounts in point-to-point races and about 27 under National Hunt rules.
He’s also been studying towards a degree in real estate and hadn’t thought about anything else until a chance encounter at the Goffs Doncaster Spring Store Sale in May.
“Richard Bandey, who worked in New Zealand for a while, bumped into my dad at Doncaster saying that Paul was looking for a rider in New Zealand and asked if he thought I might be interested,” Case said.
“When I was told about it, I thought it fit pretty well between the seasons and I was delighted at the chance.”
Case expects to remain in New Zealand for the rest of the jumping season and head back to Britain later in the year.
Case said the biggest challenge in New Zealand was keeping his weight down as the weight that jumps jockeys needed to maintain were lower than in Britain.
“I ride at about 65 kilograms, which is good in Britain but it’s near the top of the scale in New Zealand,” he said.
“But I’m fine to ride at 65 kilos here and I’m picking up rides, which is great.”
Case was very happy to get his first New Zealand victory at Rotorua, working hard in a driving finish to get Leitrim Lad home by a length and a half over Tahuroa Height (NZ) (Zed).
Leitrim Lad and Tahuroa Height had led all the way and were 20 lengths in front of their rivals before the halfway point of the race. The pair came back to the field a bit early in the back straight for the last time before clearing away again and had the finish to themselves.
“I thought we were going a bit quick in that ground, but every time the other horse came for him he found a bit more,” Case said of Leitrim Lad, who is owned and trained by Eamonn Green at Pukekohe.
“I think he’s a pretty decent horse who has a good future.”
Case said he was unlikely to seek to ride full-time on his return to England, instead planning to get into real estate, but he would always seek to ride as an amateur.
“It’s a great sport that we have and I always want to be part of it.”
Nelson said Case had fit in well and he adjusted well to the idiosyncrasies of the Rotorua track on Sunday.
“It’s a hard course to ride because there’s such big gaps around the bends and there’s no hurdles on the bends, which there should be,” Nelson said.
“It can be a little difficult judging the race in that case but he handled it well.”
Nelson’s team continues to dominate jumps racing this winter, having notched another two winners at Rotorua when Nedwin (NZ) (Niagara) won the open hurdle and Raucous (NZ) (Nom du Jeu) won the restricted open steeplechase.
He also still has outstanding jumper The Cossack (NZ) (Mastercraftsman), who already this season has won the KS Browne Hurdle and then won his first start over big fences at Te Rapa on June 18.
Nelson said The Cossack would return to hurdle racing for the Hawke’s Bay Hurdle (3100m) at Hastings on Saturday.
“We haven’t made any decisions on what his programme will be after that. We’re going to take it one race at a time.”