Friday 22 March 2019

Glorious touch of Frost warms Festival hearts on landmark day for racing

Bryony Frost celebrates victory in the Ryanair Chase aboard Frodon during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire
Bryony Frost celebrates victory in the Ryanair Chase aboard Frodon during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire

Paul Hayward

As Bryony Frost was heading out to make Cheltenham Festival history, her Grand National-winning father, Jimmy, told her: "Keep cool, concentrate on your style, keep going forward." She did all three, with spectacular results for National Hunt racing, which has a new superstar to build its future around.

Frost became the first woman jockey to win a Grade One Cheltenham Festival race on Frodon with a ride so perfect it might have been conceived in dreams. Or in a film studio.

"I don't think they missed a beat out there, did they?" Jimmy said as the crowd around the winner's enclosure melted for his daughter's talent. "We walked the course out there this morning," he said, "and she just rode it absolutely to the minute, to the letter, to the second."

The latest leap for women jockeys was a perfect ride, an emotional high, a beautiful story. Less than an hour a half later, Lizzie Kelly confirmed female ownership of day three by winning on Siruh Du Lac.

Frodon's victory, though, was in the Festival's highest tier, in the prestigious Ryanair Chase, which trainer Paul Nicholls chose in preference to the Gold Cup. "We were just in sync, our heartbeats were probably together out there," Frost said, adding a typically lyrical flourish to a landmark moment.

Extension

"Happiness is reality minus expectations," Altior's jockey, Nico de Boinville told her, before Frost climbed aboard a horse which is almost an extension of her personality. Kind words, intended, no doubt to take pressure off, but Frost needs no psychological coaching. "We're a pretty deep-thinking lot in there," she joked about De Boinville's tip. "We might have bouncy heads but we quite like our metaphors. I'm quite a good showcase for that."

So this is what you get with her. A nerveless, stylish, positive ride with a strong finish - watched by all the family. Well, most of them, because Frost's mother Nikki is often too nervous to look. "She never watches. She walks round the house [or farm]," Jimmy said.

In the enclosure you could feel all the Frost family wisdom and spirit, which has found its greatest expression in a woman who recorded her 100th winner on Monday, then dominated one of the Festival's best races. "He is my partner in crime, and oh my God did he answer me today," she said of Frodon. "I cannot explain more how much I love that horse."

Even the victory celebration was rooted in adoration for Frodon, her sense that horse and rider are a "partnership," a union. Her plan for the evening was to have a Coke in the village pub next to the Nicholls yard in Somerset. "I'll probably go to see 'Frode' with his [winner's] banner," she said. "And he'll probably get a green plaque, which is just class," she added, referring to the special wall plaques granted to Nicholls' best horses. She would be in bed "by half nine at the latest" and then up to "muck out" and ride one lot - at 6.45am.

Scant reward, you might think, for keeping her composure when Sub Lieutenant tried to "hassle" Frodon into errors (they never came), and Aso and Road To Respect challenged him up the straight.

"This is his golden day and he deserves every minute of this," she said. "He's so intelligent, he puts it all in. He was loving it coming down the chute. All the photos: most horses would have got impatient. He was like a model saying - yeah, take my photo. He's brave, and he wants it, and he's competitive. He wants to be dared: 'Go on, ask me again.' At the last fence he was like - 'We have to get it'."

From her, these anthropomorphic thoughts feel natural and authentic. She has found the language to describe how it feels for horse and rider at this level. And for that, jump racing should be doing cartwheels, because she lets light in on magic.

The gender question was bound to feature heavily. Only when opportunities are fully equal will we be able to disregard the social significance of such a win. Until then, Frost has her own way of dealing with it.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a boy or a girl, it doesn't matter who you are, if you want something and you've got the support, then go on and keep kicking and doing it.

"I live by the metaphor: if you look at the top of that mountain, it's a very, very long way up, and it's daunting. For me when I was a kid if I'd looked at this point now I'd never have believed it, but I didn't, I just kept my eyes on the floor and kept moving them forward."

Nicholls has helped, and was vindicated in choosing the Ryanair ahead of the Gold Cup. "I'll follow Paul blindly," Frost said. "At the end of the day we want to give 'Frode' his day in the sunlight, a Festival win for him. It's not just me here. There is no way you can paddle this racing canoe by yourself."

On gender, jump racing, which enshrines the love of horses that Frost found so beguiling from early childhood, has a remarkable advantage. "The wonderful thing is that we can walk out for sport on a level basis." When she walks out, the place lights up. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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