It never was, never can be, a sport for the faint hearted and at Cheltenham on days like these that goes for spectators too. Then, amidst the freezing winds and lashing rain along comes Bryony Frost and Frodon to warm the heart.
From flag fall the happy pair nailed their colours to the leader’s mast and let last month’s conqueror Baron Alco do his damndest. On that day over, Bryony and Frodon were not able to dominate her Sussex rival over this same two-and-a-half-mile track but did battle him all the way to the line. Now it was her and her spring heeled accomplice who were always in charge even when Baron Alco took over for a few fences down the back straight before hitting the 13th and then struggling on to be a distant but honourable fourth. Only Cepage and his talented rider Charlie Deutsch were a threat in the closing stages, but the winning length and a half was utterly decisive.
Frodon, who was taking the ninth of his 21 chases, the last three under Bryony, is not the biggest horse in training but he has one of the largest hearts and lengthiest leaps. Three or four times yesterday he came up a whole stride early and admiration was equally shared between the perfection of his jumping and the poise of his 23-year-old rider. This may only be Bryony’s second full season as a professional, but she already has the best body position into and over a fence of any jockey on the current British scene.
By the time this Caspian Caviar Gold Cup was run conditions were testing in the extreme. “Up the home straight the first time,” said Bryony whose exceptional balance was honed surfing the waves on the beaches of her native Devon, “there was a big gust of wind that blew him sideways. But he stuck his ears and his little head down and said, ‘all right I’ll take it on’.”
Dazzling talent and unfeigned delight are huge plusses for any sport and for racing they have come at the end of a beleaguered week digesting a sensible but sobering review of last year’s Cheltenham Festival fatalities and an ill informed and intemperate polemic against the whip in The Times by the normally excellent Mathew Syed. Bryony, daughter of 1998 Grand National winner Jimmy Frost, likes to describe herself as a feral girl from Dartmoor but she is as eloquent an ambassador as any activity could ask for.
Much fun was had on this filthiest of afternoons with the news from France that racing at Deauville had been abandoned because the jockey’s hands were too cold, but for all that, it was also an afternoon which paraded some of jump racing’s finest characters. 21-year-old Sean Bowen exhibited all the talents of a future champion to win the novice chase on Drovers Lane. Richard Johnson, the reigning master, showed why he’s still the man as he drove home Ozzie The Oscar in the 2 miler. Tom Scudamore gave Rockpoint a ride in the Albert Bartlett of which both his legendary father Peter and Grand National winning grandfather Michael would have been proud. And in the featured Unibet International, Brain Power reverted brilliantly back to hurdles after his disappointing efforts over fences in a race which saw the swansong of the wonderful The New One, winner of this race three times and a host of others besides.
From 40 stars The New One won 20 times and over £1million in prize money and in every sense does not owe anyone anything. “It’s a very sad day,” said his trainer Nigel Twiston Davies as the old horse walked away. “When push came to shove Sam said he doesn’t have it in him anymore. He’s loving life, that’s the most important thing. He was a great help in getting Sam going and has been the most wonderful horse for us. He’s part of the family. He’s not going anywhere. We’ll look after him.”
By the time the mud bespattered runners returned after the last we were into as near to darkness as is allowed on an un-floodlit racecourse, but the memory still shone of Bryony Frost eyes shining in admiration of the little hero beneath her. “Every time he gets a fence, he’s like, ‘yes, I got that one, I met that one. I’m the boss,” she had said. “You can honestly feel his heart skip. He’s just awesome.”
British sport, let alone British racing, is lucky to have her.