Frodon’s propensity to battle is matched only by his jockey Bryony Frost’s ability to talk, and the two combined to make history in yesterday’s Ryanair Chase, when the winning rider became the first female jockey to taste Grade 1 success over jumps at the Festival.
And after six consecutive winning favourites, the 9-2 chance’s win could hardly be described as a respite for the layers as Frost and Frodon have been a popular partnership all season, and this was their fourth win in five starts this term.
On this occasion, 12 runners went to post, half inclined to set the pace, the other half with a preference to come from off it. In such races, the tendency is for the pace to collapse and one of the latter to prevail. But such an assessment didn’t take into account two very willing partners in Frost and Frodon.
Sent off in front, with Sub Lieutenant cajoled along early to keep them company and to help force a strong pace, the ever-game Frodon measured each jump and hardly put a foot wrong the whole way. As anticipated, the field tightened up in behind going down the hill for the final time, with the pacesetters looking vulnerable. But 33-1 outsider Aso offered the only serious threat to Frodon, daring to lead down to and over the last.
But the season has been counting down to this moment for Frost and Frodon. Winners of the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at this track in December and in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase back here in January, they were not to be denied this Grade 1 victory.
Once Frost got serious with her mount, he responded as we’ve become accustomed to and, by the finishing line, he had more than a length to spare over the 33-1 outsider, with Road To Respect the best of the eight-strong Irish challenge in the 12-runner race.
Daughter of Aintree Grand National and Champion Hurdle-winning rider Jimmy Frost and sister to Hadden, who also tasted Cheltenham Festival success, Frost has always been immersed in the sport. A shrinking violet she is not and, enjoying second Festival success after Pacha Du Polder in the 2017 Foxhunters’ Chase, she played to the crowd all the way back to the winner’s enclosure, all the while keen to deflect the focus to her mount.
“Frodon has got his day,” said an emotional Frost. “He is Pegasus. He has wings. And he is the most incredible battler. He travelled and, by God, he jumps. When he got overtaken two out, most horses would quit, but he grabbed me by the hands and said: ‘Don’t you dare give up, don’t you dare not send me into the last, I want this more than you, now come on’.
“He is the perfection of determination. Look at what he has done there and tell me he does not love racing. He is unbelievable. The dream he has just made come true for me, it just incredible. He deserves every single pat, every carrot and every polo mint he will get. This is his day.
“Honestly, out there we were just in synch. Literally our heartbeats were probably together, and every time I needed him to come up a bit longer and take a bit more of a chance with a fence, just to keep him there for me, just to give him those moments and have those few breathers, he was brave.
“We had to be brave. Every time he’s won, he’s won by being the bravest. He grabs a hold and he tells you to give it to him. Down to the last, we were beat. Two out he was headed, and that horse was going better than us for a minute, but he would not believe it.
“He would not lie down. It’s a lesson for us: sometimes you might go down, but you’ve got to get up and get going again, and at the last, he was magic. Then when he got to the front, he did his usual and just looked up at the crowd and made sure he took it in — just like I did.”
On a day when jockey Lizzie Kelly was also a winner on Siruh Du Lac, Frost added: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you want something and you have the support, go on and keep kicking and doing it. I live by that metaphor — if you look at the top of the mountain, it’s a very, very long way up and sometimes it’s daunting.
“For me, when I was a kid and if I looked at this point now, I would never have believed it. I just kept my eyes on the floor and kept moving forward, making sure that I was going uphill. As long as you are doing that, and as long as you have people holding your hand and pulling you up, then good luck and keep kicking.”
Winning trainer Paul Nicholls, who has won Gold Cups, Champion Chases, a Champion Hurdle, and this race on two other occasions, amongst many others, was overjoyed.
“That is one of the best days ever,” the Ditcheat boss admitted. “Frodon is a brilliant horse. That was awesome. I lost my voice a bit. It hasn’t been easy to get him right and I knew he had to be 120%.
“I said to Bryony there was no point getting in behind —make all, keep saving a fraction and use that kick once from the back of the last.
“He was massively improved, like a lot of the young horses this year, and we worked out how to get him at his very best today. It’s a brilliant, brilliant team effort.
“Bryony deserves it, everyone in the team deserves it and, most of all, the horse deserves it. He is just the most amazing horse you ever want to train. He is not very big, and it is a very, very special day.”
Of third-placed Road To Respect, trainer Noel Meade admitted: “He ran well, but a mistake three out didn’t help. I can’t say that it made the difference, but it put us under pressure earlier than I thought. We are obviously disappointed.” But the last word must, as it probably does quite a lot, goes to Frost: “It was just incredible. I can’t explain how much I love this horse.”