Bryony Frost dropped her reins, stood tall in her stirrups, raised both hands to elicit cheers and then did what she always does and reflected all the credit to her horse, pointing both index fingers down toward Frodon’s big bay ears. The crowd roared. And roared. And roared.
Frost became the first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes at Cheltenham, guiding Frodon to a choke-out, front-running gem in the Ryanair Chase. Cheltenham provides the cauldron and each race, each day, a horse and a jockey fills it with their vintage. Thursday, a 23-year-old born-to-be-a-jockey and a never-say-die chaser provided it all, stealing the thunder of the actual feature, the Stayers’ Hurdle (don’t tell the connections of Paisley Park) on a brisk and beautiful Cheltenham afternoon.
“Frodon has got his day. He is Pegasus, he has wings, and he is the most incredible battler,” Frost said. “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!’ ”
Frost sent and Frodon soared, regaining the lead from the gallant Aso to win for the fourth time this season. Trainer Paul Nicholls thought about today’s Gold Cup for the French-bred but chose the Ryanair and got it right.
“He is the perfection of determination. Look at what he has done there and tell me he does not love racing. He is unbelievable,” Frost said. “The dream he has just made come true for me is just incredible. He deserves every single pat, carrot and polo. This is his day.”
Two races later, Lizzie Kelly added another win to her Cheltenham tally by guiding Siruh Du Lac to win the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate and added another win for the women’s tally, which eventually won’t be tallied. With the likes of Frost, Kelly, Rachael Blackmore and others, the female barrier is being smashed. Soon, they won’t make headlines for females winning races and will simply make headlines for winning races. Soon, very soon.
A race after the Ryanair, Paisley Park stormed up the hill like a fresh horse, dominating the Stayers’ Hurdle for trainer Emma Lavelle and owner Andrew Gemmell. Paisley Park offered one momentary gasp when his head rose above jockey Aiden Coleman’s at the last but he recovered to saunter clear.
“This has been a brilliant journey and I have enjoyed it all the way. I've been to Cheltenham for years and years. It is just something else to be in the winner's enclosure. Emma Lavelle and Barry Fenton have done brilliantly with this horse,” said Gemmell, who was born blind. “I'm so chuffed for those two and Aidan. They are all great people to be around and this is a brilliant moment.”
Later in the day, 43-year-old Noel Fehily snatched the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by a nose on impossible longshot Eglantine Du Seuil and then announced he would be retiring in the next few weeks.
“I won't forget this victory. I’ve had great support over the years and I've enjoyed every minute of it. I suppose I have to start working now,” Fehily said. “It has been a fantastic time. I love riding horses, but it’s time to let everyone else get on with it.”
As for today…once more unto the breach.
Race 1. The JCB Triumph Hurdle. Grade 1. $160,000. 2 1/8 miles.
Sir Erec, Group 2 placed colt on the flat, rolls in with a 2-for-2 mark over hurdles. Ruby Walsh choose Tiger Tap Tap over a host of Willie Mullins’ runners. Quel Destin has rattled off five consecutive wins for Paul Nicholls.
The Picks: Sir Erec, Tiger Tap Tap, Quel Destin.
Race 2. County Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. $128,000. 2 1/8 miles.
Twenty-six runners in the County Hurdle! We’ve always liked Thistle Do Nicely and Leoncavallo. Bombs away.
The Picks: Leoncavallo, We Have A Dream, Thistle Do Nicely.
Race 3. The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. $167,000. 3 miles.
Cheveley Park’s David Thompson wanted some action during the winter. So far, they’ve won two races at Cheltenham and could win a third here with Allaho. Now, that’s action.
The Picks: Allaho, Birchdale, Dinons.
Race 4. The Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Grade 1. $800,000. 3 1/4 miles.
The big one. Another classic renewal of the world’s best jump race. Clan Des Obeaux has been electric in his last two starts but has never done it around Cheltenham. Ruby Walsh sides with Bellshill over a Mullins’ brigade. Might Bite tries to right the ship. Native River returns to defend his title, wrestled from Might Bight last year. Cheltenham expert Presenting Percy tries the impossible, winning the Gold Cup off one hurdle prep. And Thistlecrack, dear old Thistlecrack, can he rise from the forgotten?
The Picks: Presenting Percy, Native River, Thistlecrack.
Race 5. The St. James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase. $57,500. 3 1/4 miles.
The indomitable Pacha Du Polder returns to try win this race for the third time in a row. His first came with an apprentice named Bryony Frost, the beginning of the dream.
The Picks: Ucello Conti, Caid Du Berlais, Pacha Du Polder.
Race 6. The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase. Grade 3. $141,000. 2 miles.
The cavalry charge.
The Picks: Whatswrongwithyou, Le Prezien, Caid Du Lin.
Race 7. The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. $89,500. 2 1/2 miles.
The apprentices close out the card. Jonjo O’Neill Jr. gets the call on Early Doors for Joseph O’Brien, the 6-year-old has been chasing Apple’s Jade in his last two starts. There’s no Apple’s Jade in here. The week has had it all, adding another chapter to the O’Neill Cheltenham book will finish it off just right.
The Picks: Early Doors, Not That Fuisse, Burrows Park.