If there is a gene for positivity, Bryony Frost has it twice. “It’s a long way off if you look at the top of the mountain sometimes,” she said this week, on the road home from Catterick after finishing fourth and then last on her only rides. “It can be daunting; hence why I never set any goals. But, if you make every step a forward one, going uphill and improving in some way or another in life, then you’re doing just fine and wherever you end up is where you end up. But try not to think about where you do end up. Just keep climbing; that’s what I live by.”
It is a philosophy that has served Frost well in the five years since riding her first winner, in a lowly hunter chase at Musselburgh in February 2015, but some of the forward steps, inevitably, are more significant than others.
Victory in the Foxhunters’ Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival prompted the switch from amateur to professional status. Within a year she had her first Grade One winner, at Kempton on Boxing Day, and in March 2019 her second, as Frodon’s heroic success in the Ryanair Chase made Frost the first female rider to win a Grade One at the Cheltenham Festival. She ended last season as the champion conditional, having ridden out her claim with her 75th winner in November 2018.
The going has been a little tougher in recent months, as it so often is for the best conditionals in their first season without a claim. A 20% strike-rate in the first three months of 2019 dropped to 12% for the remainder of the year, and a shoulder injury forced her to miss the whole of the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
But her zest for the jump jockey’s life remains undimmed and never more so than when a reunion with Frodon is in her immediate future. It is rare to find a horse and rider with such a visible connection and, while their first two outings this season have yet to yield a victory, the Grade Two Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday offers an ideal platform to rediscover their winning habit with a return to Cheltenham now only two months away.
“As a jockey our job is to better our horses’ careers,” Frost says. “Every time you go out, you have to think, what can I do better, how can I make it smoother, where can I find his rhythm, does he like his own space or to be in the crowd with the hustle and bustle?
“It’s all about learning their map, and which is the best road to take to get you there as quick as possible. But when you start to develop a connection with your horse and learn his character and the way he likes to do things, and then you click, it’s a magic place to be when you’re out on that track.
“But the races you win will probably be the ones with the least problems. It’s races when you finish third or fourth or mid-div that are hard to ride, because you’re always racking your head and thinking, where could I have found him half a length and could I have cut the corner a bit more there.
“When you win a race, you’re thinking, ‘Well, that was smooth, how cool was that?’, because everything’s gone right, and Cheltenham was like riding a wave. We cruised along, found a rhythm and never came out of it.”
Friday was a rare afternoon off for Frost after trips to Exeter, Wincanton, Chepstow, Lingfield, Plumpton and then Catterick in the first few days of 2020. Rare, and not entirely welcome for a rider who lives for the heat of competition, although the inevitable injuries that are part of every jump jockey’s life have helped to adjust her outlook.
“It’s taught me patience and to focus,” she says. “You dedicate your life to racing and your horses and analysing races for your horse so you can have the best chance possible. When you take that out of your life, you’re twiddling your thumbs and a bit lost and not sure quite where to go.
“You have to dedicate your head to getting your body back, because that’s your career. It taught me how to try to swap my dedication on to myself. I took myself out of my own head and saw my body as my career, and took my emotion away from it all.”
Even in the little spare time she has, Frost keeps climbing.
“I do a bit of bouldering,” she says. “That’s good for your body and also, you’re only ever thinking about the next move. You can’t think about anything else, just climbing your wall.
“But it’s not easy to switch off completely, because it’s what makes your heart beat and what you live for. When you get a hurdle or a fence right, it’s a mega-moment. You just don’t get moments like that in day-to-day life. I wouldn’t want to get up in the morning if I didn’t have a horse involved in my day.”
12.15 Agent Of Fortune 12.50 Dream Magic 1.25 Fizzy Feet 2.00 Stay Classy 2.35 Marmalade Day 3.10 Surround 3.40 Holiday Magic
12.20 Fraser Island 12.55 Saint Xavier 1.30 Sammy Bill 2.05 Frodon 2.40 Notre Pari 3.15 Touch Kick 3.45 Never Adapt (nap)
12.30 Coconut Splash 1.05 With Discretion 1.40 Penny Mallow 2.15 Hawk High 2.50 Zig Zag 3.25 Eclair De Guye 3.55 Merry Berry
12.40 Made For You 1.15 Rough Night 1.50 Highest Sun 2.25 Keen On 3.00 Kimberlite Candy (nb) 3.35 Igor 4.00 Diamond River
4.15 Rodin 4.45 Asdaa 5.15 Xian Express 5.45 Swiss Cheer 6.15 Lucky’s Dream 6.45 Cat Royale 7.15 Sarsaparilla Kit
Chris Cook’s TV races guide
This could be a big Saturday for the colours of JP McManus, which may come to the fore in both of the main betting races, notably Warwick’s Classic Chase. He is represented by the Tom Lacey-trained Kimberlite Candy (3.00), whose preparation echoes that of One For Arthur, the 2017 winner.
Like that horse, Kimberlite Candy comes straight from a running-on effort in Aintree’s Becher Chase. With Lacey among the winners, this looks a good opportunity. Petite Power can also go well.
1.50 Warwick There ought to be a decent pace on here, which would be a help to Highest Sun, who took a strong hold on his way to winning a two-horse race last time. His form, including third place behind Champ in November, makes him the most promising of these novices.
2.05 Kempton Altior’s absence leaves a weak-looking contest seemingly at the mercy of his stablemate Top Notch. But Frodon is rated half a stone higher than that one and can give him a fright if leaving behind the disappointments of his season so far. He was up against it in a handicap in October and couldn’t go with two classy sorts in the closing stages of the Betfair Chase, so he is not short of excuses and perhaps we will see something better here.
2.25 Warwick It could be a long way home on this soft ground for Decor Irlandais, a strong traveller who won tidily at Catterick last time. He might get outstayed by Keen On, whose Sandown defeat of Protektorat looks better than it did at the time.
2.40 Kempton The first of the day’s two feature handicaps is the Lanzarote, in which McManus’s Notre Pari looks very handily treated. Trained by Olly Murphy, he showed steady improvement until winning tidily on his handicap debut at Aintree last month. It was not a strong race but he won it in the style of a horse with much more to offer. Tight Call is a potential improver at bigger odds.
3.15 Kempton The eye goes first to Walt, winner of a better race here last February. But this ground might be a shade softer than ideal for him, so Touch Kick is given a chance to show he’s better than he appeared in the Grand Sefton. He still looks fairly weighted in the right circumstances.
3.35 Warwick For a novice who is very unexposed at this distance, Igor seems a big price at 16-1. He was made to look short of pace in a Graded contest at Cheltenham before Christmas but there should be an end to end gallop in this Pertemps qualifier and it can show Nicky Henderson’s charge to better effect.