The turf

Nowhere does racing quite like Cheltenham, even behind closed doors

31 October 2020

9:00 AM

31 October 2020

9:00 AM

With or without the crowds, nowhere does racing like Cheltenham. The four winners, including her first Group One shared equally by Hollie Doyle with her housemate Tom Marquand (an item since Pony Club days) made it a Flat finale to remember on Ascot’s Champions Day a week before. They are not just two prodigiously talented riders but the sort of level-headed couple you would want living next door to you.

But in the jumping game, every obstacle crossed adds to the drama, the less frantic pace enables every observer to appreciate unfolding tactics and the horses are often around long enough to be as well known as their riders. Jumping comes with added emotion and though Cheltenham’s whole style and layout demands roaring crowds, the course provided everything we could ask for behind those sadly closed doors at its first autumn fixture.

That bubbling stream of consciousness totem Bryony Frost and her beloved Frodon, a different kind of golden couple, provided the inspirational centrepiece and probably saw a good few armchairs splintered in TV rooms nationwide as they jumped a strong field to exhaustion in the handicap chase. Humping 11st 12lb and conceding 18lb or more to his rivals, Frodon led all the way to secure his sixth victory at the track, seeing off every challenger. Said Bryony: ‘Weight stops trains but his class pushed that aside. His jumps were just magical.’

‘Frode’, as she calls him, attracts attention at home by squealing. On the racecourse she is convinced that he thrives on crowd enthusiasm and the good news for all Frodon’s followers is that trainer Paul Nicholls was impressed enough by that brave performance to accede to owner Paul Vogt’s desire to have him run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March. They’ll need a new roof if he wins it.

There was plenty more to savour over the two days. Trainer Harry Whittington is building a formidable team. A year ago he won the Friday handicap chase with Kate and Andrew Brooks’s Saint Calvados: this time he took it with their equally classy Rouge Vif. His trainer noted after Rouge Vif motored away up the hill: ‘They couldn’t go his gallop and he was in his comfort zone out there. It was lovely to watch.’ Equally impressive on the Saturday was the emphatic victory of Henry Daly’s Honest Vic in the three-mile Pertemps Hurdle qualifier. Ridden by 3lb claimer Richard Patrick, Honest Vic, who hadn’t run since finishing fifth in the Coral Hurdle at the Festival in March, came away to win by a comfortable four lengths with another eight back to the third. Henry had hoped for a good run but admitted that he was surprised by the style of his victory, having run him to see if he would get the three miles and whether to keep running him over hurdles or switch to fences. ‘I guess we’ve found out that bit,’ he told me, ‘and since we’ve trashed his handicap — he’ll probably go up nine or ten pounds to 150 — we’ll have to look at conditions races.’

Honest Vic , who is clearly quite some prospect, is the first horse Henry has trained for his mother, Carole. ‘She once had a horse with Nick Gaselee when I was ten or 12 but having been training for 19 years you could have knocked me down with a pretty light feather when she phoned me one day and said she’d like to have a horse with me. The trouble was she can be a little, shall we say, forthright, and she told me she would like a couple of partners.’

Fortunately, when Henry phoned a cousin he agreed to come in and involve his father too so Mrs Daly now shares Honest Vic with her brother and a nephew. Plenty of family fun to come I hope.

Henry reckons Richard Patrick very good value for the 3lb claim he won’t have much longer. Having been impressed with him in point to points he called the young rider a while back to see if he would join him as a conditional only to find he had accepted such a position just half an hour earlier with Kerry Lee.

Henry welcomes the new generation of articulate young riders who can not only do their stuff in the saddle but who can handle the media and talk sense when they get off a horse.

‘We can send a WhatsApp video of the jockey’s report straight to the owners and they love it. It’s a big help.’ Another of those articulate young riders to impress at Cheltenham was 7lb-claimer Cillin Leonard, who rode Dr Richard Newland’s Captain Tom Cat to victory in Friday’s very competitive handicap hurdle and who has the advantage of Mick Fitzgerald as his jockey-coach.

Cillin admitted afterwards that his orders had been to drop in but his horse was attacking his hurdles so positively he pressed on and got him in a good rhythm in front. Dr Newland afterwards praised his boldness: thinking riders do you a lot more good than automatons.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments