The turf

Everyone is talking about the little girl from Devon

3 February 2018

9:00 AM

3 February 2018

9:00 AM

If there hasn’t yet been a hurricane called Bryony there should be. The impact of Bryony Frost, just 22, this jumping season has been quite extraordinary. Since turning professional last summer, the 5lb claiming conditional has won six races on Black Corton, including the Kauto Star Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, making her only the second girl after Lizzie Kelly to win a Grade One. She won Wincanton’s Badger Ales Chase on Present Man, she won Warwick’s Racing Post Chase on Milansbar. Last Saturday I went to Cheltenham hoping for a quiet chat. Some hope. Yet again Bryony dominated the day’s ITV coverage. Despite a bout of flu during the week, fixed by father Jimmy’s mixture of mashed bananas, ice cream and golden syrup, she won the Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase on Frodon, a feat rivalled only by Lizzie’s victory in the Cleeve Hurdle on Agrapart.

But it isn’t just about winning. Bryony has engaged the racing audience. She enjoys every minute of what she is doing and already she is cheered on by strangers like a champion jockey. ‘You’re the little girl from Devon and suddenly they’re all getting behind you.’ Each time the TV microphone is thrust at her after a win, she rolls her eyes in supposed wonder that it has happened again. She grins with uninhibited pleasure at winning but every time points at the horse, seeking to give him the credit. Her natural, instinctive descriptions of the race turn her mounts into recognisable characters. ‘Black Corton was the underdog, now he’s the big gun.’ Milansbar was ‘a polite, big, long-striding type. He’s a warhorse.’ There is no trace of cockiness, but you sense the confidence of someone truly grounded in the racing world.

Father Jimmy won the Grand National riding Little Polveir and the Champion Hurdle on Morley Street. Brother Hadden rode a Cheltenham winner. Bryony wasn’t much interested in school or parties or make-up. She rode with the local hunt at four and learned her trade in muddy point-to-point fields. She has become a natural, a rider for whom horses want to run.

She says: ‘My life was basic. But I wouldn’t change the path I’ve trodden because it has taught me to respect horses and to respect everybody who’s put time into them.’ Having moved on, she says, ‘from Peugeot 1.5s to Ferraris’, she likes to get into their minds. ‘It’s like how you read your dog. You know him. You know when he’s sad and when he’s all right. Horses are very intelligent. Their characters are complicated. They want to tell you. You look at him and you know what he wants. You pick up their little quirks. It’s no use struggling against them. I’m never going to tell a horse what to do. I always ask him because he’s not necessarily going to do what he’s told. Why would he? Why should he? He’s more powerful than you. He’s got an opinion and he’ll put it across. You’ve got to find common ground. Like Frodon today. If I shorten my reins and ask him to come down, he argues with me. That’s taking energy on this ground, so unfortunately I’ve got to put my hands on my withers and let him get into that gear. You have to let him be happy where he is.’

So essentially it’s about rhythm? ‘Rhythm wins races. It’s as simple as that. If they’ve not got rhythm, they’re not jumping, they’re not breathing, then their stride’s breaking and they can’t do it. They’re not mechanics.’

So how quickly can she get to know a horse she’s only just met in the parade ring? ‘As soon as you sit on him you get his stamp. His stride underneath you. Is he jig-jogging? Is he worried about anything? Is he sweating? Are his ears pricked — is he looking at the crowd? If there’s a bit of rough ground, does he step around it, does he think for himself?’

Bryony is fascinating to listen to and fun to be with. She loves her surfing and rock climbing though they bear no comparison, she insists, to the buzz of race-riding, and at only 22 she has perspective. A kidney injury that flared into septicaemia nearly killed her. But she turned even that into a positive. ‘I went down to seven stone. But since I lost my baby fat, as it were, when I started working with my personal trainer, I was just building muscle for six months. You’ve got to think about your body — it’s your career.’

We have to recognise the realities. Bryony doesn’t fuss about the boy/girl thing. But despite her talent she is only 28th in the Stobart jockeys championship. She and Lizzie Kelly and Bridget Andrews don’t get many rides outside their own yards. ‘But nor do many of the young lads,’ she counters. ‘I wouldn’t mind just riding for Dad and for Paul [Nicholls].’ The ‘little girl from Devon’ smiles: ‘You just try to control your controllables. The uncontrollables can’t be controlled, so don’t worry about them.’

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