Jimmy Frost’s “horse of a lifetime” Morley Street delivered his finest hour in the 1991 Champion Hurdle – and 30 years on, he could just be the portent for a remarkable long-range family double at the 2021 Festival.
Frost could not of course even begin to dream, after passing the line in front to the delight of favourite-backers a generation ago, that one day his daughter would sample the same adulation at Cheltenham.
Frodon has already provided Bryony Frost with one golden moment at the Festival, with their victory together in the 2019 Ryanair Chase.
This year, they are upping the ante as trainer Paul Nicholls sends them out to try to add the Gold Cup to a season’s haul which already includes a shock victory in the King George VI Chase.
Morley Street and Frodon are poles as well as many years apart.
Frost junior is poetry in motion on the dark-bay grinder who jumps brilliantly and never gives up – while dad Jimmy got by far the best tune out of the quirky chestnut, who could lead trainer Toby Balding’s best sprinters at home yet stayed well enough to win four Aintree Hurdles, but had to be held up as long as possible to ensure he did not stop in front.
Frost, who took over as the then dual bumper winner Morley Street’s jockey for his successful jumping debut, was victorious in 14 of their 23 races together – including his first two Aintree Hurdles and on back-to-back trips to America in the 1990 and 1991 editions of the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Chase.
Grand National glory also famously came Frost’s way, on Little Polveir, in the season he first rode Morley Street.
But it is a measure of how highly he rated his association with the brilliantly adaptable hurdler that he can simply say: “Morley Street was a horse of a lifetime.
“It’s amazing you ever get to meet a partner in life like that.
“You just can’t buy it. It’s just one of those wonderful things that happens, just comes out of the mist.
“All those things have got to come together – you could spend millions, and you can’t buy it.”
That same assessment, he agrees, applies equally to the hugely popular partnership Bryony has developed with Frodon.
But this tale, emphatically, begins with Morley Street – and the most important chapter was written at Cheltenham.
From the outset that day, Frost was abundantly aware that Morley Street was the likeliest winner – but there was plenty too which could go wrong as a joint-record 24 runners went to post.
“It was a big field, and my only concern was traffic,” he said.
“I knew he was the best horse in the race – he was favourite, and I’d raced against them all.
“So we were pretty confident, as long as our horse turned up on the day in good form, he could beat them all.”
Morley Street had the class to win with ease, but very much a mind of his own too – and as Frost jockeyed for position into the straight, there was a sudden snag.
“Coming down the hill to the second-last, I had Jinxy Jack right in front of me,” he said.
“The horses were spread across the field, and I was just in the second row – perfect, get a lead, plenty of horse.
“Jinxy Jack always stood up, but he couldn’t half miss a hurdle – and coming down to the second-last I was right in his slipstream, so I lost my bottle there a bit and thought ‘if he misses I’m right behind him and disaster zone is looming’.
“The most likely hurdle for him to make a mistake at is the second-last, coming off the hill. So I pulled out to get away from him, and I absolutely winged the hurdle and landed in front.”
That was not where he wanted to be, but thankfully the class edge still told with a length-and-a-half win from future Stayers’ Hurdle hero Nomadic Way, for an appreciative and largely richer crowd – and a relieved jockey.
Frost had known for more than two years that Morley Street must not hit the front too soon – and he and Balding were at pains to keep that nugget of information from their rivals.
He added: “We learned fairly early on, the first race I ever rode on him was at Sandown, and he should have gone away and won by 10 lengths.
“But he jumped the last and just said ‘I’ve done enough now’.
“It was always a very carefully guarded secret that he pulled himself up in front – because I thought once the other jockeys start to know that, it would make us more vulnerable.
“We kept it a good secret for a long time.”
Morley Street’s 1990/91 campaign was remarkable, and a phenomenon of training, as he won seven times in nine races over exactly six months – either side of the Atlantic, on the Flat, over hurdles and fences.
He began by beating 1989 St Leger winner Michelozzo at Goodwood in October, travelled to New York’s Belmont Park for his first Breeders’ Cup two weeks later, bagged Grade Two hurdles at Ascot and Newbury, made a successful debut over British fences at Worcester, returned to timber for his Champion Hurdle – and then beat Nomadic Way again at Aintree in April.
He could handle extremes of ground conditions as well as show his trademark turn of foot over a variety of trips.
Frost added: “Toby had some good five- and six-furlong horses at the time – and when he wanted to sharpen him up, we’d do a bit of work with them, and I could lead them. That’s why he was pretty impossible to beat – because he had the stamina, stayed two and a half easy and had the speed of a five-furlong horse.”
“He wasn’t the best jumper in the world – that let him down a little bit. He was just a bit flat.”
That did not stop him on memorably successful American trips – to the cosmopolitan environs of Belmont Park and a year later Fair Hill in the southern State of Maryland. The prize was landed both times, but the experiences were contrasting.
Frost’s biggest problem in New York came, with victory secured, when he was locked in a vast complex round the weighing room – “in jail basically”, until Balding and others rustled up cash to pay his valet after he was belatedly informed of the attentive employee’s entitlement to 10 per cent of his race winnings.
At Fair Hill, with its beautiful rolling countryside and temporary infrastructure reminiscent of the backdrop to amateur days in his native Devon, he had to give himself an urgent pep talk down at the start: “‘Eh Frosty, wake up, this looks like a point-to-point, but you’re racing for big money here’.”
Morley Street gave him few concerns on either occasion – negotiating most of the small US fences adequately apart from “missing one badly down the back” in New York.
He recovered quickly as class told and duly “got there too soon again” – superior to the extent that Frost could afford to coast alongside runner-up Summer Colony and inform top American jockey – and future Hall of Fame trainer – Jonathan Sheppard that he was fighting a losing cause.
“The lad was riding his head off. So I shouted again, and he looked round, and I said ‘This is what you call a racehorse!’. He was still on the bridle.”
Switching to the present, and understandably Frost is not about to tempt fate by musing on the possibility of Bryony and Frodon beating the very best again, as they did at Kempton on Boxing Day.
“You can’t even allow yourself to consider it – you just have to get on with your day job,” he said.
“If it happens it happens. There’s certainly nothing you can do to make it happen, any more than you do to just win a 0-100 handicap round Taunton.”
Unlike some, though, he is sure of one thing – that Frodon, already twice a winner over just short of the Gold Cup course and distance, can stay the trip.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in his stamina,” he said.
“I don’t see why people would doubt it.”
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