Tag Archive for: Frodon

Frodon handed Cheltenham handicap option

Three-times Grade One winner Frodon is among 82 entries for the Ultima Handicap Chase on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, March 15.

Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old began his season by winning the Champion Chase at Down Royal but having disappointed in defence of his King George crown, his latest trip to Ireland was not as successful and he was beaten a long way in the Irish Gold Cup.

He has run at five previous Cheltenham Festivals but has not run in a handicap since winning at Cheltenham off a mark of 164 in October 2020.

Regular rider Bryony Frost told Betfair: “He’s off 164 at the moment and he won at Cheltenham off that mark previously. Whether he goes there or not, I will leave that up to Paul and Mr Vogt (owner), but if he does I’ll be right there with him.

Frodon and Bryony Frost have been Cheltenham regulars down the years
Frodon and Bryony Frost have been Cheltenham regulars down the years (David Davies/PA)

“Grade One and handicap races are completely different races to ride. Grade Ones obviously aren’t so busy and you don’t have so much traffic.

“But we are on a very honest mark, that (164) is who we are.”

Aye Right, Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloudy Glen, Kim Bailey’s Does He Know, The Shunter and Threeunderthrufive are others to note at this stage.

Sandy Thomson has entered both recent Kelso winner Empire Steel and his smart novice Doyen Breed, second to Does He Know in the Reynoldstown on Saturday.

Thomson said: “Doyen Breed hated the heavy ground, but we just needed to get some experience into him.

“He didn’t really travel on the ground, but we were absolutely delighted with the way he ran.

“He is in the Ultima and will need a bit of good ground, but that may just be a bit competitive for him at this stage of his career.

“We were obviously delighted with Empire Steel. We know he is a nice horse and he has taken it really well.

“He in the Ultima as well and he would want it soft, but he may go to Kelso for a chase a week on Saturday.”

There are 50 entries in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, with exactly half of them trained in Ireland.

Unexpected Party is among the market leaders for the Coral Cup
Unexpected Party is among the market leaders for the Coral Cup (Zac Goodwin/PA)

They are led by the Willie Mullins-trained Gaelic Warrior, who has yet to run for Ireland’s champion trainer.

The ultra-competitive Coral Cup has attracted a whopping 110 possibles, with 57 trained in Ireland. Dan Skelton’s Unexpected Party is among the favourites with the sponsors along with Sam Thomas’ Good Risk At All.

Surprisingly the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase has only received 38 entries, which include Gary Moore’s progressive Editeur Du Gite and last year’s winner Sky Pirate.

The Pertemps Final has 53 entered with Sporting John amongst them, while last year’s winner The Shunter is one of 67 in the Plate Handicap Chase.

There are 21 Irish entries among the 63 possibles in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase, 46 of the 81 in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle are trained in Ireland while last year’s runner-up Langer Dan is one of 110 in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

Nicholls searching for solution to stable’s recent poor form

Paul Nicholls insists he will “crack on” as he battles to come through a rare dry spell since the turn of the year.

The champion trainer has suffered some high-profile disappointments in recent weeks and his usually impressive strike-rate is down at just five per cent for the last fortnight.

Frodon and Greaneteen failed to give their true running in Ireland at the weekend while Pic D’Orhy also disappointed in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

Nicholls has no planned runners until Thursday at the earliest, however, he says until test results tell him something is definitely wrong with his horses, all he can do is run them when they are giving him the right signs at home ahead of another big weekend coming up at Newbury.

“What is the right thing and what is the wrong thing to do? If I had a good reason not to run them, if they showed they weren’t right, we wouldn’t entertain running them,” said Nicholls.

Dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is due to run at Newbury this weekend
Dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is due to run at Newbury this weekend (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I asked Scott Marshall this morning, who rides both Clan Des Obeaux and Bravemansgame, what they felt like and he said they were in great order, they worked brilliant on Saturday.

“It’s difficult, some of the ones we’ve run you can put a line through – some ran back a bit quick, we wanted to go to Ireland with the two and then the ground went against them and you can always look into things a bit too much.

“Dolos won at the weekend, one or two ran disappointing and we’re trying to find out why, but if you don’t run then you can’t find anything, we won’t turn the corner if we keep ducking the issue. If the guys who ride them every day say they are well, then we should be running them.”

Frodon and Greaneteen had already won Grade Ones this season but Nicholls felt rain on watered ground did not help their causes.

Frodon was a big disappointment in the Irish Gold Cup
Frodon was a big disappointment in the Irish Gold Cup (Steven Paston/PA)

“Looking at the way they ran, it wouldn’t have mattered what the ground was, but both like decent ground and it was one of the reasons we targeted those races. For the last few years at Leopardstown over Christmas they’ve all complained about the ground, which I thought would suit ours,” he said.

“Obviously they watered quite a bit, naturally to keep it right for that meeting, but then they had rain on Thursday and Friday and I thought we’d be in trouble a little bit.

“Both horses hit their jackpot earlier in the season. Frodon won in Down Royal and we won the Tingle Creek with the other one. If they didn’t win another race this season, they’ve had an amazing time.

“Neither of those horses are a Kauto Star or a Master Minded, they are horses who have their level and you’ve got to find their right level on the right day on the right ground. It just didn’t work out this weekend.

“They’ll come back in the spring – it might be Sandown at the end of the season.”

Nicholls suffered a similar dry spell in the 2015-16 season, when he discovered potassium and calcium levels in a batch of hay he was using had dropped.

“We had a problem in January in 2015-16 and it turned out to be the hay. The longer you leave haylage, the mineral levels drop down. Back then we put them on potassium and calcium supplements and we’ve already put them on that now as we are suspicious,” he said.

“We’re just guessing that’s what it is. We’re waiting for the tests to come back, but we are already covering our tracks.

“You wouldn’t know there was a problem looking at them. When they are sick or have a cough you know where you are and you draw stumps, but this is like it was a few years ago.

“I think it’s a short-term thing. You can overthink things and I think you can put a line through a few of them for one or two different reasons, but there’s one or two that you can’t.

“I think you’ve just got to be positive and crack on until you know otherwise.”

Nicholls hoping Leopardstown Gold run is made to measure for Frodon

Paul Nicholls expects the demands of Leopardstown to bring out the best in Frodon as he bids to become the first British-trained horse in over a decade to land the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.

Much has been made of Ireland’s stranglehold on the National Hunt game at present, but Nicholls has never been one to shirk a challenge.

That buccaneering spirit has paid off twice in the past 12 months, with Clan De Obeaux at Punchestown and Frodon at Down Royal, and his eyes are fully fixed on another major Irish prize this weekend.

Nicholls said: “I think Leopardstown will suit Frodon well – that’s why we’re going.

“I’ve always felt this track would suit. The ground is never too bad and ground is quite important.

“This was an obvious race to go for and I was keen to have a crack at it.”

Nicholls, who steered Playschool to victory in the 1988 Irish Gold Cup, also saddled the last successful British raider in Neptune Collonges in 1999.

Frodon heads to Dublin on a retrieval mission after fading into fourth when defending his crown in the King George, but Nicholls sees him as an ideal candidate for Saturday’s €250,000 showpiece.

“Things didn’t work out in the King George where he and Minella Indo paid the price for taking each other on. The testing going was also against him that day,” the champion trainer told Betfair.

“Bryony Frost gets a great tune out of Frodon. He doesn’t have to lead and we will not be getting into a fight up front this time. He should be suited by the big galloping track and better ground.

“You can never rule him out and I’m looking for another big run.”

Minella Indo will also line up with a point to prove, having been pulled up following his early pace battle with Frodon at Kempton.

Henry de Bromhead has called upon the services of Robbie Power, who only returned from his second serious injury within a year last week.

Minella Indo after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Minella Indo after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Michael Steele/PA)

With Jack Kennedy, who rode Minella Indo to win the Gold Cup, committed to Delta Work, and Rachael Blackmore seemingly nailing her colours to stablemate A Plus Tard once more, Power has been booked with March in mind.

The leading rider missed four months of last year after back surgery and not long after making his comeback tore tendons in his arm and fractured his hip, keeping him out for another almost four months.

“Obviously I’m looking forward to it, rides like this are why you work so hard in the gym to get back – good rides in big races,” said Power.

“It’s nice to know you are still in people’s thoughts. When I was sat at home over Christmas watching horses win I might have been on, it’s hard to take. That’s the inspiration.”

Power went on: “I went to Henry’s on Wednesday to have a sit on him and jumped four fences. He felt great. He felt very fresh and well in himself.

“He’s a Gold Cup winner at the end of the day. The other Gold Cup winner I rode was Sizing John – they are completely different types, but they had one thing in common, they are both very good horses.

“The bit of rain at Leopardstown Thursday night won’t go amiss but I suppose that’s the same for every horse this weekend, it will have been much appreciated. Fingers crossed it all goes well.”

Last year’s winner Kemboy is one of four runners for Willie Mullins, who bids to add to his record haul of 10 Irish Gold Cup victories.

In six chase starts at Leopardstown Kemboy has never been beaten more than three and a half lengths and was last seen finishing a close third behind Galvin and A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase.

The 10-year-old is joined by Asterion Forlonge, who looked booked for second behind stablemate Tornado Flyer when falling in the King George, as well as Janidil and rank outsider Cilaos Emery.

Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: “Kemboy seems to run very well around Leopardstown all the time, but it will be interesting to see how the ground rides after all the watering. You’d imagine it will be slower than the last few years.

“Does that change the result? Maybe. Kemboy is in great form though, and as Paul (Townend) has said, he doesn’t have to lead if Frodon wants to.

“It’s going to be a fantastic race with a Gold Cup winner, Irish Gold Cup winner and a King George winner all in it.”

Asterion Forlonge has had his issues jumping but possesses a huge engine
Asterion Forlonge has had his issues jumping but possesses a huge engine (Brian Lawless/PA)

He went on: “Asterion Forlonge could surprise a few, I think. His only Grade One win came at Leopardstown and he’s never fallen going left-handed so I don’t think he needs to go right-handed as such. He’s got form going left and he’s unexposed over the trip.

“Janidil wasn’t beaten that far at Christmas, but to be honest we were a little disappointed with him as we think he’s better than that. You couldn’t rule him out, but it might be that he’s a Ryanair horse. We just thought he was worth another try at this trip.”

The field is completed by Gordon Elliott’s pair of Conflated and Delta Work.

Delta Work (right) winning the 2020 Irish Gold Cup
Delta Work (right) winning the 2020 Irish Gold Cup (PA)

The latter, who has won three Grade Ones over the course and distance but has not got his head in front since beating Kemboy in the 2020 Irish Gold Cup, is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time.

Elliott said: “He was disappointing at Christmas. He got jarred up last year in Leopardstown and it took us a long time to get him right.

“I’m still not sure he’s where I’d like him, but we’re putting cheekpieces on him and he schooled well during the week, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Nicholls sets sights on Dublin Racing Festival prizes

Paul Nicholls is ready to take on the cream of the Irish in their own back yard at Leopardstown next month, with Frodon, Clan Des Obeaux and Greaneteen being readied for the Dublin Racing Festival.

Frodon, winner of the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal, and dual King George VI Chase hero Clan Des Obeaux are among 18 entries for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Saturday, February 5.

Nicholls, who previously rode the winner of the race on Playschool in 1988 and then trained Neptune Collonges to win in 2009, is also set to run Queen Mother Champion Chase hopeful Greaneteen in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase on the Sunday of the showpiece fixture.

Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: “That is the plan at the moment. Both Frodon and Greaneteen prefer a sounder surface, and racing out there the ground has looked good – so that is the plan.

“As Paul always says, you have to have the appropriate horses in the appropriate races and it is no good going over there for the sake of it, really.

“In the shape of Greaneteen and Frodon – and with Clan Des Obeaux, who is also entered in the race that Frodon is in – you have got obviously really smart horses, Grade One animals, and the conditions of those races in terms of the ground and the track will suit them well, so if you have got the appropriate horse, then it is wise to take them on.

“There is no point going over there with the wrong animal, so that’s why they are entered.”

The Paddy Power Gold Cup, worth €250,000, has the carrot of a €150,000 bonus to the winning connections if their horse can also land the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Only three horses have managed such a feat – the British-trained Jodami (1993), Irish-trained Imperial Call (1996) and most recently in 2017 when Jessica Harrington’s Sizing John did the double.

Tornado Flyer was a surprise winner of the King George
Tornado Flyer was a surprise winner of the King George (Steven Paston/PA)

Clan Des Obeaux’s King George VI Chase conqueror Tornado Flyer is part of an eight-strong entry from Willie Mullins, who has also engaged last year’s winner Kemboy, Melon and Asterion Forlonge.

Galvin, successful in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, Mount Ida, Delta Work and Run Wild Fred are on the Gordon Elliott team, while Minella Indo and Eklat De Rire have been entered by Henry de Bromhead.

Mullins also has a strong hand in the Dublin Chase with Allaho, Ferny Hollow, Energumene and the 2020 and 2021 winner Chacun Pour Soi among the nine horses he has entered.

Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen heads the British contingent, which also includes progressive Editeur Du Gite, trained by Gary Moore, and Jonjo O’Neill’s Cheltenham Festival scorer Sky Pirate.

Honeysuckle will bid for another notable hat-trick at the Dublin Festival
Honeysuckle will bid for another notable hat-trick at the Dublin Festival (Brian Lawless/PA)

Star mare Honeysuckle tops the dozen entries for the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle as she bids to become only the third horse after Istabraq and Hurricane Fly to win the race on more than two occasions.

She completed a hat-trick of wins in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle on her seasonal reappearance at Fairyhouse in November.

The Kenny Alexander-owned eight-year-old is bidding to extend her remarkable unbeaten winning streak to 14 under Rachael Blackmore before heading to the Cheltenham Festival in March to defend her Champion Hurdle crown.

The Spring Juvenile Hurdle has attracted 14 entries including Fil Dor, unbeaten in three starts over hurdles for Elliott, and another Leopardstown Christmas Festival winner, the Mullins-trained Icare Allen.

First and second in the Racing Post Novice Chase at the course over Christmas, Mullins’ Ferny Hollow and Elliott’s Riviere D’etel might well clash again in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase.

There are 10 entries for the race with Mullins’ Blue Lord and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Embittered and Busselton also in the mix.

Monday Musings: A King George Head Scratcher

The Irish duly won the 2021 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase, but not with either of the pair which shared in the five-strong short list suggested a week ago, writes Tony Stafford. The winner was 28-1 shot Tornado Flyer, ridden by Willie Mullins’ nephew Danny, successful for the third time over fences but after a losing sequence of nine.

Unusually, all five of the pretty obvious principals turned up, in one form or another and we certainly didn’t see the real Minella Indo, already well beaten when pulled up by a frustrated Rachael Blackmore a long way from home. He and Frodon, ridden by Bryony Frost, evidently wanted to put on a show of strength, not necessarily from the saddle, but certainly under them as their mounts shared a fast pace through the first part of the race.

Frodon and Bryony have been habitual and very successful front runners in their ten-win time together, three around Kempton, but this time the two heroines of 2021 (and a good while before) simply cancelled each other’s mounts out, compromising any chance of a finishing effort.

Perhaps it all goes down to the centuries-old presumption that Kempton is a sharp track: not when top-class horses share a fast pace over three miles on anything other than fast ground. We saw the same a race earlier when the nominal stayer Not So Sleepy pulled away his chance in the Christmas Hurdle leaving the more economical Epatante to gain an emphatic success.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead’s position atop the staying chase standings rests now on A Plus Tard’s seeing off three Gordon Elliott and four Willie Mullins opponents in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown tomorrow. The Gold Cup winner is looking rather tarnished at this point and it needs a big statement from A Plus Tard

So, team tactics anyone? It is probably tempting enough, one would think, especially for Elliott who is no longer a trainer for Cheveley Park Stud, owners of A Plus Tard. Mullins, whose Allaho ties in with the form of his two Kempton King George representatives, will need to be more circumspect although his stable’s owners have to get used to coming out on the wrong side in the very frequent event he has multiple contenders.

I expected it to be Asterion Forlonge yesterday, the horse that probably would have won the John Durkan Memorial for Mullins at Punchestown last time but unseated Brian Cooper when about to take the lead three fences from home.

That left Allaho to struggle home and Mullins clearly didn’t want to give him another tough race so soon after he looked pretty spent up the run-in.

Further back that day in fifth after some ordinary jumping was Tornado Flyer, and he had also been behind Allaho when that horse won at the Cheltenham Festival, but Mullins runs more than one if he thinks there is the slightest chance that he could pick up money further down the line in these valuable races.

I’m not convinced that Asterion Forlonge would have finished behind Tornado Flyer, who led him by three lengths going into the final fence with Clan Des Obeaux already beaten off. He appeared to jump the final fence the more spectacularly but this time crumpled on landing and Cooper again bit the dust.

It was left to Paul Nicholls to collect positions two to four with Clan Des Obeaux, a full nine lengths back, the outsider Saint Calvados almost four lengths behind in third and a spent Frodon toiling home another six lengths adrift in fourth.

Whereas Mullins was winning only the second King George of his illustrious career, Nicholls can point to 12 and with three, or rather two and a half realistic chances, he would have gone home less than chuffed even though they collected 95 grand between them as against £143k for the winner.

I must say I feel sorry for trainer Harry Whittington who could hardly have been accused of doing badly with Saint Calvados, winning five of his 14 chases and only narrowly failing to beat Min in a race at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of seasons back.

When it’s your stable star that gets whisked away to a man with a yard full of top-class animals, to the extent that your former horse will be a 25/1 outsider on debut, you can understand if his feelings are a little bitter. It’s a hard enough game and as we know the rich get richer and the rest get what’s left! Saint Calvados did actually look a possible winner inside the last mile but either insufficient stamina or simply limited ability at the top level took over.

The biggest disappointment of the King George for the home team was Chantry House, the 3-1 favourite on the day, who ran a shocker. He tied in with all the best form having beaten Asterion Forlonge back into third in the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham last season. A winner after that at Aintree and with the benefit of a comeback stroll round in a two-horse Sandown freebie should have put him right to run a big race but he was never travelling like a possible winner.

His performance was in stark contrast to the rest of the Henderson team who provided a treble for the trainer on a track which he loves so much he was sent into a state of apoplexy when the course’s management advocated the closure of its wonderful jumping track in favour of residential development.

I am with him on that, Kempton having provided many of my happiest racing experiences. It’s where I met Ray Tooth but also where I had a horse which won a mile and a half three-year-old maiden from 13 quite expensive horses by 20 lengths at 20-1 in heavy ground. Not many stayed that day either!

Epatante was the high point in Nicky’s treble, providing the filling in a sandwich between odds-on first-race winner Broomfield Burg, who must hold Festival novice hurdle aspirations for J P McManus, and Middleham Park’s last-race eye-opener Marie’s Rock who looked a mare with a future when adding a first hurdles success to three in bumpers two winters ago.

Last week I was suggesting that Christmas this year was falling ideally for me to circumnavigate the various requirements of work and family. Well here I am at almost 2.30 a m. on Monday morning absolutely knackered and spent of anything worth talking or writing about. So if you don’t mind, I’m turning in. It’s that or watching the cricket. Happy New Year!

  • TS

Nicholls has King George big guns primed for Minella Indo clash

Paul Nicholls leads Britain’s defence in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase with a three-pronged attack at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

The Ditcheat trainer will be at the forefront of repelling another successful raid from Henry de Bromhead, who sends Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo over from his Waterford base, and Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins, who is responsible for Asterion Forlonge and Tornado Flyer.

Past winners Clan Des Obeaux, successful in 2018 and 2019, and Frodon 12 months ago, plus Saint Calvados, give Nicholls a big chance of a record-extending 13th triumph in the three-mile showpiece.

Nicholls believes Frodon – who will again be ridden by Bryony Frost – has a tremendous chance of landing back-to-back victories after his run in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal when he had Minella Indo beaten five lengths in third place.

Bryony Frost is congratulated by Paul Nicholls following last year's King George
Bryony Frost is congratulated by Paul Nicholls following last year’s King George (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Kempton suits him well and that is why I thought Down Royal would suit him, it’s a similar type of track. Three miles here is completely different to three and a quarter in the Gold Cup,” he said.

“This preparation suits him as well, he had a run then we backed off him. He looks fantastic.

“He’s got to have a leading chance as the last time he ran he beat Galvin – who could win the Savills Chase – and the Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, so in my eyes that was a career-best. He’s at the top of his game now, looks to have improved from last year and definitely has an outstanding chance.”

After disappointing last year following a hard race at Haydock, Clan Des Obeaux bids to regain his crown without having a prep run.

“He’s had two away days at Newbury and Wincanton and I love running horses when they are very fit and very fresh and the way he looks at the moment I couldn’t be happier. I think it will pay off going there very fresh with him,” said Nicholls.

“The first year he won it he came on massively from his run in the Betfair Chase, but he went into that just about the outsider of the field. He was just out of his novice year so we knew he was going to progress.

“Now he’s the finished article and we all know what he is and how he is so we don’t need to prove anything en route.

“Last year after Haydock we just had to back off for a couple of weeks and then you are getting tight to giving them the prep they need for a race like the King George.”

Saint Calvados makes his first appearance for the Nicholls team, having been trained by Harry Whittington when fourth 12 months ago.

“I’ve never run him so I don’t know, but he looks good and couldn’t have had a better preparation. He finished weakly in the straight last year having looked the winner turning in, but I don’t think his jumping helped him then,” he said.

“I don’t know about the three miles yet because he hasn’t proved it, but he doesn’t seem the sharpest at home- he seems a galloper so I don’t see why he won’t get the trip, especially around Kempton.”

Minella Indo on the way to victory in the Gold Cup
Minella Indo on the way to victory in the Gold Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Minella Indo will sport cheekpieces for the first time, and De Bromhead is expecting a bold bid from Rachael Blackmore’s mount.

He said: “He seems in good form, we’re happy with him and we’re hoping for a big run. He’s really stepped forward from Down Royal.

“It (cheekpieces) is just to sharpen him a bit, he seems good in them at home so we’ll just see if they’ll help him.”

Asterion Forlonge has a point to prove after coming down when holding every chance in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.

However, the Mullins camp feel the step up in trip and the course at Kempton will suit the grey.

Asterion Forlonge is one of two King George VI Chase challengers for Willie Mullins
Asterion Forlonge is one of two King George VI Chase challengers for Willie Mullins (Niall Carson/PA)

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “He was travelling very well when he came down, though it was a long way out. It’s going to be his first try at three miles which we think will improve him.

“If he can look where he’s putting his feet he will be involved in the finish, but the trip will help him.”

The Mullins stable also have Tornado Flyer, who ran on from to finish a never-dangerous fifth in the John Durkan.

“He’ll have come on for his first run and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some prize-money,” Mullins added.

Chantry House in winning action at Aintree
Chantry House in winning action at Aintree (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Second-season novice Chantry House is Nicky Henderson’s first string as the Seven Barrows handler goes for a fourth King George win.

The seven-year-old faces a much more difficult task from his seasonal debut when he defeated sole rival The Big Breakaway at Sandown seven weeks ago.

“We’ve had some very good days in the King George, we’ve won it a few times and had some unlucky ones a few times,” he said.

“To me it’s the second most important Classic chase of the season. You are taking on Gold Cup winners and previous King George winners, the novices coming into this season we don’t know. Sandown wasn’t a great test, I’m not complaining about that, we’ve often used the Hennessy for second-season novices.

“But we rather felt that wasn’t the place, and I didn’t think Haydock was necessarily the place. The Sandown race has always been there, and it’s designed purely for horses like him. Some will say it’s unsatisfactory having only two runners and I’d agree with that, it was a pity. We could have done with half a dozen and something to give us a lead.

“I’ve little doubt he’ll get the trip well round Kempton. We were at one stage thinking ‘crikey, they’ll go quick’ and will he be quick enough. But that actually doesn’t worry me, I’m sure he is.”

Henderson is also keen on Mister Fisher, who was only beaten a neck by Frodon at Sandown in April.

Nicky Henderson feels the step up to three miles will suit Mister Fisher
Nicky Henderson feels the step up to three miles will suit Mister Fisher (David Davies/PA)

“We’ve had some issues with Mister Fisher. Earlier in the year I was working him and it was uncharacteristically lacklustre,” he said.

“We did it again a week later and he was no better. The vets came in and it took two minutes to find out he had a fibrillating heart, which is not a nice thing to happen, but we got it corrected relatively quickly – it took about three days.

“That necessitated two weeks box rest, so you put yourself back and then he had three weeks cantering again before he was ready to gallop.

“He’s been back to the same gallop to where he was working before and the old Mister Fisher has come back. It’s incredible – you wouldn’t believe it was possible. He’s a very, very good work horse.

“I’ve always wanted to try him over three miles and he must have good ground. He is very talented.”

Lostintranslation is rediscovering his best form
Lostintranslation is rediscovering his best form (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation returned to form with victory at Ascot last month and has a third try at the King George after being pulled up in two previous attempts.

“I’m happy with him, he’s come out of Ascot really well. It’s another step forward and however happy I am with him, and he was great at Ascot, he needs to take another step forward and back that up to be competitive in this,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father.

“He’s showing all the signs at home that he has and that he will be competitive in this, but it’s just nice to get him back.

“If he’s anywhere near his best, like he is showing at home, then he’ll be competitive.

“If he brings his A-game and gets a bit of luck in running, then hopefully he’ll run a big race.”

Nicholls rates Clan and Frodon as the ‘two to beat’ in King George heat

Despite having won the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase 12 times already, champion trainer Paul Nicholls believes his three runners in this year’s Boxing Day highlight give him one of his strongest teams yet.

Two of his representatives, Clan Des Obeaux (twice) and Frodon have won the Kempton race before, while Saint Calvados was running a big race last year before tiring in the straight to finish fourth when with Harry Whittington.

Of course Nicholls will always be linked to the Christmas highlight through the exploits of Kauto Star, who won five to go one better than Desert Orchid, but already his last of those was 10 years ago.

“We’ve been very lucky to win the King George 12 times with some amazing horses. It’s just a race we love having horses ready for. It’s the mid-season Gold Cup, a proper race,” said Nicholls.

“That day Kauto won his fifth was special. He’d come back to win his fourth Betfair Chase a month earlier and then to win a fifth King George, you’d almost say it will never be done again in our lifetimes, but who knows.

“I think this is up there with the strongest team we’ve had for the race, with two previous winners and a horse who ran so well in it last year, but it looks as good a race as it has for a long time as well.

“My view is that Clan and Frodon are the two to beat – they’ve won it before, they are the two champs and the.”

Frodon was a surprise winner last year under Bryony Frost but backed it up when going to Down Royal first time out this season to beat Galvin and Minella Indo in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase.

“Frodon is A1. He’s had a good prep. He had a quiet month after Down Royal but he’s done lots of work since. He went very nicely in a racecourse gallop last week with Clan Des Obeaux,” said Nicholls.

“He’s schooled well, looks great, he’s fresh. He’s a typical horse who you know when he’s in good shape, he’s ready for his life again, he’s in good order.

“To win races like the Ryanair and King George, to be tough and sound, you could always do with more horses like him. He’s so game and always gives his all, he’s been a fantastic servant.”

Bryony Frost riding Frodon clear in last year's King George
Bryony Frost riding Frodon clear in last year’s King George (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Clan Des Obeaux disappointed in the race 12 months ago, but won at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring and Nicholls has made the decision to go for the King George first time out this year.

“I’m very happy with him. We set out our stall not to go to Haydock for the Betfair Chase this year and we thought we’d go a different route and go fresh,” he said.

“Last year he had a very hard race in the Betfair Chase and he wasn’t quite at his best in the King George after it.

“I think last spring he was at his very best and the cheekpieces seemed to sharpen him up a bit, he’d got in the habit of racing lazily. He was very impressive at Aintree and then beat Al Boum Photo, a dual Gold Cup winner, on his home ground at Punchestown. That was probably a career-best.

“I’m just trying to give him the best possible chance and I think he’s a horse who is very dangerous when he’s very fresh and fit, with a nice prep, which he’s had.

“You know Frodon will jump and go a nice gallop and I dare say Harry (Cobden) will follow, you don’t want to be out the back door like he was last year. They’ll both run on their merits and be ridden accordingly. They’ll both be forward as they both made all in their last races. Clan is happy with a lead.”

The dark horse is Saint Calvados, also making his seasonal debut.

“He’s settled in well but he’s very good fresh and there weren’t too many options, I didn’t have him ready to give him a prep. He’s taken a bit of work to get used to our system but I’m very happy with him now. He galloped the other day behind the other two. Gavin (Sheehan) rode him and was thrilled,” said Nicholls.

Clan Des Obeaux arguably put up a career-best last time out at Punchestown
Clan Des Obeaux arguably put up a career-best last time out at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He ran well in the race last year but was just a bit sloppy with his jumping up the straight. Had he jumped the last three well, he’d have been a lot closer, so we’ve done a lot of work on his jumping.”

Summing up the race and the opposition, Nicholls said: “I thought Clan would be favourite, with his form at Aintree and Punchestown and being a dual winner. But there’s nothing between the two of them at their best. Frodon has always been quite a big price, I’m surprised he was as big as he was earlier in the week, but they look the two to beat.

“Obviously we know Minella Indo well, Frodon beat him at Down Royal. My view is that Cheltenham suits him very well, three and a quarter miles there is very different to three at Down Royal or Kempton. All Gold Cup winners are smart horses, but Kempton and Cheltenham are two different tracks.

“We won’t take him on with these two in the Gold Cup, but at Kempton it’s a different ball game and, in my view, it’s a home game for us.

“Willie’s (Mullins) horse (Asterion Forlonge) looked to be travelling well the other day (when falling in the John Durkan) but he does make plenty of mistakes and the one thing about the King George is you can’t afford that, you need everything to go right for you.

“He’s the unknown in the race, he’s obviously very talented and if he puts it all together he’ll be a threat to everybody.”

Nicholls has big guns primed for King George clash with Minella Indo

Clan Des Obeaux, Frodon and Minella Indo are among 10 confirmations for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux landed back-to-back runnings of the Boxing Day showpiece in 2018 and 2019, but could finish only third behind front-running stablemate Frodon and Bryony Frost 12 months ago.

Clan Des Obeaux is the narrow favourite to wrestle back the crown on what will be his seasonal reappearance, while Frodon made a successful start to his campaign at Down Royal in October.

Saint Calvados is a third runner for Nicholls as the Ditcheat handler bids to add to his record haul of 12 King George victories.

Last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo will bid to provide Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore with another big-race triumph on British soil.

The eight-year-old can be expected to improve from his third-placed finish behind Frodon at Down Royal and plenty will fancy him to become the first Irish-trained winner since Kicking King in 2005.

It is 20 years since Willie Mullins saddled the popular Florida Pearl to claim King George glory and Ireland’s perennial champion trainer this year looks set to launch a twin assault.

Asterion Forlonge will represent Willie Mullins
Asterion Forlonge will represent Willie Mullins (Brian Lawless/PA)

Asterion Forlonge appears the stable’s number one hope, having looked set to play a major part in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase earlier in the month before unseating his rider three fences from home.

He is likely to be joined by Tornado Flyer, who finished fifth in the John Durkan.

Nicky Henderson is represented by Mister Fisher and Chantry House, with the latter a leading contender after readily accounting for his solitary rival on his seasonal debut at Sandown.

The Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation has disappointed in the King George twice before, but connections will have taken heart from his return to form when winning at Ascot last month.

Jeremy Scott’s stable star Dashel Drasher completes the potential line-up.

King George VI Chase Trends

Staged each year on at Christmas on Boxing Day at Kempton racecourse, (Sunday, 26th December) the King George VI Chase is the highlight contest on the festive racing calendar.

With star names like Desert Orchid, One Man and, more recently, Kauto Star, who won the King George Chase a staggering five times, amongst the household names to land this decent pot then the 3m Grade One race never fails to attract the best longer distance chasers in training, while it’s also seen as a good guide to that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

We take a look back at recent winners and highlight the key stats to take into the 2021 renewal – this year run on Sunday Dec 26th, where the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux, who won this in 2018 and 2019, will be trying to win back his crown.


Past King George VI Chase Winners

2020 - Frodon (20/1)
2019 - Clan Des Obeaux (11/2)
2018 – Clan Des Obeaux (12/1)
2017 – Might Bite (6/4 fav)
2016 – Thistlecrack (11/10 fav)
2015 – Cue Card (9/2)
2014 - Silviniaco Conti (15/8 fav)
2013 – Silviniaco Conti (7/2)
2012 – Long Run (15/8 fav)
2011 – Kauto Star (3/1)
2010 – Long Run (9/2)
2009 – Kauto Star (8/13 fav)
2008 – Kauto Star (10/11 fav)
2007 – Kauto Star (4/6 fav)
2006 – Kauto Star (8/13 fav)
2005 – Kicking King (11/8 fav)
2004 – Kicking King (3/1 fav)
2003 – Edredon Bleu (25/1)
2002 – Best Mate (11/8 fav)

Note: The 2005 renewal was staged at Sandown Park

King George VI Chase Trends

17/19 – Had raced within the last 5 weeks
17/19 – Had won a Grade One chase before
17/19 – French (13) or Irish bred (4)
16/19 – Finished in the top three last time out
16/19 – Placed favourites
16/19 – Had won over 3m or further (fences) before
15/19 – Officially rated 168 or higher
15/19 – Returned 9/2 or shorter in the betting
15/19 – Aged 8 or younger
12/19 – Had won a race over fences at Kempton before
11/19 – Winning favourites
11/19 – Won last time out
10/19 – Ran in the Betfair Chase (Haydock) last time out
10/19 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
10/19 – Trained by Paul Nicholls (12 times in all)
8/19 – Won by a previous winner of the race
2/19 – Won by an Irish-based yard (only 3 in the last 35 runnings)
Paul Nicholls, Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson have trained ALL of the last 15 winners between them (10 Nicholls, 2 Tizzard, 3 Henderson)
The average winning SP in the last 19 years is 5/1










Nicholls bringing King George squad to the boil

Paul Nicholls is stepping up preparations for his trio of Ladbrokes King George VI Chase horses ahead of the Kempton showpiece on Boxing Day.

Frodon, a shock 20-1 winner last year, will bid to defend his crown and give the champion trainer a 13th victory in the race, while Clan Des Obeaux, who won back-to-back renewals in 2018 and 2019 before finishing third last year, will be out to make it three victories in the three-mile Grade One event.

The duo will be joined by Saint Calvados, who was fourth 12 months ago when in the care of Harry Whittington.

Nicholls said: “All three of them are on target. They have had a nice prep.

“Clan is in good shape – he is very well. So is Frodon. We plan to give all three of them an away day somewhere in the middle of this month and then it will soon come round. We are very happy with them and can’t wait for that race.”

Nicholls is also eyeing Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase for former Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Politologue, after he ruled him out of Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, a race he won last year.

Runner-up to Nube Negra in a Grade Two contest at Cheltenham on his seasonal bow, Nicholls explained that the ground was against a defence of his title this weekend.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “He has come out of Cheltenham well the other day and had the ground been testing this week, then we might have looked at it, but it is not suitable for him.

“Where do you go with him? There are obvious targets. You could look at the Desert Orchid at Kempton on December 27, but the ground would want to be very testing or soft, and I’m sort of favouring Ascot at the end of January. That would suit him quite nicely.”

Nicholls also revealed that exciting Grade One-winning hurdler Monmiral, who trailed in fifth of six in last Saturday’s Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, sustained an injury and will be sidelined until the New Year.

Nicholls said: “He is still at the vets. He did sustain a nasty cut, which is a very valid excuse. On Monday, we were not very happy with him, so we sent him to the veterinary hospital that we always use and he has been there ever since. I have had a text this morning, and he is 100 per cent and the cut is OK.

“We didn’t want him to go the wrong way and we will pick him up tomorrow or Monday and I suspect he will be ready to run in the middle of January.

“He obviously had a valid excuse. I think someone jumped into him at the first or the second and obviously he didn’t perform well after that.

“He will have a couple of quiet weeks and then we’ll get him back in January. I think he is going to want two and a half miles – I have always thought that.

“We are buying a bit of time until he goes chasing in the autumn and that’s when I think we will see him at his best.

“It is always a tough year for four-year-olds. We did think we’d go well on Saturday, and obviously I was disappointed at the time, but he has a very reasonable excuse and we will put a line through that run.

“We will start with him in January and see where we end up. It might well be that the target for him will be the two-and-a-half-mile race at the Aintree festival (Aintree Hurdle) – I see that being a nice race for him – and then look forward to him chasing in October.”

Frodon and Frost sparkle again with Champion Chase triumph

Frodon and Bryony Frost held off Galvin in a thrilling finish to the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal.

The first Grade One chase of the new National Hunt season was good enough to grace any of the spring festivals, with all five runners having tasted success at the Cheltenham Festival in the past.

Joining King George winner Frodon was last year’s Gold Cup scorer Minella Indo, as well as dual Grade One winner Delta Work and Galvin, winner of his last six.

Frodon adopted his usual front-running role and put in some prodigious leaps, but Rachael Blackmore was keen not to let Paul Nicholls’ charge get too far ahead on Minella Indo.

The Gordon Elliott trio of Delta Work, Galvin and Ravenhill filled the last three places in the first half of the race, with Ravenhill struggling to keep up.

With five fences still to jump, Frodon’s accurate fencing was putting Minella Indo under pressure but Blackmore nudged her mount to get closer, while Galvin and Delta Work were creeping into it.

As they turned down the hill Frost kicked on, but they were lining up behind her and all three looked huge threats.

Delta Work was the first to crack, but Frodon still had to see off Minella Indo and Galvin.

Minella Indo’s lack of a run then began to tell but Galvin joined Frodon jumping the last two and the pair produced a real thriller.

It was Frodon who prevailed, though, by three-quarters of a length.

Betfair cut Frodon to 5-1 from 12s to retain his King George crown.

Frost, riding in her first race as a professional in Ireland, said: “What more can you say about him? That was tough. The uncertainty of where we were going out there and he was having a good look around.

“I always preach about his determination and that it is infectious and that you can beat anyone when you are on him, but you really can because he believes he can.

“The feeling that when you think you are beaten the world swallows you up. Have you gone too hard on him? Have I got any legs left? You give everything to him and you see if there is anything left as we need it now. He answers you because he wants to.

“What is that, 18 races he has won in his lifetime? It’s just phenomenal. Testimony to Paul (Nicholls) to have a horse coming out every season, again and again, with the same enthusiasm. It is exactly what he is a master of.

“How cool is it to be a jockey that has added to that record (in this race)?

“It’s a great track – a big, galloping track. The ground is a bit tacky. The fences are alone and the inside is a lonely place with not many rails, so you need an honest horse. He goes slightly left as well and there was a couple I got in tight. I think that was just him trying to work it out.

Bryony Frost is all smiles after claiming another Grade One
Bryony Frost is all smiles after claiming another Grade One (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It took me halfway around to realise ‘ah yes Bryony, sit still and let him do it’.”

On the pace of the race, she said: “Over with us, that’s kind of how are races are ridden. We don’t hang about in a lot of our big races.

“I spoke to dad (Grand National winner Jimmy Frost) this morning and I have watched a lot of Irish racing and we could keep it fairly steady and quicken massively.

“I felt my asset is my jumping (though) and I knew I was 110 per cent fit. I had done a good piece of work on him and Holly, who rides him every day, says he is a million dollars, so I had to believe in him.

“Doesn’t he just improve every time?”

Bryony Frost soaks up the adulation on Frodon
Bryony Frost soaks up the adulation on Frodon (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking from Wetherby, Nicholls said: “That was fantastic watching that. What a gutsy horse. They jumped the last together and he stayed on to beat the Gold Cup winner and Galvin, it’s probably one of his best runs.

“It just shows that three miles on a track like that suits him so well, I’m so proud of him. It was a great ride from Bryony. We had a plan.

“He has to be at his best first time out to produce a run like that, so it’s a credit to the team at home. It was a great performance and it just shows what a good horse he is.

“He’ll go straight to Kempton and (stablemate) Clan’s (Des Obeaux) going to go there, so it’ll be an interesting clash.”

Henry de Bromhead expects Minella Indo to come on a good deal for his first outing of the season after finishing just over five lengths back in third.

“We all love to win but fair play to Frodon, he was brilliant on the day,” said De Bromhead.

“We were very happy with the run, he’ll come on plenty. We’ll see where we go next. He took a couple of blows so he will come on plenty.”

Elliott was pleased with his runners, with Jamie Codd replacing the injured Davy Russell.

“I thought Delta Work ran very well. Everybody knows he is a bit rusty first time out. We might take the hood off him next day but very happy with the way he ran,” said Elliott.

“Galvin, what a little horse. He ran his heart out but all credit to the winner, he was very good.

“I don’t think Jamie (Codd) did anything wrong on Galvin. He gave him a wonderful ride.

“I’m not sure if Davy (Russell) will ride tomorrow in Cork, but I’d say he won’t be long out.”

Fabulous Frodon records battling Oaksey Chase success

King George hero Frodon showed all his renowned battling qualities to end his season on a winning note in the bet365 Oaksey Chase at Sandown.

Frodon and jockey Bryony Frost provided one of the stories of the season when winning at Kempton on Boxing Day and he was the 4-5 favourite against just three rivals.

Frost had been out of action after a bad fall in the Grand National and only returned on Thursday – with a winner – but it would have taken something out of the ordinary to stop her from partnering her favourite horse.

As usual Frost set out to make all on the bold jumper – who was last seen finishing fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – but approaching the Pond Fence the final time none of the quartet could be ruled out.

When Militarian and Born Survivor cracked after that obstacle, Mister Fisher loomed up looking to be travelling much better under Nico de Boinville.

Nicky Henderson’s charge also got away from the last quicker, too – but if any horse mirrors champion trainer Paul Nicholls’ attitude it is Frodon as he simply would not accept defeat.

With a length to make up Frodon stuck his neck out and began gaining with every stride up the hill, eventually crossing the line a neck to the good.

Nicholls said: “It was a real challenge getting him ready for today because he took a hell of a lot out of himself at Cheltenham and had a hard race in the Gold Cup.

“But he’s tough and he’s class. He jumped well and even though he looked a little bit flat out, he stayed on up the hill to get back on the line.

“He will have a lovely holiday now and we’ll train him for the King George, as there’s no point training him for the Gold Cup because he doesn’t get the trip.

“I will, all being well, give him one run in the autumn before Kempton and then have a look at a race at the Dublin Festival because I think Leopardstown would suit him.”

Frost said: “What he’s done for me is incredible.

“We went a right good gallop the whole way – I wondered if he’d enjoy letting himself on this ground, but Sandown have done a great job in making it safe.

“What a battle – Mister Fisher was all over us, but this lad won’t go down without a fight.

“He’s everything you want, you dream of horses like him.”

Frodon was left unchanged at 16-1 for the King George by Betfair.

Frodon and Paisley Park among those that offer Festival cheer

It has been a tough few weeks for racing, with the sport shaken to its core by the Gordon Elliott case. However, the show must go on and the Cheltenham Festival can give racing reason to smile again, with the Cotswold jamboree never failing to ignite the senses.

It will be a different Festival this year, with no crowds and strict Covid protocols in place, but we pinpoint five horses that could put racing back in the headlines for all the right reasons:


Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore have developed into a dream team
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore have developed into a dream team (PA)

Rachael Blackmore has every chance of smashing through the final barrier for female riders with victory aboard the unbeaten Honeysuckle in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on the opening day. Blackmore dished out a tactical masterclass when steering Honeysuckle to Mares’ Hurdle glory last year, and the dynamic duo’s Irish Champion Hurdle domination last month showed just how close the rider could be to a landmark win in one of National Hunt racing’s showpiece events.


Goshen and Jamie Moore suffered heartbreak at last year's Festival
Goshen and Jamie Moore suffered an agonising last-flight mishap at the 2020 Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)

No one could forget the terrible misfortune that befell Goshen and Jamie Moore in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, when a freak incident at the last – with Goshen’s shoes catching after jumping the final obstacle – brought the rider crashing to the ground when wide-margin victory had seemed in the bag. Neither horse nor jockey has had it easy through this campaign either – with Goshen struggling for form before roaring back at Wincanton, while Moore has had the dual challenge of recovering from a broken back as his wife Lucie underwent treatment for cancer. Victory for them both would be a heartening good-news story we could all enjoy.

First Flow

First Flow goes for gold in the Champion Chase
First Flow goes for gold in the Champion Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It was a long time between drinks for Kim Bailey before First Flow struck Grade One gold at Ascot in January. The trainer had last hit the heights at the top level some 26 years ago, when he enjoyed a dream Festival – winning both the Champion Hurdle with Alderbrook and the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Master Oats. The fact owner Tony Solomons has been with Bailey for 40 years adds an extra layer to what would be a fairytale strike in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Throw in the fearless riding style of jockey David Bass, and First Flow’s remarkable rise through the ranks from slipshod handicapper to prolific winner, and it is fair to say roofs will be raised in living rooms nationwide one side of the Irish Sea at least if they can somehow get the job done against the might of Chacun Pour Soi.

Paisley Park

Paisley Park will try to regain his Stayers' Hurdle crown
Paisley Park will try to regain his Stayers’ Hurdle crown (David Davies/PA)

A heart problem proved Paisley Park’s undoing when he tried for back-to-back Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle titles last year, but Emma Lavelle’s charge has bounced back in style. He will not be renewing battle with Thyme Hill, with his rival a late injury absentee. That richly-anticipated showdown will have to wait for another day. Paisley Park’s owner Andrew Gemmell – who was born blind – was a joy to behold when his star won this race in 2019, and while we will not be able to share his excitement in the same way, it would be another special victory.


Frodon and Bryony Frost have already tasted Festival glory together
Frodon and Bryony Frost have already tasted Festival glory together (David Davies/PA)

Bryony Frost and Frodon are like salt and vinegar on chips – they just go together. The pair’s Ryanair Chase success of two years ago saw racing make the main news bulletins and front pages, so just imagine what attention victory in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup would produce. Frost and Frodon broke new ground with their King George win at Christmas – and although they appear up against it with hat-trick seeker Al Boum Photo, a Gold Cup win for this pair could be just the rehabilitation racing’s reputation needs.

Frost timed it to perfection on magnificent Morley Street

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.

Bryony Frost has already followed in her father's footsteps as a Cheltenham Festival winner, on Frodon (pictured) and Pacha Du Polder
Bryony Frost has already followed in her father’s footsteps as a Cheltenham Festival winner, on Frodon (pictured) and Pacha Du Polder (Paul Harding/PA)

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’.

Toby Balding trained both Morley Street and Jimmy Frost's 1989 Grand National winner Little Polveir
Toby Balding trained both Morley Street and Jimmy Frost’s 1989 Grand National winner Little Polveir (Barry Batchelor/PA)

“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.”

Family trait: Morley Street's brother Granville Again won the 1993 Champion Hurdle - with his sibling unplaced behind him this time
Family trait: Morley Street’s brother Granville Again won the 1993 Champion Hurdle – with his sibling unplaced behind him this time (Barry Batchelor/PA)

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.”

The Frodon camp are plotting a Gold Cup bid - and Jimmy Frost is adamant they need not worry about the King George winner's stamina
The Frodon camp are plotting a Gold Cup bid – and Jimmy Frost is adamant they need not worry about the King George winner’s stamina (Andrew Matthews/PA)

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.”

Nicholls senses Frodon may be surprise package in Gold Cup

Paul Nicholls will not be surprised if Frodon throws a spanner in the works for hat-trick seeker Al Boum Photo in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

While acknowledging Willie Mullins’ reigning dual champion will be hard to beat, Nicholls feels his challenger can be relied upon to give it his best shot in what the trainer views as an open race, barring the favourite.

Frodon, who famously landed the 2019 Ryanair Chase under regular rider Bryony Frost, sprang a surprise when scuppering stablemate Clan Des Obeaux’s bid for a third King George on Boxing Day – proving conclusively he is Grade One class at three miles.

Having also won the Cotswold Chase two years ago and a Cheltenham handicap on his seasonal return, the trip and track hold no fears for Nicholls.

Frodon was a surprise King George winner
Frodon was a surprise King George winner (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He said: “Earlier this season he won a handicap off top-weight over three-mile-one, he’s won a King George – King George winners stay and do end up winning Gold Cups.

“He definitely wants a trip. We ran him in last year’s Ryanair, and he was completely outpaced all the way, (so) we decided this year we would stay over a longer trip. He’s in really good form, he worked beautifully this morning.

“He loves to be fresh and fit and he loves Cheltenham obviously – I think he’s won there six times. Often on the last day (of the Festival) the ground is decent, which would suit him.

“No one would expect him to win the Gold Cup – but if he did, I wouldn’t be surprised because he’s that sort of horse.

“He keeps surprising people. No one ever expected him to win a King George, but if you watch the replay, he won very cosily and was probably (running) the wrong way round.

“He’s in good shape – and you know whatever he does, he’s going to give a good account of himself.”

Al Boum Photo is seeking a third Gold Cup win
Al Boum Photo is seeking a third Gold Cup win (PA)

Nicholls thinks the Gold Cup field is a closely-matched bunch if the favourite is taken out of the equation.

He said: “It’s very competitive. Last year’s winner is the one we’ve all got to beat – but I think after that, it’s very much of a muchness. A lot of the horses have beaten each other.

“We beat Santini in the King George, and Santini is a shorter price than us for the Gold Cup, which I don’t really get. Frodon is always underestimated a little bit, but he will give a good account of himself.

“Al Boum Photo has won the last two and is the one to beat. He’s the class act, but the rest are much of a muchness, and you could get many different results.

“We’re glad to be there and that the horse has got to this point – we’re just really looking forward to him running.”

Frodon was one of a dozen horses to enjoy a racecourse spin on Tuesday morning, with Nicholls explaining: “It was just a good day out for them really.

“It’s just something you fit into their workload – we always do it every year. Some horses need a gallop more than others – they didn’t really go and have a searching, hard gallop. It was just a day out, and it came together well.

“Politologue, Bravemansgame, Frodon, Real Steel, Houx Gris, Soldier Of Love – who probably wouldn’t go to Cheltenham – Barbados Bucks, Saint Sonnet, Amour De Nuit, Duc De Genievres, Storm Arising and Threeunderthrufive were the 12. They just had a lovely day out, and everyone was happy.

“Politologue loved bowling along in front. It was just a good day out for them.”

Politologue will be defending his Cheltenham crown
Politologue will be defending his Cheltenham crown (Simon Cooper/PA)

Politologue has become something of a standing dish at the Festival and finally enjoyed his moment in the spotlight when lifting the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last year.

The 10-year-old landed the Tingle Creek first time out this term, but finished a leg-weary second to First Flow on testing ground in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase on his most recent run.

Nicholls said: “I love this race – it’s a fantastic race. I’ve been very lucky to have some fantastic horses win it.

“Politologue winning last year was fantastic for him and everybody connected with the horse.

“This is his sixth Festival, which is amazing really – and if you’d seen him gallop this morning, he was very impressive.”

Chacun Pour Soi leads the Champion Chase betting
Chacun Pour Soi leads the Champion Chase betting (PA)

Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi is a hot favourite after three effortless wins so far this term. But Nicholls, who also plans to field Greaneteen, will not duck a challenge.

He said: “Chacun Pour Soi looks very, very smart, but he has not run at Cheltenham before and has got to act on the track. If he does, he’ll undoubtedly be hard to beat, but you should never be afraid of one.”

Duc Des Genievres is also in the mix, and Nicholls added: “He won the Arkle two years ago and has run some tidy races this year. He’s just shy of being a Grade One horse, and we need to decide whether to run him in this or run him in the Grand Annual.”

Paul Nicholls with Bravemansgame on Tuesday
Paul Nicholls with Bravemansgame on Tuesday (David Davies/PA)

Nicholls has one of the leading lights for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in Bravemansgame, winner of the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle last time in fine style. His only defeat over hurdles came at the hands of Betfair Hurdle hero Soaring Glory on his debut.

The trainer said: “The Challow as a nice race to win, and he won very nicely that day.

“His form has been really progressive. At the start of the season he was beaten a neck by Jonjo’s (O’Neill) horse (Soaring Glory), who won the Betfair Hurdle – and I was impressed with him that day, because Harry (Cobden) could hardly pull him up afterwards and he ran green.

“With each run he’s got better and better, and this is the obvious race for him.

“He worked very nicely this morning, and I’m very happy with his preparation.”

Empty stands at Cheltenham earlier this season
Empty stands at Cheltenham earlier this season (David Davies/PA)

Nicholls’ only regret is that the Festival will be limited to essential personnel only on course as coronavirus restrictions remain in place.

He added: “It’s a great meeting. It’s a shame the crowd aren’t there and owners aren’t there, because it’s such a social occasion and means so much to so many people.

“The main thing is we’re racing, there’ll be a lot of people watching it – and the racing will be as competitive as normal.”