Frodon is once more a Gold Cup contender, having produced a hugely impressive weight-carrying performance to score his sixth success at Cheltenham. He and his effervescent jockey, Bryony Frost, have been one of the most popular teams since their Ryanair win at last year’s Festival and it can only be hoped there will be some sort of crowd present to cheer them on if they line up for the big race itself in March.
“Weight stops trains but it was about the only thing that was going to stop us today,” Frost said. “The rest of the field knew that the way to beat me was to try to keep pushing me forward and for the weight to tell.”
It ought to have done, as Frodon was tackling three miles on rain-softened ground, shouldering 17lb more than the eventual runner-up, the capable West Approach. Some of the others began to look pretty weary in these conditions with a mile still to travel, but the winner was game and resilient as ever, helped by pinpoint-accurate leaps.
“The jumps he did out there were just unbelievable,” said Frost, who reckoned the horse was gaining two to three lengths in the air. “He really is just magic to be with.”
Paul Nicholls has mulled a Gold Cup tilt for Frodon in the past, only to opt for the shorter Ryanair when Festival week came along. With good reason, he now seems more assured of the horse’s stamina for three miles, and the idea is more attractive this time because Nicholls’s Clan Des Obeaux is unlikely to be in the mix, it having been decided Cheltenham does not suit him.
The final Group One of Britain’s Flat-racing season, the Vertem Futurity, was won by a horse named after an Irish martyr who died of a hunger strike 100 years ago this weekend. Mac Swiney is named after Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who protested against his imprisonment at Brixton after being found guilty of sedition.
“I was glad we were able to pull it off to commemorate the man’s memory,” said trainer Jim Bolger, who bred the colt from a family of other horses he also bred. It was a huge day for the 78-year-old Bolger, as he is also the breeder of Gear Up, winner of the Critérium de Saint-Cloud, a French Group One that finished about three minutes before Mac Swiney’s race began.
HEXHAM 12.25 Sophie Fatale 12.55 Dubai Outlaw 1.30 Whoa Black Betty 2.05 Rayna’s World 2.40 Western Rambler
3.15 Janeymac 3.50 Adjali 4.25 Graystown
AINTREE 12.47 Ottonian 1.22 One Style 1.57 Itchy Feet (nap) 2.32 Rapper (nb)
3.07 Saint De Reve 3.42 Clever As A Fox 4.17 Booley Beach
WINCANTON 1.07 Hacker Des Places
1.42 Finalshot 2.17 Golden Gift 2.52 Worthy Farm 3.27 Oscars Moonshine 4.02 Secret Potion 4.37 High Wells
While Gear Up is based in Yorkshire with Mark Johnston these days, Mac Swiney still lives with his maker in County Kilkenny, where he will now be prepared for a tilt at next year’s Derby. Bookmakers make him a 20-1 shot for that, which Bolger won in 2008 with New Approach, sire of Mac Swiney.
“The extra furlong was always going to be good for him,” said the winning jockey, Kevin Manning. “When he steps up in trip again next year with a winter under his belt, you’ll see a real one. He’s a proper horse.”
However, his task here was made easier by the late withdrawal of the favourite, Wembley, whose connections did not like the look of the soft ground.
Manning is Bolger’s son-in-law and the pair have been sharing top-class success since Eva Luna bagged the Phoenix Stakes in August 1994. As the jockey is now 53, they will surely become the oldest winning trainer/jockey combination in Derby history if the chestnut’s career continues its upward curve.