BRYONY FROST lit up Cheltenham with a smile as wide as the surrounding hills as she made Festival history on Frodon, while Paisley Park also delivered a fairytale victory on a day of unforgettable theatre at an enthralled Prestbury Park.
Frost became the first female winner of a Grade One race over jumps at the Festival, as the 9/2 shot Frodon landed a magnificent triumph in the Ryanair Chase.
If that showstopping moment wasn’t enough, in the very next race Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park, the horse who nearly died two years ago and whose owner Andrew Gemmell has been blind since birth, brought the house down in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
For another huge crowd here it was an afternoon to treasure, and for the sport itself the most timely of boosts. Just over a month ago, there was talk the Festival might not even go ahead because of the equine flu crisis, which forced a six-day postponement of racing. Instead the show has gone on, and what a special chapter in Cheltenham history we witnessed yesterday.
Frost, 23, who is threatening to be racing’s next superstar, produced a tremendous front-running performance and a storming finish to guide the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon to victory in the Ryanair ahead of Aso, with Road To Respect third.
‘He’s got his day, he is Pegasus, he has got wings,’ an ecstatic Frost said. ‘He is the most incredible battler. He travelled, my God he jumped. That moment where he got overtaken two out, most horses would quit but no, he grabbed me by my hands and said “don’t you dare give up, don’t you dare not send me into the last, I want this more than you know, come on, where are you?”.
‘And look at him. He’s unbelievable. I love you mate. What he’s doing for me, and the dream that he just made come true, it’s just incredible. He will deserve every single high five, pat, carrot and Polo. It’s his day.’
With the thousands of fans still catching their breath, there was another fabulous spectacle to come as the 11/8 favourite Paisley Park, ridden by Aidan Coleman, saw off Sam Spinner with a barnstorming finish in the showpiece Stayers’ Hurdle.
Gemmell (below, with Lavelle), who fell in love with the sport listening to radio commentaries in the 1960s and as a Prince fan named the horse after the Minneapolis home of the late singing superstar, was the picture of delight. ‘It’s wonderful, fantastic. It’s a dream trip,’ he said. ‘I still had hope turning in because we know that’s the way he runs. But I can’t believe it has actually happened.’
Paying tribute to her winner, whose life had been threatened by an attack of colic two years ago, trainer Lavelle said: ‘He’s delivered for us all season. I’m thrilled. There are so many people behind this horse and I think they just blew him up the hill.’
Later in the day, Lizzie Kelly claimed a fine victory on Siruh Du Lac as bookmakers took yet another big hit, with estimates that yesterday’s events cost the industry £50million.
But for nearly everyone else, this was a glorious day of jump racing to long remember. The fitting final word goes to Gemmell, talking about his beloved Paisley Park.
‘In the words of Prince: “Nothing compares to you”.’