Bryony Frost: Meet the Cheltenham hopeful whose babysitter was a donkey

Bryony Frost
Bryony Frost won the amateur Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham last year

It is while we are discussing the barriers faced by women jockeys that Bryony Frost casually mentions that her former babysitter was a donkey.

A donkey?

“Yeah, I think it was my parents being lazy,” she jokes. “Nosey was an absolute dude. He was brown and white and I was just two when I got plonked on him.

Bryony Frost: Meet the Cheltenham hopeful whose babysitter was a donkey
Bryony Frost: Meet the Cheltenham hopeful whose babysitter was a donkey

“The rule was if you get off him, you’re not allowed back on, so I would sit there all day. I would even fall asleep on him and can remember going everywhere with him, even my gran’s kitchen.

“They are the best friends you can have.”

It later transpires that most questions put to Frost, who will feature at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday and Friday, reveal more about her forensic obsession with horses than her views on gender representation.

While she talks about the road to the top, how argumentative her mount Black Corton is, or how important breathing is in racing, you are temporarily lost in her world.

It is clear that the 22-year-old, who likes to surf and go mountain biking in her native Devon, does not see herself as a traiblazer. Women jockeys are still relatively rare, despite a recent study saying they are as good as men.

But Frost has a simple philosophy: “If you are good enough, you will get the rides.”

Jimmy Frost wins the 1989 Grand National on board Little Polveir
Bryony’s father, Jimmy Frost, wins the 1989 Grand National on board Little Polveir

Born into racing royalty

Frost, who began riding when she was four, admits that she has an advantage over many other contenders: she was born into the sport.

Her dad, Jimmy, won the 1989 Grand National on Little Polveir, seven years before she was born.

“From an early age, I pushed myself and it was always in my mind to strive for better and achieve for my horses,” she told BBC Sport. “It’s just the way I am.

“Maybe it has taken me a bit longer to get to this stage than some of the lads; they get to where I am at 16 or 17 and I’m 22, but I wouldn’t change my past because the time it’s taken me to arrive here has made me stronger.”

She’s seen the tapes of her dad’s National victory and says the race gives her a “twinkle in her eye”. She hopes to be riding at Aintree in April, having already finished fourth there in the Foxhunters’ Chase last year – not before a walk-through from her father in which he spelled out the dangers of the famous Canal Turn.

Looking back on her fledgling career, she says: “I’d be lost without Dad.”

But first, there is Cheltenham.

Paul Nicholls
Ten-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls says of Frost: “Horses run and jump for her”

‘As good as any girl who has ever ridden’

If there is any suggestion that Frost’s rise is any way a product of tokenism, you need look no further than her employer.

Paul Nicholls is a 10-time champion trainer, with four Cheltenham Gold Cups and a Grand National victory to his name, and Frost admits that he has “taken a massive chance on her”.

So far that chance seems to have paid off.

Having already won the amateur Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham last year, Frost joined the professional ranks in July and became only the second female jockey to win a Grade One jumps race, after Lizzie Kelly, when she triumphed on Black Corton at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

After that victory, Nicholls said: “Horses run and jump for her and today is a great example of why we have a lot of faith in her.

“If she is lucky and stays in one piece she will be as good as any girl who has ever ridden.”

Frost has already learned to “take the hits”. She spent two months in hospital and had 12 operations when, aged 15, a fall led to a septicaemia.

“Paul’s backbone is the strongest I’ve ever known. I just hope I’m repaying him slightly,” she says.

“The chance to ride these amazing horses, it feels like you are getting into the biggest Ferrari possible. When you ask the horse to go up through the gears on the home straight, it is the best feeling in the world.

“So to be given an opportunity to do what I love is all down to Paul. All the winners are down to him and his team.”

Bryony Frost
Frost won at Cheltenham earlier this year but will not predict how she will get on at the Festival

‘Failure is a terrible thing’

Black Corton, or ‘Blackie’ as she affectionately calls him, has already provided Frost with seven winners in eight races, and she will ride him over the jumps in Wednesday’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

She will also ride Brelan D’As in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on Friday.

But she refuses to predict victory at a track where she has already won and, in a sure sign she is a modern-day athlete, recites the mantra of “controlling the controllables”.

“We try not to expect too much because failure is a terrible thing and no-one likes to do it,” she adds.

“The controllables are my horse, I know how he likes to run and I know what he loves to do and I’m going to use that to the best of my ability to protect his career and keep him improving.

“Blackie is in good stead, he seems happy enough and his coat is shining. He’s still argumentative; if I even put an inkling across to ask him to try and slow down a little bit, he will definitely tell me where to go. I’m very much put in my box with him.

“But he’s cool and we are ready to rock and roll.”

Bryony Frost
Bryony Frost has said she “was close to death” after a fall when she was 15 which led to a kidney problem, a kink in her bladder and eventually septicaemia in her lungs. She was in hospital for two months and had 12 operations.

‘I don’t ride this way because I’m a girl; it’s the way I was taught’

So back to the start of the conversation, the barriers she has faced and the research that says women are as good as male jockeys.

Frost wants more female jockeys but even as she says so, she once again takes the discussion off on a different course, back to her obsession.

“They will hate me for saying it, but I didn’t take too much notice of the research. You always have to paddle your own canoe,” she said.

“When you look at the facts and the statistics, you start to become a bit obsessed with them.

“Our partners are our horses – they are the ones doing the running and winning, and you have to ask them to give everything to you, and it’s a tall order.

“The hardest part is getting on the horse and proving to owners and trainers that you are good enough; that I will repay you for all the work you’ve done, from bringing him in the field to getting him ready, to giving him the patience, love and attention he needs as an athlete to get him 100%.

“Then I will fit the last piece of the jigsaw, which is me to fit your race.

“I can’t change that I’m a girl, but this is the way I ride. It’s not because I’m a girl, it’s because of the way I’ve been taught and this is what I think works.

“I’ve never thought of myself by going out and trying to make history, or be the flagbearer. I’m just doing what I do and I love it. I strive to succeed for my horse and I love making memories with them.”

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