FRODON BACK ON TRACK IN QUEST FOR SECOND RYANAIR
Frodon got his season back on track last Saturday when wining the Grade 2 Unibet Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton by a ready 1¼ lengths. Paul Nicholls’s inmate looked a much happier horse here, on the back of a disappointing effort in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase in November. It was a nice sight to see him in good spirits again after what had been a lacklustre last run, on the back of a tough 2018/19 campaign.
Post-Haydock, a reportedly bad case of ulcers were diagnosed in last season’s Ryanair Chase victor and have been treated in the interim; although, it is still unclear whether they were the cause of his previously lacklustre performance, per-se.
Here however, the son of Nickname took a big step forward from his Haydock effort and now looks on the road to defending his Ryanair crown, if indeed that is the race he’ll run in at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. The Gold Cup is, like last season, also an option.
In the hands of Bryony Frost, the early signs for Frodon fans were positive; he looked nice and bright and when in good order is clearly a horse who loves his job. Attitude and jumping – as well as being high-class – are two of Frodon’s biggest assets and both were once again evident here. His attitude took Frost into the fences at pace, and his jumping ability got from A to B in slick style.
While Top Notch running below par wasn’t ideal in terms of gauging the level of form, Frodon fending off the Warren Greatrex-trained Keeper Hill – giving him 6lb - still rates as a good performance, especially in the context of Frodon idling quite badly down the straight, looking to have plenty left in the locker if needed.
Left is a direction the P J Vogt-owned horse will prefer based on this effort, given a few jumps out to said direction on Saturday. He’ll get that at tracks like Newbury and Cheltenham, where the Denman Chase (Newbury) has been mooted as his next start, before going on to The Festival, at his favourite track.
Personally, I would head straight to the Ryanair on the back of this lovely prep, but Paul Nicholls has a Trainers’ Championship to win, and I suspect he’d like to get another look at his horse over circa 3m; helping in the decision-making process of running in the Ryanair or Gold Cup in March.
On everything we know about Frodon thus far in his career, for me, it’s a really easy decision with regards his Cheltenham Festival target; he should be returning to Prestbury Park to defend his Ryanair title.
The pacey eight-year-old travels and jumps like an intermediate trip horse, and to my eye, is ideally suited by the high tempo of those good two-and-a-half mile races. Such is his class, you could easily see him coming down the hill in a Gold Cup bang there, but as of yet, I don’t think he has shown the stamina needed to get up the climb in a Blue Riband event.
Now, his next start in the Denman Chase may tell us something different, and I remain open to being wrong in light of new evidence, but if the owner wants to win at another Festival, Thursday is the day Frodon should run.
With the Gold Cup in mind, if connections elected to ride Frodon with more patience, in a bid to help him see out the trip, that wouldn’t be playing to the horses’ strengths and I’m a big believer in playing to what makes a horse good.
None of this, “Oh, but the Gold Cup is far more prestigious than the Ryanair, so he should run there” chat. I really don’t get when prestige trumps common-sense in racing, which brings me on to my next point.....
IN DEFENCE OF THE RYANAIR
This season will be the sixteenth running of the Ryanair Chase (2m4½f) at the Cheltenham Festival, a race that I feel adds hugely to the best week in racing. Still, some crab it on prestige and others don’t like its inclusion, saying it dilutes the Queen Mother Champion Chase (2m) and the Gold Cup (3m2½f).
Prestige comes with time, but on the argument of dilution, I’m not sure that always stands up. Do horses that need and perform to their best over two-and-a-half miles really add to a Champion Chase when they are outpaced in the early/mid stages of the Wednesday highlight, or don’t have the closing speed to play a significant part in the finish?
Sure, it may look great on paper in terms of official ratings, prominent owners, trainers and jockeys that these horses compete in the Champion Chase or Gold Cup, but it always feels like they don’t get a fair crack.
Similarly, in the Gold Cup, do horses who travel well to three out and fail to get up the hill really add to a race, when at the contests-end they don’t feature and finish tired? I’m not sure they do.
People in National Hunt racing also bang on about how chasing is a much higher echelon compared to hurdling, in terms of respect and prestige, especially in the staying division, but to not cater for chasers (thankfully we do at the Cheltenham Festival) who perform to their best over intermediate trips would be a huge shame.
The difference in tests between 2m on the sharp Old Course in the Champion Chase and 3m2½f in the Gold Cup on the stamina-demanding New Course is colossal. Catering for these intermediate horses has been a hugely positive move; think Imperial Commander, Albertas Run, Cue Card, Uxizandre, Vautour, Un De Sceaux and Frodon.
The race gave Imperial Commander an ideal stepping stone to Gold Cup glory, it gave the great AP McCoy his last Cheltenham Festival winner and also gave us the wonderful story of Frodon and Bryony Frost. All the above, on top of two truly great, eye-popping Festival performances of recent seasons from Vautour and the great Un De Sceaux.
The older generation (and maybe the new) may see its inclusion in March as excess, but it’s baggage we should love to carry.