JOCKEY Bryony Frost matter-of-factly rattles off her injury list after being trampled during a race.
“I did my sternum and my T8 and T7 vertebrae, lacerated my pancreas and liver and had an aneurysm in the artery between the two organs,” she says with a Devon twang.
The charismatic 25-year-old told The Sun: “Internal injuries are frustrating but with broken bones it’s, ‘Right, six weeks and it will marry up and you can kick on again’.”
Britain’s most successful ever female jump jockey, Bryony was back in the saddle after just four months’ recuperation following the 2018 fall. Racing is tough — one in 11 rides ends in a fall. Imagine riding a wilful half-tonne beast at 30mph towards a 5ft fence with a cavalry charge behind you. And then crashing to the turf.
While there have been successful female jockeys before, none has broken through like effervescent Bryony. Yet her rise to stardom has seen allegations of bullying by male rivals. She said: “The more success you have, the more people will frown at you as well as smile with you, so you have to accept it.”
But first, the high points . . .
Two years ago Bryony became the first woman to triumph in a Grade One race over fences at Cheltenham Festival, on her beloved horse Frodon. As the TV cameras panned to her, Bryony patted Frodon on the neck in glee and squealed: “He’s unbelievable. I love you, mate!”
Then on Boxing Day last year, again on Frodon, she became the first woman to win the prestigious King George VI Chase. And next week the pair head for the sport’s blue-riband contest, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
With racing reeling from the scandal of top trainer Gordon Elliott’s selfie on a dead horse, a victory for Bryony and Frodon would be the boost the sport needs. Her love and respect for Frodon is heart-warming. She talks of the nine-year-old gelding — who trainer Paul Nicholls believes has a live chance of Gold Cup victory — as an equal and good mate.
She added: “Frod’s one of my dearest friends, I’m in awe of him. He has attitude and charisma. He’d be the sort of person that would have a contagious laugh. If you walked into the room, you’d notice him. He’s somebody that I’ve been lucky enough to find a partnership with in my career. He’s made me who I am — we’ve gone along this road together.”
Bryony says horses do not care about the gender of their jockeys. After a recent day’s racing, she told me: “I don’t think they know whether you’re a boy or girl. Horses are different and so are the jockeys. I just think they recognise our different styles and techniques.”
Bryony has become a media darling but, if allegations are true, her ascent appears to have been met with resentment by some. It came to a head after she complained to sport regulator the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) of bullying by her male colleagues.
The alleged behaviour is said to have got worse after an incident involving jockey Robbie Dunne after a race at Southwell, Notts, in September. The pair are said to have had an altercation after the horse Robbie was riding was killed. He reportedly confronted Bryony and accused her of allowing her horse to drift when approaching a fence, causing his horse to fall and later die.
For now, Bryony is tight-lipped, telling me: “I’m sorry, I can’t comment on it. I will, but not now.” A BHA spokesman said yesterday it could not comment.
Bryony’s media appearances have also been remarked on. Jockey Harry Cobden — Bryony’s ex-boyfriend — said: “She’s obviously done well out of the cameras.
“They like her and it’s got her career going. (Frodon trainer) Paul (Nicholls) has put her on nice horses. If the cameras weren’t involved, would she have gone as far as she has? I don’t know.”
But the weighing room ill-feeling has led Bryony’s dad — Grand National-winning ex-jockey Jimmy Frost — to say: “Something needs looking at.” As for being a match for any man in the saddle, Bryony said: “A person once said to me, ‘You’ll never be as strong as a guy in the finish, so you’ll never be as good’.
“So I said, ‘OK, who would bench-lift the most, out of a rugby player and a jockey?’ He said, ‘Well, obviously the rugby player’. I said, ‘OK, now we’re going to put them on a horse and ask them to gallop for a mile — who’s going to be less fatigued and get the better out of the horse?’
“He said, ‘The jockey’. Yes, you have to be strong, and I’d like to think I am. But we also need rhythm, balance and a good clock in your head. That’s more important than being a girl or a boy.”
Trailblazer Bryony’s life has always centred on horses.
She grew up in Buckfastleigh, next to Dartmoor, and recalled: “As soon as I opened my eyes, a horse was there.”
Before dad Jimmy was a trainer, her grandad was too. Her brother Hadden was also a successful jockey. Aged nine, Bryony set her heart on becoming a jockey, and she learned to ride on pet donkey Nosey.
She recalled: “Dad said, ‘If you want to be a jump jockey, the first lesson is how to fall’. So me and Hadden threw ourselves off straw bales and pulled each other off ponies. You have to learn to ball up and stay tight but relaxed, all at the same time.”
At 5ft 5in and 9st 12lb, she does not have to diet. Her favourite meal is steak and chips, with Coke. She said: “I keep fit and eat what I like.”
Now Bryony and Frodon head for Cheltenham, dreaming of Gold Cup success.
Trainer Paul said: “They are a match made in heaven. You wouldn’t want her not being on him. It’s the biggest race he will ever run and he deserves to be there.”
Bryony added: “It’s the Gold Cup. It is formidable. But he smashed expectations in the King George, and we just go out there and we do ‘us’.
“If it’s good enough, then you’ll see us there. If we’re not, we’re not. But we know we’ll give 110 per cent.”
If the best mates come roaring up Cheltenham’s famous hill with their noses in front, it will be a defining moment for racing. The Sport of Kings will be crowning its queen.
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