Can the season get any better for bubbly Bryony Frost, who capped a fabulous 2017 by making her Grade 1 breakthrough on her first ride at the top level, prompting Paul Nicholls to describe her "as good as any girl that's ever ridden"?
Bryony Frost and Black Corton, photo Liesl King
Frost, 22, became the second female in Britain or Ireland to ride a Grade 1 winner over obstacles, reaching the landmark on Black Corton in the 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase, the race in which Lizzie Kelly struck the first blow for women two years ago.
Back in March Frost rode her first Cheltenham Festival winner when she landed the Foxhunter on Pacha Du Polder as an amateur, but she will return to Cheltenham next year on one of the meeting's leading fancies after Black Corton claimed his seventh win over fences and sixth in seven runs under Frost.
"We've got a Boxing Day winner, guys," said Frost, who has also won the Badger Ales Chase since turning conditional. "I keep pinching myself. This is what we dream about doing and I've made a memory.
"It's been amazing. My first ride in a Grade 1 and we've got it. I like to believe in my horses, I try to get them in the best position and make them somebody. To me it's a massive thing to get Black Corton from an underdog to a big gun."
Frost was positive throughout on Black Corton; they were never out of the first two and, after being presented with the lead when Fountains Windfall fell four out, needed only to keep a clear round to hold the tired Elegant Escape.
Frost, we learned, nearly missed out as Nicholls later revealed Black Corton was almost withdrawn having been off his food over Christmas.
"There has been something going round the yard," said the trainer. "One or two haven't been eating up as they might. Friday and Saturday he didn't eat at all and Clifford Baker [head lad] said yesterday I don't think we can run him, he's not eating.
"Whatever happened, he ate everything up yesterday and ate up this morning so here we are today. It's astonishing how 24 hours can make a difference with a horse. He's not missed any work but was off his grub."
Black Corton was cut to a general 16-1 (from 25) for the RSA Chase and may not run before Cheltenham having started novice chasing in June.
"It's astonishing to think he's won seven races now," added Nicholls. "He ran at Fontwell, Worcester and got better and better.
"To win a Grade 1 and with Bryony is fantastic. He'll have a break now and I suspect will go straight to Cheltenham.
"Last time we didn't quite make enough use of him. Today I said to be brave, bounce out and try to use every bit of stamina and jumping ability. I didn't believe he'd gallop all that way but he's an improving horse.
"Bryony works hard on her fitness, works hard at home. Horses run and jump for her and this is a great example. She's as good as any girl that's ever ridden."
Elegant Escape was a length and a half behind in second, some 21 lengths in front of stablemate West Approach.
Trainer Colin Tizzard reflected: "I think that's the best they've run. Elegant Escape found this track very different to Newbury and was flat out all the way, whereas West Approach travelled better and is developing into quite a nice horse. Both will be aimed at the RSA."