Frosty Berry (right) beats Clever Cookie: can lightning strike twice?
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
IT IS one of the great ‘ifs’ of history, along with “What would have happened if Napoleon/Hitler hadn’t invaded Russia?” or “What would it be like if dinosaurs weren’t extinct and ruled the world, from Ascot Heath?” Today it’s, “Would there be anything worth looking at it if Punchestown was abandoned or would it be pointless carrying on?”
It’s a tricky one but I draw your attention to the Group 3 Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot (3.20) and, in particular, to number eight on your card, Frosty Berry. Frosty Berry is not, I think we can all agree, Cue Card or Djakadam or even Don Poli but she is, in her way, equally remarkable.
I’ve followed Frosty Berry or, more accurately, I followed Mr A French through the thick and thin of three years and his 15 attempts to win on Frosty Berry. Mr French is not, to be frank, among the elite of amateur riders but with grim loyalty I clung to the belief that one day circumstances and Frosty Berry’s handicap mark would combine to give Mr French and me their rewards.
The highlight of our undeclared partnership came at Goodwood in 2013 when, dutifully backed at 50-1, Frosty Berry and Mr A French (7) were beaten an oh-so-close head and neck. Sadly, Mr French has never won (so far) on Frosty Berry, nor on anything else, his score standing at 0 from 66.
Having won a maiden race at Wolverhampton in 2012 on her debut for Marco Botti and owner-breeder J H Widdows, the three-year-old ran three more times before being bought by Julie French for an expensive looking 30,000 guineas. Sent to John Wainwright, then to Neville Bycroft, then back to Wainwright and armed largely with Mr A French, Frosty Berry failed to win again until April 2014.
Still owned by Ms French but now with Paul Midgley, the five-year-old, equipped with Graham Lee, won a Newcastle handicap and £1,941 off a mark of 60. French subsequently failed to go where Lee had gone before, into the winner’s enclosure and, towards the end of 2015, Ms French diverted the now six-year-old to Ed de Giles’ yard.
Mr A French then adopted a watching role while Shane Gray (who rides again at Ascot) won four handicaps in a row on Frosty Berry, the first off a rating of 61 and the last, at Southwell last December, off 79.
Carried away with their success, connections then sent their heroine to take on better horses in a conditions race at Lingfield. Walloped there, de Giles ill-advisedly launched the seven-year-old on another doomed mission in a Listed race at Nottingham. 26lb ‘wrong’ with the odds-on favourite, Clever Cookie, Frosty Berry, at 50-1, won the race and £23,000.
The handicapper, perhaps somewhat miffed, has since put the mare up from 82 to 103. With the going at Ascot much faster than at Nottingham, Frosty Berry will obviously be put firmly in her place, Clever Cookie gain his revenge …. and yet ….
It will be a nice warm up for Punchestown.
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