It’s just gone 11.30am and the parade ring at Uttoxeter Racecourse is circled by those who know their National Hunt racing.
This is a day for aficionados, a provincial track in the Staffordshire countryside where the ground is hock deep. The quality of a competitive card is modest — there are no potential Cheltenham stars on show here — but there is star quality among the riders.
One jockey, in particular, can rely on plenty of backing: Bryony Frost. There she is, in the purple silks with the pink stars wearing the orange cap, and she has just been given the leg up on Brandisova, in the opening mares’ novices hurdle.
Sportsmail went to Uttoxeter a week after Bryony Frost’s bullying verdict that rocked racing
Frost was the victim of prolonged bullying from weighing room colleague Robbie Dunne
‘Go on, Bryony!’ chirps one older gentleman, as she trots Brandisova — trained by her ally Lucy Wadham — on to the course. The public have an affinity with Frost. She has infectious enthusiasm and a bubbly personality; she wins big races on popular horses and is the kind of character that will be able to draw in a new audience to this sport.
But the public are also with her over the ordeal to which she was recently subjected. Frost was the victim of prolonged bullying from weighing room colleague Robbie Dunne, who verbally abused her, threatened to inflict physical damage and, on one occasion, exposed himself to her.
Dunne was last week found to be in breach of four counts of conduct prejudicial to the reputation of horse racing and has been banned for 18 months. It was said by Louis Weston, a barrister representing the British Horseracing Authority in the case, that the weighing room’s culture is ‘sour and rancid’.
Emotions have been running high since, so Sportsmail went to observe Frost on her first rides of the week. The intention was to ask a number of riders if they agreed with that damning description of the weighing room, and what empathy they had for the 26-year-old.
Daryl Jacob, a Grand National winner, refused to speak to Sportsmail about Frost’s case
What followed was both remarkable and revealing. Daryl Jacob is one of the senior National Hunt jockeys, a Grand National winner with a c.v. full of big-race triumphs. In between races two and three, we approached him to see if we could have a chat.
‘I wanted to ask you about Bry…’ Before the sentence had been completed, the conversation was over.
‘No!’ he said, firmly, with a glare. ‘No,’ he repeated, storming to the weighing room door and slamming it shut.
A few moments later the door opened and a few sets of eyes were peering out. Photographer Andy Hooper and I moved on up to the parade ring. We were met by two officials from Uttoxeter Racecourse.
‘Why are you here?’ was the repeated tone of the questioning. It was evident that our presence was not wanted, so much so that a security guard, complete with a camera on his body armour, was — to use some racing parlance — never more than a couple of lengths away from Andy.
‘Don’t speak to the jockeys,’ was the order. ‘Let them get on with their jobs.’
Two officials and a security guard at Uttoxeter told Sportsmail not to speak to the jockeys
Racing can remain silent but that won’t stop the fact that its biggest story of the year has put it front and centre for all the wrong reasons. Frost said she felt ‘isolated’ after she went to the Professional Jockeys Association with her issue and, if this is a snapshot, you can understand why.
So, if jockeys were off limits, racegoers were not. It led us to Tony and Katie Yates, an affable couple from nearby Stoke, who had come for a pre-Christmas day out. They had followed Frost’s case from start to finish and had some strong views.
‘When you seeing bullying, in any walk of life, it makes you see red,’ said Tony. ‘What happened to Bryony should not have gone on. It would have been bad enough if it was an issue between two blokes but this was even worse. We fully support her.
‘I hope she can put it behind her and carry on with her job. It must be hard for all the girls in that environment. Maybe there is some jealousy towards her for what she has achieved and how she comes across? But she likes to talk and wants to talk — and she’s a bloody good rider.’
If this is the culture that Frost (No 2) dealt with, it is easy to understand why she felt so isolated
Neither Brandisova, who tailed off behind the symbolically named winner Letthetruthbeknown, nor Will Sting, her mount in the fourth race who was pulled up, gave her the chance to show off her skills in the saddle.
But, still, she stopped to have a conversation and a selfie with Katie Yates regardless.
‘You have a lovely day now,’ said Frost, as the pair parted.
There will be better days ahead for Frost, who next week will partner defending champion Frodon in the King George.
But if there are to be better days for the image of National Hunt racing, the walls that have been built in some parts of the weighing room need tearing down.