Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost set for Down Royal clash

Blackmore takes the ride on Gold Cup hero Minella Indo before a spin on Envoi Allen

A conflux of jockey switches has conspired to produce a potential head-to-head between Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost in the first Grade 1 of the jumps season at Down Royal on Saturday.

From looking like she would sit out the €125,000 Ladbrokes Champion Chase, Blackmore now teams up again with the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo.

Not only that but thanks to Gordon Elliott's insistence on Jack Kennedy and Davy Russell riding for him, Irish racing's most high-profile figure is also on Envoi Allen when he returns to action in the following race.

Having come back a week ago from over three months out through injury it is a major boost to Blackmore while also presenting a big-race scenario to tee up the winter campaign.


Britain’s champion trainer Paul Nicholls will bid for a record fifth win in the 22nd renewal of this race through the King George winner Frodon who famously comes as a package deal with Frost.

Through wins at the 2019 Cheltenham festival and in particular the King George last Christmas, Frodon has helped propel Frost to stardom.

She and Blackmore have transformed the face of the sport on both sides of the Irish Sea, their pioneering exploits making a mockery of old presumptions about women riding at the top level.

If Blackmore has fought injury in recent months, then Frost has been embroiled in a long-running saga involving her bullying and harassment claims against Irish jockey Robbie Dunne over a year ago.

With the shadow of the British Horseracing Authority investigation still somehow hanging over the sport, Frost has a chance to generate happier headlines in the North of Ireland’s most valuable race.

Just a handful of runners will line up but an expected crowd of almost 4,500 people - the biggest seen at Down Royal in two years - can anticipate a classic Anglo-Irish clash between the two most successful female jockeys in National Hunt history.

Ranged against the ‘Big Two’ are a trio of Elliott runners with Kennedy on board Delta Work and competing against the horse he memorably won the Gold Cup on in March.

Not only that, but plenty will believe he isn’t even on the Elliott No 1 as Galvin and Russell come here on the back of a smooth warm up at Punchestown. The race history is littered with evidence of how valuable such a spin can be.

On a strict reading of the Gold Cup form, Minella Indo has over 30 lengths in hand of Frodon. He is also officially rated 8lbs clear of his rival and did win first time out last season at Wexford.

However it is a very different level this time and Frodon’s CV suggests he may be a type to emerge sharper for a first start of the campaign.

The Nicholls team is in form, as is Frost who will be having her first ride at Down Royal, and if she and Frodon get a ‘solo’ at the front they could prove hard to peg back.

As a Gold Cup winner Minella Indo is the equine headline act on Saturday although public fascination for his stable companion Envoi Allen makes it a close run thing.

That might be unfair on the real deal but the horse long billed as a potential Gold Cup champion has always attracted huge attention.

That endures despite two reverses after his departure from Gordon Elliott last March which ended his unbeaten record.

Successful surgery on a chipped joint during the summer sees him reappear in a Grade 2 chase that looks an ideal first start on the road to restoring his reputation.

Davy Russell was penciled in to ride but has been claimed by Elliott so Blackmore is reunited with Envoi Allen. Anything but a stylish return to winning ways will be a surprise and perhaps see that fascination start to dim.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column