A chastening first season as stable jockey to Henrietta Knight reached a fresh nadir for Hadden Frost yesterday when it emerged that he has lost the ride on Somersby at Cheltenham next week. Knight hopes to be able to confirm his replacement today, but has lined up a more experienced jockey for her stable star, who is one of the leading fancies for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. Knight also confirmed Somersby will contest that race, regardless of the drying conditions, rather than take up the option of the Ryanair Chase, over another five furlongs, the following day.
Frost has not ridden a winner since November, and suffered an excruciating reverse when riding a finish a circuit too soon at Folkestone last month. He was suspended for 12 days, and his ban only ends this weekend, allowing him precious little time to demonstrate that his confidence has not been affected. Either way, Knight indicated that the 21-year-old lacks the necessary experience for such a crucible at this stage of his career. "He has never ridden in a race of this calibre at the Festival," she said. "In fact, I don't think he has won a chase at Cheltenham. And this is the championship chase over two miles."
After such an unproductive campaign together – Frost has mustered just three wins from 80 mounts for the stable – it remains to be seen whether the partnership can survive this painful chapter. Its best moment to date came when Somersby forced a photo with Master Minded at Ascot in January. Jockeys to have ridden the horse previously include Robert Thornton, when second at last year's Festival, and Tony McCoy, who would have to ride Captain Cee Bee, one of just 11 acceptors yesterday, if the 10-year-old does not take up his own option in the Ryanair.
Knight rates Somersby her best horse since Best Mate, and hopes he can salvage her stable from a mysterious neglect since the days of the triple Gold Cup winner. "But we're all very switched off, not at all nervous," she said. "I suppose we're not necessarily expected to win, so there's less pressure. We've taken Somersby for a couple of gallops away from home, at Mick Channon's and Peter Cundell's, and he's in very good form. We're pleased with the experience he has gained this season. It's certainly interesting to see how all these Gold Cup horses have hardly run at all. When we had Best Mate, everyone said it was hopeless having a horse with Hen Knight, because you would never see them run."
A jockey at the other end of the Festival spectrum, Ruby Walsh, is also experiencing a challenging preparation. Walsh only returned to action last Friday, after breaking a leg in November, and he was lucky to get away with a couple of stitches to a cut eye after a fall at Naas on Wednesday. He intends to resume riding at Sandown tomorrow.
Conditions at Cheltenham continue to dry out, and the track management decided to begin selective watering yesterday. The official going remains good to soft, good in places.
King Penda (5.40 Ayr) Failed to last longer trip on his chasing debut, but down 8lb and split two subsequent winners over this distance last spring.
Bubbly Breeze (3.55 Ayr) Promise on both starts for stable and may have more stamina than key rivals.
One to watch
Marigolds Way (Anthony Honeyball) challenged powerfully at Fontwell on Wednesday before a long absence told.