By Tony Elves
Red lights usually spell danger but for JIMMY FROST it was to prove a pre-cursor for the highlight of his career when, 30 years ago, LITTLE POLVEIR had his great day in the sun when landing the 1989 Grand National.
One of the hard men of the saddle, Frost had a little pipe-opener in the John Hughes Memorial Handicap Chase on the first day of the meeting when partnering General Chandos to finish fourth to Arthur Stephenson’s Villierstown and then took in the rigours of a long drive to Exeter on the Friday where the only rewards for his exertions were a rollicking from his boss Toby Balding.
Frost then was back behind the wheel for a return to Liverpool with weighing colleagues Lorna Vincent and Jamie Railton that evening and a night with members of Balding’s Racing Club at their hotel in Warrington where the thoughts of Aintree Saturday were more concentrated on partnering future Champion Hurdler Morley Street in the Mumm Prize Novices’ Hurdle.
As friends do, Frost had let Railton borrow his car and his delay on National morning had meant a hasty journey to the course. The pair were locked in conversation about their chances that afternoon and it was blue lights that were in front of them as Frost inadvertently went through a red traffic light.
As fate would have it the investigating officer happened to be a racing fan and seeing the Jimmy Frost logo on the side of his sponsored car enquired as to what they were doing that day and the first slice of luck on the day saw the pair driving away without penalty.
Frost said: “The officer asked us if we were riding in the National and I said to him to make sure that he backed Little Polveir. Even to this day I wonder if he did have a tenner on the old horse.
“In truth I was more concerned in staying in one piece to ride Morley Street but Little Polveir was far from being a no-hoper and had fallen five out when Tom Morgan had ridden him in the race 12 months earlier. I thought if I was in the right position then he could run a respectable race.”
Frost’s superstition before every race he rode in has been to cross himself whilst waiting in the paddock and “The hope that I don’t die” and with that ritual out of the way it was time to line up at the start on the 28-1 shot with the other 39 runners and the small matter of negotiating the 30 National fences.
Jimmy continued: “Rather than going quiet I think you get a bit more chatty before the race as you are getting a bit nervous and some of the jockeys can a bit more jokey trying to calm the nerves. When your down at the start and ready to go, it all happens fairly quickly but we had a couple of false starts and a horse spread a plate.
I was in my light saddle (carrying 10st 3lb including 3lb overweight) and I started thinking my stirrup leathers are wearing a bit thin so I shoved them down a hole so I would be riding a bit deeper and then I thought oh no the old hole is above them and that might bust so I went one above it and rode shorter than I normally do. I just had this paranoia that my leathers would break.”
Frost has decided he was going to take the middle/inner route in the maximum field and his first potential problem was soon on the scene.
He said “When I landed up over the first Ray Goldstein and Hettinger were in front of me and he had fallen a few times around Plumpton and I thought oh no not that Hettinger so I moved a bit to my right and found Richard Dunwoody and West Tip so I had gone from probably the worst lead in the National to the best so I sat in behind West Tip.”
“Little Polveir was just bubbly in my hands and travelling very easily and always going forward. Everytime I dropped my hand he would move forward and pass another horse and when they came to the Chair I was upsides Mithras and West Tip. The loose horses set him alight and he took me to the front and I had to settle him again.
“When we set out for the country a second time and I just thought to myself to keep concentrating. I cut the corner at the Canal turn and Richard was shouting for a bit of light and that was the last I heard of another jockey in the race. When I came to the Melling Road I thought that my son Daniel could go to school and tell his pals that his dad was in front in the Grand National.”
Apart from fences, loose horses and other more familiar hazards, Frost then had to bypass a lager lout who had strayed on the course and for his own safety thankfully ducked back under the rail and got out of the way.
Jimmy continued: “Turning into the straight I was trying to save a bit of energy and keep a bit of horse. After that last he didn’t really get going and I thought I get caught now and then the loose horse Smart Tar joined him and he just picked up and the next thing I had passed the line and it came to me that I had just won the National. It was an incredible moment and one I will never forget. There were all these cameras clicking at me and I thought I better go get my teeth out of the weighing room!”
The record books show that Little Polveir had galloped past the winning post seven lengths clear of the 1986 National winner West Tip with the 1987 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner The Thinker half a length back in third, so clearly Little Polveir had exceeded all expectations with such a meritorious success.
Celebrations took place at the Hotel in Warrington before Frost set off for the long drive back to Devon and a midnight arrival at his local pub The Dartmoor where the party was in fully swing.
“Without a doubt winning the National at Liverpool was the highlight of my career and Little Polveir beat two top notchers in West Tip and The Thinker and it was his day of days.”
Frost’s youngest son HADDON is currently riding in Maryland where he is leading rider in timber races and daughter BRYONY is obviously a household name here with her partnership with Frodon well and truly cemented with his recent victory in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase.
“It’s great to see them doing well and standing watching Bryony riding Frodon was pretty life-changing. Haddon was down the chute to greet her with him his Miami tan and Cuban haircut and it was unforgettable day.”
Bryony would undoubtedly have been riding in this year’s National barring breaking her collarbone and is it a dream that she may well follow in her father’s footsteps one day?
Jimmy said: “I don’t dream too big as you never get them and I don’t want to be disappointed in life. What I can say is that it obviously would be a piece of history if she was to win the Grand National but you need the horse and they aren’t easy to find.”
Frost will be televiewing the Grand National on Saturday and like most has a soft spot for the current 7-2 favourite for the race.
He said: “You can’t take it away from Tiger Roll – he has everything – his stamina, class and his jumping. He has been there once and he just needs a bit of luck to get the clear round again and he will take all the beating.”