Milansbar is back in great form - and Bryony Frost gave him an 'ace' ride
Conditional jockey Bryony Frost had never sat on Milansbar before she met him at Warwick (January 13) and rode him to a famous eleven lengths victory in the Grade 3 Betfred Classic Handicap Chase - beating off Cogry and Missed Approach.
The 11-year-old gelding by Milan out of Ardenbar, is trained by Neil King at his Ridgeway Racing yard - a quick trot from Barbury Castle: "It was", says King calmly, "a great result." But he was 'gutted' not to be able to be there to see the race and Bryony Frost's 'ace ride'.
In the run up, did he think Milansbar had this race in him? "Definitely. He'd been fancied for the Welsh National at Chepstow the week before, but he was outpaced at the first bend - and that seemed to upset his plan." He then unseated regular jockey Trevor Whelan.
"He came home absolutely fine - we thought the Warwick race would suit him - we'd tried blinkers at home which seemed to spark him up."
After the race the talk was all of a Grand National entry for Milansbar - even one with Bryony Frost aboard. But Neil King says that is not likely now the handicapper has put him up nine pounds and he is on a mark of 143: "That makes him very borderline to get into the Grand National."
He is, however, likely to go to Newcastle for the Eider Handicap Chase on February 24. Who will ride him there? "Bryony - if she's free - she's full of confidence - horses do run and jump for her."
Jess White, who looks after Milansbar at the yard and took him to Warwick, told marlboroughequestrian.news she had not met Bryony before: "It was as if we'd met years ago - she's a good laugh - and works very hard."
And Milansbar? "He's a very big horse - he's got such a big presence. And he's a character - he loves cuddles! He had a tough time last season so it's good for him to get his head in front again."
"As soon as he left the yard to go to Warwick, his ears pricked up. He absolutely enjoyed it all - he was so keen he dragged me round the parade ring!"
Last year was a flat one for Milansbar and tricky for Neil King as his yard had a bug for a while. In fact Trevor Whelan pulled Milansbar up six fences out in last year's Eider Handicap Chase.
King says Milansbar has been a bit fragile and missed a year: "But he was good over fences as a novice." He came to Neil King from Henrietta Knight in December 2012 and won his first three races. Before the Warwick win, he had won five and been placed in six. But the 2016-2017 season was not fruitful.
Milansbar is owned by Robert Bothway, who is an old friend of Neil King from hunting and point-to-point days. He is a retired farmer who lives in Norfolk.
Neil King says Robert Bothway has been involved with horses all is life. He trained pointers, trained show horses for the Queen Mother - and at one time took to training greyhounds too.
Now aged 80, he visits the yard every fortnight - turns his hand to harrowing the gallops, keeps the tractors up to scratch and spends some time with Milansbar. Jess White says: "Milansbar can tell when he's coming round the corner - his ears are pricked ready to say hello."
Neil King takes Milansbar hunting [see photo below]. As Jess White explains: "We are very lucky here that we can give the horses the opportunity to go out hunting - a lot of them thrive off of it."
She has not quite come down from the thrill of the Warwick win: "Milansbar's victory was well deserved by the fantastic team that we have here at Ridgeway Racing. Everyone works extremely hard and it is very rewarding and means the world to the team when we get results like this. To have both a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 winner so far this season is just brilliant!"
Come the Cheltenham Festival, will the yard go one better and win the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle (March 15)? The popular Lil Rockerfeller is one of the thirty 'possible entries' - and is currently at 18-to-one.