The Cotswold was a great race to watch. Bryony set off at a pace just warm enough to stay in front without burning too much energy. O’Brien on Elegant Escape was always going to be stranded, unable to go the pace his horse required to steadily drain the others, and knowing that Elegant Escape’s jumping would also suffer. But nor could he allow Frodon too much rope for fear he could not haul it all in up the final hill.
Take your pick as to which circuit Bryony won this on. With the first she went quick enough to avoid a battle for the lead but kept enough in reserve to crank it up a couple of notches passing the stand where Elegant Escape made his first error, losing 3 lengths. As Pat Taaffe once said, losing a length at a fence doesn’t seem much, but it takes you a hundred yards to make it up again. And that was probably the turning point in the race. Elegant Escape was never travelling comfortably afterwards.
All the way down the back straight, O’Brien could not get up with the pace, urging Elegant Escape after each jump until he was back on the bridle, at which point another fence loomed to be pinged by Frodon and reached for by Elegant Escape. From five out, O’Brien was fighting on the retreat as his horse could no longer keep up with the principals. He persevered because he knew the hill – the big equaliser, the ace up his sleeve – was still to come.
At the front, Bryony had kicked into top gear after jumping three out with Alysson Monterg and Terrefort looking the only dangers. Six or seven lengths back, O’Brien was rowing away, just to cling on. He gave his mount a reluctant slap, knowing the gelding was giving everything, but had made only half a length or so by the second last. The way Elegant Escape jumped that would have given his rider fresh hope. His horse was not tired, just outpaced as he had been for more than a mile now.
Looking ahead, O’Brien’s new hopes would have dipped at the way Frodon cleared the last, his hind feet six inches above the birch: this was not a rival whose energy was nearly done.
Elegant Escape landed over the last about six lengths down and, for the first time in the race the gelding looked comfortable as the hill’s gravity seemed to be working double on the others. He passed Terrefort and aimed for Frodon who’d begun just drifting right, a final piece of fortune for Bryony because he took Elegant Escape’s ground as that one reached his quarters. It was the difference between three-quarters of a length and a neck. Not enough for victory but it would have let us see Elegant Escape spin out his run all the way to the line.
It was a fine ride by Bryony and a fine run by Frodon. But I’d say the braver and arguably better performance was by the runner up who is full of grit. If it comes up deep in March, it’s likely he’ll get the reward his determination and raw courage deserve.