“Freak of nature” Mr Frisk won the fastest Grand National on record – but only after trainer Kim Bailey had almost exhausted his persuasive powers to convince reticent owner Lois Duffey to run her pride and joy at Aintree.
Bailey, a revered and resilient veteran 30 years on, was a rising star who would soon go on to win the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in the same season – and demonstrated again just last month that he can still pull off Cheltenham Festival success.
Mr Frisk, the “oddball” ex-northern point-to-pointer who was an unexceptional performer on the gallops, undoubtedly played a huge role early in the career of one of the greats of the National Hunt code.
Perhaps Bailey’s trickiest task of all, though, was to cajole the exuberant chestnut’s doting American owner into allowing him to take on the fences he was made for – in conditions he adored – even if it did cost the trainer his bed for the night on the eve of the National.
Taking up the tale, Bailey said: “I was very, very lucky – because the horse needed absolutely rock-hard ground, and it did just come together perfectly.
“I had an owner who was very anti-running (in the race) – and as we got closer and closer to it, my position became stronger, because I kept saying to her ‘conditions are right, we’re going to have very fast ground’.”
Even so, Mrs Duffey was inclined to keep Mr Frisk under wraps.
Asked if that was still the case as race day loomed, Bailey said: “Right up to the last minute – even the week before, I spoke to her when it came to do the declarations, and I said ‘I’m declaring the horse to run’.
“She said ‘I’m not going to come over, I don’t want him to run’. I said ‘you’ve got to go, he’ll never have an opportunity like this again’.
“That was the end of the conversation. Then I got a phone call from Heathrow on Friday night, saying ‘I’ve arrived, I’m getting a taxi’, and she got the taxi from London right up to the Adelphi Hotel (in Liverpool) – where I was staying – and we moved out of our room so she could sleep there.”
Bailey knew it was 1990 or bust for the 11-year-old, after weeks of drying weather played into his hands – so much so that Mr Frisk and his amateur jockey Marcus Armytage consolidated their National success with a unique achievement, sealing Sandown’s Whitbread Gold Cup less than a month later thanks to another exhilarating display of front-running and bold jumping.
Still rightly proud of that spring double, Bailey said: “He’s the only horse to have done that.
“Three weeks later, he went and won the Whitbread – and the horse that was second in the National, Durham Edition, was second again.
“It was an extraordinary feat really, a phenomenal race. Again, he had his conditions – and having the first and second from the National taking each other on, and finishing in exactly the same positions, was amazing.
“Personally, I got more pleasure out of watching the Whitbread than I did in the National – because he was electric. The way he sailed over those Railway fences was extraordinary.”
The going was even faster at Sandown, and was absolutely key to Mr Frisk, whose lethargy away from the racecourse fooled even those who knew him best.
Bailey added: “Mr Frisk went back (to Aintree) the following year, in good form. But it was good ground, which rode like heavy ground for him, and it was no good.
“Marcus rode him in his last piece of work before (Sandown), and said ‘the horse is so slow, he’s absolutely gone over the top’. I said ‘that’s the best piece of work I’ve ever seen him do’ – because he was the slowest work horse I’ve ever come across.”
It was only a quirk of fate which ever brought Bailey and Mr Frisk together in the first place, after the trainer upped the ante at the Doncaster sales when he saw trusted northern judges keen to buy him.
“I didn’t like chestnuts, and Bivouac was an unfashionable sire,” he said.
“But I actually outbid them, I think I paid 15 and a half grand for him.”
Back at Bailey’s yard, the early signs were far from encouraging and the advice from house guest and training doyen Jimmy FitzGerald was to cut losses.
Bailey said: “We brought him home, and he was a bit of an oddball.
“We had Jimmy FitzGerald staying, and he was my great idol at the time in racing. He watched him work up the gallops – we worked four horses, and he finished about 100 yards behind the other three.
“Jimmy FitzGerald said ‘What’s that?’. I said ‘that’s a horse called Mr Frisk I bought at Doncaster in May’. He said ‘What are you going to do with him?’.
“I said I’m going to run him at Exeter next week. He said ‘I wouldn’t embarrass yourself by running him if I were you’.”
Mr Frisk had a surprise in store, of course – the first of many, although keeping him under control on race day was to remain an ongoing struggle.
Bailey added: “I actually rang Mrs Duffey and said ‘I think I’ve wasted your money, he’s probably no good’.
“He went to Exeter and bolted up – jumped for fun, and won!”
It was the first of seven victories in his novice season, but still Mr Frisk sweated profusely pre-race and needed a stablemate travelling companion to keep him calm in transit.
“My ex-wife rode him out off a pony, so we led him everywhere,” said Bailey.
“That seemed to make a very big difference – it kept him under control, leading him to and from the gallops, and just putting the jockey on him there.
“We always used to take another horse with him (to the races).”
One day at Chepstow, Bailey thought he might just have hit on the right regime and was delighted to see Mr Frisk arrive unflustered, only to perform way below his best.
He realised he must simply accept that this horse was different – and how Mr Frisk repaid him in the end.
“We tried all sorts of things, and tried desperately hard to get him to calm down travelling – because he’d be dripping with sweat,” he said.
“We managed to get him to Chepstow, calm as a lamb, (but) he ran so badly.
“He was a freak, like all good racehorses always are. He was a freak of nature, an extraordinary horse.”