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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

Ant and Dec have little to worry about

Sat at my computer once again at 5:30am with another week in front of me, I do so hopeful this week won’t be quite as manic as the one we have just enjoyed.

I am all for being busy but for whatever reason last week felt like I took one breath in, blinked and here we are again.
I should imagine that every jump yard in the land at the moment is pretty well the same, what with spring festival preparations now well under way and horses running nearly every day. People do say time flies when you’re having fun so things can’t be bad.

The blog this week could be a little disjointed down to the nature of my week so apologies if it’s not great, there is just so much to fit in. Now, the question is where to start and I think first of all I am going to tell you about my week before going on to some stories from the yard of interest.
With Cheltenham on the horizon we hosted the BBC Points West cameras on Tuesday and they shadowed me for the morning, filming a normal day with me and undertaking an interview all about what I get up to working for Paul – by all accounts this piece is going to be aired on Points West during Cheltenham week. Now it was of course cool to get a phone call to be asked to do this and, after a conversation with Damien from the ‘beeb’I only had one question for him; “Of course I’ll do it, but do you not want to do it about someone a little more interesting?”
The answer was seemingly not however and they duly followed me round for the morning, I can’t think it will make compelling television, but I should imagine the two men that came down to film it won’t forget their experience for a while mainly down to the fact they are probably still drying out.

Dodge relishing his new role

Without doubt, not just for this season, but for the past couple of years the horse who received the biggest volume of blog space was the one and only Dodging Bullets, my old mate who is now retired living only 10 minutes away with Lucy Sharp who looked after him all his life here at Ditcheat. Very sensibly Lucy gave Dodge a long and well deserved rest when he was retired, letting him adjust to his new life on the family farm and allowing him to get used to not other racehorses but a hairy Shetland, dogs, chickens and whatever else one might come across on a farm.
However Dodge is now back into ridden work and with his new career in its infancy the time had come for him to have a trip off the farm, not to gallop round a racecourse as he was so used to doing, but just to where Kate, my girlfriend, keeps her horse where a riding arena is situated.
Lucy and I took Dodge on the 10 minute journey with an over excitable racehorse in the back and as we arrived it was pretty clear Dodge believed he knew what he was there for. I legged Lucy up onto Dodge and he strutted down the track towards the school as if he owned the place and into the dimly floodlight arena where the funniest meetings of horses took place.
Kate rather amusingly has a quite lovely horse called Harry, a winner on the British eventing circuit and re-homed by Kate from a brilliant organization called World Horse Welfare. I always say that it looks like Harry was built to pull a plough, so you can imagine how funny it was when the former Champion Chaser met his new pal, you could not have found horses with such different paths in life but there they were; the rescue horse now introducing Dodge to his new challenges.
I let the girls get on with it as, in the words of Kate unless I’m on a gallop I’m completely hopeless on horseback, so watched from a distance but what I saw bought a huge smile to my face. A once quite mad racehorse that would sweat at the thought of training and jig-jog every stride he wasn’t galloping was now walking and trotting round the arena in perfect control, head tucked in with no semblance of his wild past to be seen. This was the first chapter of what is going to be an active retirement for Dodge and it was fantastic to see him learning new skills so quickly. He remains a horse I am utterly fond off and always will be.

Corton continues to confound

On the racecourse we had a successful time of things with Black Corton and Bryony continuing this quite remarkable campaign of theirs, winning the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novice Chase at a canter, he now heads for the RSA and at this stage how could anyone ignore him? What I love about him is that you can see all season he is growing with confidence, his jumping is getting better all the time and together B and Blackie make a great team.

I know this game of ours is focussed completely on winners and I totally get that, but on Friday a mare I am particularly fond of ran a brilliant race to finish second in ground she hated, that mare is called If You Say Run. She really is the most charming little horse who I have loved since she arrived last season and I can’t wait to see her run on some spring ground in due course, I was so proud of her at Sandown as she came back to the winners’ enclosure. You could see she had absolutely given her all and that, as I always say, is the best quality any racehorse could possibly have.

Larkhill winner leaves Ed with a sore head

I’ll leave you with a little bit of news from Sunday which made my weekend for sure. I talk all the time in my blog about the talents of our team of riders, it is something I am really proud of, all of them with lofty ambitions for the future and targets they want to reach. This weekend though the rider I was most pleased for probably won’t be doing it in a few years time, he has no massive ambitions in fact he is just doing it for the fun and that is a guy called Ed Henderson, a really good mate of mine who is studying law at Exeter University.
When I first saw Ed ride around two years ago, it was quite something to behold, he hadn’t been riding all that long at that stage and brought something of an alternative style to the saddle, less John Francome more John Wayne in fact.
However, Ed has worked extremely hard to improve his riding and improve he has, so much so that he rode a winner at Larkhill on Sunday, much to the delight of us all. The last message I got from him was around 6pm explaining to me he was fairly well hydrated at that stage so I should imagine he’ll be later out of bed than some today.

My final note today before I finish is a thank you, and that is to a remarkable little horse called Zarkandar, four times a winner at the very highest level he has been one of the flag bearers of our yard for sometime now and my gosh he’s put his stint in. Zarkandar is a fantastic little horse with a character much bigger than himself, he’ll be missed in the yard and remembered for an awful long time, a happy and well deserved retirement now awaits him.

So there we have it, another jam-packed week has flown by and the week and I’m sure the one in front of us will be as busy, but that is without doubt a good thing and with the evenings now slightly drawing out my favourite season of spring is just around the corner. Happy Monday everyone.


Baltic temperatures take their toll

If the forecast is correct then I am hoping this morning’s frost in Ditcheat will be the last for 10 days or so and, if that proves to be the case, I couldn’t want for better news with which to start a Monday morning.

It is not that I don’t like my gritting partner David Judd or driving around the village in the evenings at 15mph in the red truck, window wide open listening out for David’s instructions, it is simply that I could do without it. However, icy roads and horses aren’t the greatest combination ever so salting the roads at this time of year is one of life’s necessities.

For such a dull practice, salting the roads was not without drama this week. Paul’s yard is home to two yard trucks, one silver Nissan, the type of vehicle you would call a good ground horse, a spring horse if you were talking to his owner, but in all reality ‘Silvia’ is a bloody sissy.
The second truck is the one and only unbreakable and adored ‘Big Red’, an unsurprisingly red Ford Ranger from 2002 that is a truck of all trucks. It seems that when Ford made big red they chiselled her from granite instead of engineering her with truly fantastic results.
Picture if you will, in all her glory, a faded red truck with a lifetime of dumps, scrapes, dents, and hard work to her name but still perfectly road legal, a war horse of a truck and through the winters, big red gets some serious stick. There isn’t anything we haven’t put in the back of it or towed with it, you name it and there is a strong chance big red has done it.
Of course, for a job like salting the roads big red is perfectly suited, but for a while now she has struggled with getting up in the cold. We cover the windscreen and do everything in our power to make sure she can spring to life in the mornings, but Tuesday morning it was all too much for her. The normal phone call when big red doesn’t want to play ball is to our resident gallop supremo Rob Lee, who can basically fix most things with a hammer and regular cigarette breaks, but this Tuesday morning big red wasn’t starting, a trip to Accident and Emergency awaited it would seem.

Open top village tour draws disappointing crowd

However, the roads still needed salt applying which left David and I in a bit of a spot. After considering if there was a horse that would benefit from an early trot round the village to get a little fitter with the salting machine behind them (I am of course kidding) we concluded the only way to get it done was with our little open top tractor, now I’m sure there are plenty of you out there reading this that are much hardier types than me, but let me tell you that minus 3 in an open top tractor salting roads at half past five in the morning isn’t the best way to start the day.
At one stage, my aforementioned Irish salting co pilot Mr Judd harped up from the back of the tractor to tell me how fun it was . . . always thought he was an odd one.

Aside from seasoning the roads in Ditcheat, it has been another manic week and it is with no shame that I tell you as I write my blog this morning I’m pretty low on energy, sleep deprived we will call it.
Ed Bailey – who coincidentally finished fourth in the Golden Button this weekend – always told me that being tired isn’t a thing it is just a state of mind . . . I must say though the jury is still out on that one. Ed’s finishing position in the Golden Button however deserves credit as I think in my circle of very closest friends we were fairly certain he wouldn’t survive the challenge.

Mighty Modus still answering the critics

In terms of the racetrack, although winner-less over the weekend, there were plenty of decent performances, like Diego Du Charmil finishing an excellent second in the Kingmaker, Saphir Du Rheu showing plenty before getting tired in the mud at Newbury and Politologue running a race we were all proud of against the superbly-talented Altior.

My week, however selfish as this may sound however slightly revolved around one horse, that horse being Modus. Now, I won’t bang on about him again because the blog faithful already know my love for him but it was brilliant to see him get back to winning ways at Kempton on Friday with the minimum of fuss. I still heard people question his attitude after the race which is totally baffling, but as racing experts I guess we should believe them, they do after all know the horse much better than his team that work every day with him.

So there we are then, that was my week in a nutshell and although you find this assistant trainer tired today you do not find him in any way downhearted, a Ditcheat Jockeys’ Academy session this evening with John Francome is a treat to look forward to and another week is underway.


Team Ditcheat on top of their game!

Although it was barely above freezing as I made my way to the office on Monday morning just before half past five, I could barely be in better form recalling a week of excellent results which made a quiet January of preparations incredibly worthwhile.

We ended up with seven winners across the week which represented a tally we were all delighted with but to be honest I couldn’t just say there was one highlight for me. Occasionally in a season there is a week that will be remembered for all the right reasons and this, on and off the track, was one of them.
To the race track first I think and, although we didn’t start with our runners until Thursday, the trip to local favourite Wincanton was a good one with Unioniste recording a bloodless success in the hunter chase under an increasingly accomplished Lorcan Williams who deputised for Uni’s owner the legend that is Mr Maxwell. All at Ditcheat hope that you mend quickly David!

It was November when the quite lovely Captain Cattistock won last time out and I told the blog faithful how there is little doubt he makes my girlfriend Kate happier than I do so it is to my misfortune he has gone and done it again hasn’t he, producing a performance which once again both left me second in the pecking order and Kate proud as punch afterwards. In racing, the phrase “next season’s chaser” is thrown about way too frequently and is no doubt utilised to cover up plenty of unfortunately slow ones, but in Captain’s case it is the correct label as he is genuine, old fashioned proper horse who is growing all the time and will jump the larger obstacles with the minimum of fuss next term.

Scottish raiding party enjoys sweet success

The local successes were very sweet of course, but a good deal of the yard’s focus this week was on the raid up to Musselburgh which took plenty of time sorting and best of all yielded four winners. It would be an even longer and more boring blog should I begin to detail all of the planning that goes into these trips and, while not only do they have to overcome hours and hours on a lorry, there is the logistics of looking after that many horses away from home. That job falls to Andrew Doyle who headed up the trip, as he so often does when travelling north, a job he enjoys and rarely comes home empty handed.

From Coup De Pinceau’s tough front-running display to Bryony and Marracudja teaming up for a gutsy win, Wonderful Charm’s canter round or The Last But One gaining his first success it was an excellent weekend in Scotland so a huge well done to all our team headed up by Andrew who went up there to look after the horses, ride them out, lead them up and boost a local pub’s earnings for the night. It was superb to see and great work from the raiding party, in particular Channon Whitson who led up three of our four winners, awesome stuff.

It is a funny game this, as you may have seen from my quite ridiculous celebrations on ITV on Saturday. It was a brilliant day’s racing that left me completely gutted and later totally elated inside half an hour.

Cyrname ran his heart out in what I think was an excellent Scilly Isles Chase, a race which featured Terrefort and our lad pulling well clear of the field in a classic battle up the Sandown hill. Obviously the whole team around Cyrname was gutted, in particular Sean who had given his mount a quite brilliant ride and tried everything to get him past the grey, but he just couldn’t get there.
Ringing Scott, Cyrname’s rider, afterwards he could barely put a sentence together he was so proud and disappointed all at the same time. We have since spoken and came to the conclusion how could you be anything but proud of a horse which has put up a career best and run his heart out like that. However, I think Scott’s reaction to that race is a brilliant example of how much it means to everyone involved. These horses really do mean the world to our staff.

Talented Thomas raises Sandown spirits

Since Topofthegame has arrived in Ditcheat he has always stood out, not for his ability but because, he is bright orange and by some way the biggest horse in the yard. For all that he is big, Thomas is a gentle giant who is quiet in his box and a delight to have around.
He ran incredibly well in the Lanzarote just three weeks ago, but lack of big race experience told that day, no mistake this time however, as under a smooth ride from Sam he always looked the winner and stayed seriously well up the hill to win in ground softer than ideal.
Along with my Grandad, Mr Bennet and Paul, I drove Mr Barber up to Sandown on Saturday and could tell how much he enjoyed Topofthegame wining like that, in fact Topofthegame is really everything Mr Barber wants in a racehorse. He is over 17 hands high, very genuine, will jump fences in time and most importantly for Mr Barber he stays three miles and that more than anything is what he wants from his horses.
With a full car load the way back was a lively journey, with a fair share of heckling from Grandad and Mr Bennet at me the driver after what was I’m sure more than one whiskey for the pair of them.
I was happy that Topofthegame won for lots of reasons as I’ve said but not least because the Derham family had a small bit of making up to do with Mr Barber after my Dad’s performance on Thursday. Let me explain.

Farmer Geoff helps with spring ploughing

Most weeks Dad acts as the yard tour guide as groups of four enjoy a morning on the gallops, breakfast in the local and very often a trip to the races afterwards. Dad takes them around the yard, lets them meet all our equine friends, shows our visitors the gallops and everything else that goes into a morning here at Ditcheat. This like all the others was going smoothly until second lot viewing on the hill.
Now we have various spots on the hill to watch the strings canter by, one of which is ideal for summer, spring and for that matter autumn. However, it is not so good for the middle of winter when Mr Barber’s fields are saturated. The field by the hill gallop is unsurprisingly is on a hill so Dad drove down to the gate into the field and down to the gallop with the minimum of fuss, they stood there for around an hour watching the horses go by and chatting before the time came to leave, and of course head back up the field.
Now my Dad is not only one of my best mates, he is a wise man so to get the phone call to say he was stuck caused, as you can imagine, great hilarity. Being stuck is one thing, but trying to get out of the mire is another and while the field did look like a smart albeit wet pasture before there is now a section of it resembling a ploughed field. Funny just doesn’t cover it.
An expert piece of driving from Grandad was required to get the truck out and Dad was on the road again; the tense wait to see if Dad is still on the Christmas list with Mr Barber is now underway.

It is now 6:30am on Monday morning and the day proper for me is about to begin. Clifford has just got in from feeding the horses and is now making himself the first and potentially most important coffee of the day so relentlessly another week is underway.
It is a non-stop business this game of ours but after a week like that how could you not love it.