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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

Thanks for the memories

It is scarcely believable that I am just beginning my final blog of this season, time really has flown by and, after some fun moments, sad moments, frustrating moments and downright brilliant moments, all at Ditcheat can look back on a job well done once again with another successful campaign behind us.

For all that I had a busy week, I am not intending to talk about that in this final blog, instead sharing with you, my faithful blog readers, my most enjoyable and memorable points from this season. These may not have been the biggest wins or the most significant things that happened to team Ditcheat, rather a collection of points that I will always remember from the year.

Before I do that however I would just say that none of these moments and great days would have been possible without everyone supporting Paul’s yard the way they do. From our diverse and wide ranging group of fantastic owners who put so much into the game and entrust us with their horses, to our core of staff who are the beating heart of the yard; they are the people who bring to life the dreams of an owner, the ambitions of a jockey and plans of Paul.

He could not be the huge success that he is without his team and they have consistently done a brilliant job throughout the season. Our jockeys Sam, Harry, Sean, Bryony, Stan and plenty of others who have ridden our horses so well all season, put together the final piece of the jigsaw to make all 127 wins possible. There are a huge number of people that make up team Ditcheat and everyone has played their part in another excellent campaign.

So what about my memories then, well I have been thinking about these over the last week or so while driving to the races or riding out and to be honest narrowing down a season’s worth of good stuff into one blog has not been easy. Quite the opposite in fact and I can assure there are plenty of days I won’t talk about in this blog that could of quite easily been involved. I’m going to talk about three things that have happened this year and hopefully you will all be able to see why these moments are so special.

Pacha performance sees Paul at his best

The first one was the win of Pacha Du Polder in the Cheltenham Foxhunters on the Friday of the Cheltenham festival and this was for many reasons. Firstly, for Pacha. He is a horse of a lifetime, has the most wonderful heart and gives his rider, whoever that may be, all he has every time. Pacha did not have the easiest of preparations going into this year’s festival with an injury sustained in the hunting field delaying his training and leaving Paul in a race against time to achieve his preparation run before Cheltenham.
He did manage that though and Pacha finished a tame third at Doncaster, but Paul knew he had loads to work on and ten days before the festival Paul felt Pacha was coming back to his old self. It was a quite brilliant training performance to get him back to his best form on the day that mattered most and in the process it gave Harriet Tucker without doubt the best day of her life.

Harriet’s hard work pays dividends in style

Until this season just completed, Harriet was a talented young woman, but had never really put her mind to anything worthwhile. This season though, with the promise of point to point rides, she knuckled down and grafted like never before. She was unrelenting at her weekly spinning classes, went to ride out every single lunch time she had while jumping through every hoop needed in order to be a qualified rider for Cheltenham.

That win was remarkable in more ways than one on that March Friday and to me it was way bigger than just one race. Throughout this season women riders like Harriet and more prominently Bryony have excelled in the saddle in a male dominated sport. They were inspired by riders like Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry and now I believe they too will inspire talented young horse women to work to achieve their goals in the saddle. I love the fact that in our sport if you work hard enough you can compete on a level playing field irrespective of what sex you are; if you are good enough then you will get on and Bryony, Harriet and Megan on the flat have been perfect examples of that.

Without any shadow of doubt Pacha gave us all a day to cherish and he is a special horse who will always be loved in Ditcheat.

Following Captain a sensible strategy

My second highlight from this season is not just one day it is in fact a horse, that horse is called Captain Cattistock. Now why you might think is a novice hurdler of good, but not stand out ability, ranking as one of my highlights of the season?

Well I will explain. Captain joined us this time last year having won his English maiden point to point as a big raw weak four-year-old. He has been a joy to have in the yard since and has also won three of his six starts with his excellent jumping proving the hallmark of his success, while he has never been out of the first four. The satisfying and most exciting part for me though is a horse like this is what Paul and consequently I really love about jump racing. Captain is not even close to the finished article and Paul is slowly building this young horse up, giving him the experience he needs without over-facing him or asking too much of him too soon.

He knows the Captain will be a considerably better horse over three miles in time and cannot wait for him to jump fences, but these future staying chasers do not just appear they have to be crafted, looked after and shaped into the horse they promise to be. His three wins have all come with three different jockeys demonstrating just how genuine and straightforward Captain is. He handles soft ground well and, while not remotely flash, he has gone about his season with a remarkably impressive attitude towards his job.

For me our sport’s best horses are staying chasers and, while I am not for a second saying Captain is going to be a champion or anything like that, the enjoyment I have got out of watching Paul create a really smart young prospect has been huge. For years, Paul has built his reputation on high-class chasers and I cannot wait to see him continue to build Captain’s career into what will hopefully one day be a smashing staying chaser. Captain Cattistock is one of a number of promising young horses we have, but his season in particular has been the source of a huge amount of enjoyment for me.

Aintree win ensures a Hales and hearty celebration

My third and final highlight for me and, while there have been plenty of excellent days, this one stood out like a sore thumb was the victory of Politologue in the Melling Chase at Aintree only a couple of weeks ago.

Politologue had been brilliant pre-Christmas and for a time we were all dreaming he would be a leading contender for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham only for the quite incredible Altior to wake us all up from that dream very quickly. Beaten at Newbury in the Game Spirit and only forth in the Champion Chase, Politologue’s progress had seemed to have halted and he went to Aintree friendless at odds of 11-1, he was the forgotten horse if you like against a top class field in the Melling Chase.

However, he totally blew his head before the Champion Chase boiling over badly in the prelims so it was a massive team effort from Roge and Kate who lead him up and Sam on his back to get him to the start calm and ready to go. During the race he and Sam were quite brilliant and to see one of our horses competing at the very highest level, battling as hard as he did was so something that will stay with me for a very long time. Politologue was not only brilliant in the Melling Chase, he jumped perfectly and would not lie down in the fight when Min tried to go past him.

To win a race of that calibre was incredibly special and to do it for Mr and Mrs Hales who have long been big supporters of the yard made it extra special. I have had many wonderful dinners with the Hales family and it was great to celebrate with them that night.

So there we are then, my three highlights of the season and again I cannot reiterate enough just how many I could have included given just how many great days I was lucky enough to be part of.

Blog support much appreciated

For now though I will be taking a break from blogging through the summer months, taking some holiday in June and focusing mainly on getting ready to have another huge season when it all starts again properly.

We have a good team of horses for the summer numerically and with the added interest of some flat horses it promises to be a summer busier than ever.

Finally, I just want to say thank you so much to all of you for reading my blog each week and I hope you have enjoyed it. I love telling you all about my days as part of Team Ditcheat and gain great satisfaction when someone I have never met tells me at the races they enjoy the read.

Upon my final piece of blog writing last year Mr Barber told me how he did enjoy them, but at times there was “a little too much bullsh#t in them” so I very much hope that this year I have kept them more to the point Mr Barber.

Enjoy your summer everyone and thank you very much for your support, it remains much appreciated.

Harry

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Stan’s brain scan surprises all at Ditcheat

“I look like I’m about to go out and rob a lawn mower,” quipped Stan (Sheppard) last Friday at Fontwell just as myself, Bryony and the ginger prince were about to walk the course.

We were dressed normally, but Stan sported a grey hoody; hood up I might add along with tracksuit bottoms as he was ready to go running after our walk. Never one to take life too seriously is Stan and I do not know why but that line really cracked me up. Ice creams in hand we set off for our walk, sweated freely for two laps of sweltering Fontwell, had a laugh, discussed plans for the day and our day progressed.
It continued in good fashion as well with Favorito Buck’s improving markedly for the step up to three miles plus and jumping on the whole very well with Bryony before our day came to a shuddering halt. Stan was having his first ride of the day on Rock On Oscar and having jumped four fences in a nice rhythm he faced up to the fifth misjudged it and Stan took a quite horrible fall. He slapped the ground and I immediately feared the worst as he received quite a kicking following the initial impact. I ran over to where he lay and as the doctors attended him it was clear Stan was not in a good way.

Relief all round as Stan given all clear

He was knocked out, but thank goodness everything else seemed fine and, when he gradually came round, the relief that ran through me when he could move everything and the doctors then relaxed was immense. It is a thoroughly unpleasant experience when one of your mates gets injured like that but, thank goodness he is ok and after a brain scan at Chichester Hospital, where much to our surprise they found one, he was allowed home.
Falls are of course part and parcel of a jockey’s job, but I will never like seeing them and every time our jocks walk away from one unscathed I am grateful. Stan has been incredibly sore these last few days but it could have been an awful lot worse and with rest he will be back in the saddle in no time.
It is a little weird really as my high and low light came in that day, the low being the fall and the high was picking Stan up from hospital later that day with a clean bill of health. Aside from Stan’s fall pretty much everything has been good this past week with lots of racing and most importantly some really good results.

Tommy masters Exeter foes

Eight winners was the end total, but you have to go right back to last Tuesday to find the most impressive equine performance from the week, a display that came from Master Tommytucker who despite over racing throughout the contest destroyed his rivals carrying a penalty in the rain softened Exeter ground. I have since watched the race back a number of times and still cannot believe just how hard he pulled and how well he kept going, throughout the day horses were simply not getting home, but he turned round the final bend and powered up the straight in the shape of a very smart horse.
Tommy is very much a chaser in the making and he is a wonderfully exciting horse to have in the yard for next season. Yes, he has a long way to go but it would surprise nobody here if he ended up being a chaser of the highest grade in time.
Away from the other equine highlights such as Brahms De Clermont racking up his fourth win of the season in gritty fashion, Secret Investor getting off the mark over hurdles and Diamond Guy putting in a speedy display at Wincanton the major satisfaction for me this past week has once again come from seeing the staff working so hard in the yard and being rewarded with the results.
Andrew went from Southwell to Bangor to Stratford, Scott took care of Fontwell while Kate Cheltenham to Ayr to Wincanton. These are all long days and, if everyone from the guys at home to the team at the races did not pull their weight, big weeks the like of which we have just enjoyed could not happen.

Valiant Vicente a hero again

Achieving things that have never been done before is incredibly difficult but with Vicente that is exactly what we tried to do in the Scottish National and, although coming up short, he finished a gallant fifth giving his all in a race he loves. He once again did Julie who rides and looks after him everyday proud and lost nothing in defeat.

Looking ahead to this week and I know it will be another busy one, but I cannot help but be a little gutted the season it is all coming to an end once more. Of course it has to and we will start again almost immediately, but I am so proud of the work we have done this week. It is sad when it all goes back to zero and we start again. For now though and during this week we will focus on trying to further Paul’s tally of 126 winners so far this season and hope we can finish another successful term in good fashion.
Have a good week.

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Aintree glory caps an emotional week

Occasionally, with this racing game of ours when you look back on a week you cannot help but smile.

Last week was one of those amazing weeks with seven winners including two Grade One races for two of our biggest supporters; the Hales and de la Hey families and, sat here this Monday morning with under two weeks to the end of the season, it is mad to think it is nearly all over for another year.
This would of have to be for me and our team I am sure one of the very best weeks.

My week started with a soaking day at Wincanton last Monday and finished with a day baked in sunshine at Aintree with pretty much everything in between. I suppose the first thing to do is update you all on how the annual assistant trainer’s speech went up at Aintree at the local Chinese restaurant Sing Faye. In all truth I think it went ok, there was plenty of laughter which is always a good sign, although I’m not sure whether it was with me or at me, but I will not be worrying about that. I don’t think I upset anyone which is always a key to the speech and people clapped at the end, so it cannot have been too bad.

Aintree is always an enjoyable, but tiring week with loads to do from the actual racing to going out with all of our owners that stay up with us and everything else that goes with an important week of racing. But if I thought I was busy that was nothing compared to the work that was going on by Kate Nutt and her travelling team that stay up in Haydock for the week and most important of all the team headed up by Clifford back at the yard.
These big meetings are obviously great if you have the good fortune to be able to attend them, but we could not have had the two memorable Grade One successes if everyone who was back at home did not work extra hard to get everything done that needed to be done. Clifford has since told me just how hard everybody back at the yard worked, so well done to them for producing such a big effort and hopefully those wins were just reward for such work. With Aintree being so far away from home we travel our horses up early the day before their race so they have time to recover from their journeys and have only 20 minutes worth of travel time on the of their races. This is only possible with quite brilliant organisation from Clifford and Kate Nutt who make sure everything runs so smoothly. While up at Haydock the horses are in Kate’s care and what a marvellous job she did with them all. Of course it was not just Kate, there was a lot more of the team who went up there and worked tirelessly from walking the horses for an hour morning and evening to making sure they had everything they needed long before they worried about themselves. For me it is those things that make the difference, people willing to work that extra hour and put the horses first without a moment’s hesitation that make a successful stable.

G-stars deliver on the big stage

In terms of the racing at Liverpool aside from the excellent run from Clan Des Obeaux, who at only six years old looks set to make up into a high class Grade One chaser next season after a really solid display when third in the Betway Bowl, there were two very distinctive highlights. They are of course Politologue and Diego Du Charmil.
I will start with Diego who was quite brilliant on Saturday, where we thought the rain softened ground could well have hindered our chances but not a bit of it. For my money, you could call him the winner from miles out as he cruised through the race jumping effortlessly and quickening up well under a well-timed, ice cool Mr Cobden steer. Diego is only a young horse who has always promised to be absolutely top class and hopefully that display is very much a sign of things to come from him.

When Politologue ran at Cheltenham it was Paul’s feeling he just did not finish his race in the manner most of his horses do – he travelled well until two out until he faded badly ending up beaten a long way in the end by the quite brilliant winner Altior. Paul came up with two theories; one his breathing could well be catching him out when he comes under pressure and; two he could well have run his race long before the tapes went up with all his antics in the paddock and parade. Tongue tie fitted we bought him into the paddock as late as we could, did a couple of turns and with permission from the stewards he lead the parade. With Sam now on board he stayed relatively calm and got to the post in a much calmer state than ever before, what then followed much to our joy was the performance of his career. I think Politologue’s main asset has always been his jumping but every now and again he has looked a little weak at the finish so it was magic to see him after the second last put his head down and display an attitude that suggested he wanted to win so badly.
In my opinion, Politologue received a first-class ride from Sam who was careful not to commit for home too early and was then as strong as an ox late on after being headed just before the last. Sam told me it is rare when you are riding that you throw absolutely everything you have at a horse down to the last and they respond with everything they have, but that is exactly what happened and we all enjoyed it a great deal.
We also enjoyed the Chinese that night which John Hales treated us to, so thank you to John and Politologue for that!
However good the week was with the runners though and, as you have read it was pretty damn good, the moment which will stick with me is when family friends Bev and Ed Stephens came down to visit the yard on Tuesday.

Ed and Bev an inspiration to us all

I grew up skiing with Ed who was a huge talent and skied for Great Britain in his teenage years only to have a life-changing accident when a passenger in a car crash. Ed will spend the rest of his days in his wheelchair with round-the-clock care from either his mother Bev or his carers when he is at a place called Star College near Cheltenham. Ed’s progress since his accident has of course been slow and the only thing I am more in awe of than him is his mother’s strength in getting through what they have suffered.
Ed’s communication is now basic, but his laughter is infectious and, when he sees something that makes him smile, he beams with delight. It just so turns out that horses make him smile. He met Politologue just before he was fed so he was shaking his head up and down as he does which he found quite hilarious and then Secret Investor who was a star and stood gently in front of him for 15 minutes as Ed smiled and laughed as I talked about the horses.
He met my best mate Johnny Burke and I explained to Ed that Johnny, with a bit of luck, was going to ride in the National something that Bev has since told us he did not stop watching on the TV. To see Ed and how he is now makes you realise just how sweet life is and would sure stop me moaning about little things in my life. He has to put up with so much, but through it all I genuinely believe he is a happy soul. There are some people you meet in life who you cannot begin to imagine their strength of character and Ed’s mum Bev is one of those people, through all that she has been through she still chooses to smile, love and be happy, emotions which at times must have nearly been impossible to manage.
Her care for Ed is nothing short of remarkable and introducing them to the horses is something that will stick with me for a long time. Now, if I am ever tired or struggling for some inspiration I think of Ed and Bev, whatever I am facing is nothing compared to what they have been through, they are two quite incredible people who I am lucky to call my friends.

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