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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

Here we go again!

Hello everybody, hope the summer has been good to you all and I very warmly welcome you back to my blog, a place where exclusives are rare and humour is hard to find, but much to my surprise it seems my Mum wasn’t the only one to read about my weeks last year so I’m going to blog again this season.

As I said last year, I have no intention of being a tipping service nor do I want a career in race reporting so I won’t ever talk about all our runners, my intention last season was to bring to light the stars of team Ditcheat, events behind the scenes and to share with you this wonderful ride I am currently enjoying as an assistant trainer.

The loss of true friends difficult to take 

However, this year team Ditcheat, my team of which I am so proud to be part of, will do battle without one of its most loyal supporters. I am of course talking about the late Mr Roach, who finally succumbed to his battle with illness after the bravest and most dignified of fights.

We are incredibly fortunate to have a core of loyal owners, some of which who have been with Paul from the very early days and Mr Roach was an owner and friend to Paul long before the championships and the glory, back when aspirations were far higher than achievement. Trusted friends in any walk of life do not come by the dozen, but even to my young mind Mr Roach to Paul, Mr Barber and many others was exactly that. He was a comrade who lived by his word and forged some brilliant memories over the years on and off the racecourse. I never spent hours or days with Mr Roach, just brief influential encounters where a piece of advice dispensed was always worth listening to, a time where you would always be smart and look him in the eye with a firm hand shake. Simple values that I’m sure were the bed rock of a full and wonderful life for a great man. He will be missed by many people all over this land but at this time when I pause for thought, I make an effort for my manic mind to slow and consider how Mrs Roach and his closest family and friends are feeling right now.

A gap has been left, a void that will not be filled, but memories I hope for those grieving that will last a lifetime.

Swift to forget my birthday

It’s a male Derham trait not to make too much of a birthday but on Wednesday I grew one year older – sadly I’m not sure wiser has followed …

If you listen to the pop hit 22 by Taylor Swift, a woman who has more boyfriends than Sam Twiston-Davies has had winners, then like me you might have been worried that becoming a partying lunatic might have been on the cards.Happily the longing for winners and fast horses is still right at the forefront of my mind. I had a wonderful day involving two delicious cakes which could never be a bad thing. Big thank you to Kate and Amy for them!

Magnificent seven set the tone

These last four days have included a fair amount of hard work for the whole team. With runners at Hereford, Newton Abbot and Chepstow it gave me, and lots of others, a few days to get into the routine of life where going racing will become the norm. Fortunately all these days racing included one vitally important thing – winners.There were seven in total with some performances that promised great things for the season ahead. Personally, in terms of equine stars that stood out, Dolos and El Bandit were at the top of the list, both showing abundant class when winning at Chepstow. I think is worth focusing on El Bandit for a second as he really demonstrates all the positive things about our team. He started his career on a rather low note at Wincanton being tailed off in a bumper in the spring of 2015 and here he is 18 or so months later winning a Grade 2.

Paul is forever reminding me that Rome wasn’t built in a day and with good horses patience in abundance is required. He never had anything but upmost faith in El Bandit and always insisted that once the penny had dropped he would be a serious force to be reckoned with.

Terri Jay and Gary Derwin deserve a huge pat on the back for the work they have put in with El Bandit, as it would be fair to say some days he is anything but straightforward, but their hard work and patience has paid off in great style and he’s a horse very much on the up.

Stepping forward in a crisis

After Sam’s horror fall at Chepstow he sadly wasn’t fit enough to take the rest of his rides on the day, but it gave two guys the chance to shine. Nick and Sean both benefited from Sam’s misfortune, but I really felt for Sam as that is a painful position to be in, in more ways than one. However, he has a long season ahead of him and he made absolutely the right decision for his own health and one day isn’t going to change his already brilliant career. Paul has not only invested in the future with his young horses over the last few years, he has built a team of young riders to be very proud of and to have Nick and Sean riding for us as well as Sam puts us in a strong position with riding plans.

Ditcheat team has the X Factor

The forecast is currently not smiling on us with a dry week looking likely so we won’t be busy over the next few days, in fact until the rain comes we will pretty well stay at home, safe in the knowledge the string is in fantastic order. Sat watching Dermot O’Leary try and add drama to the worse group of singers ever assembled since Sean, Stan and I were in a car together I am overflowing with optimism for the season that lies ahead. I feel lucky to be in the position I’m in and can’t wait to share it all with you. For those of you that are new to the blog you’ll hear a lot about Dodging Bullets and Aux Ptit Soins, my daily rides, and for the regulars you’ll be delighted to hear both are in rude health as their work load increases.

As you can see then, all is well with my little world and in the words of The Carpenters, we’ve only just begun…

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Owners’ day a great success

From the all consuming owners’ day to the string doing their first pieces of work, I feel like there is plenty to report on from team Ditcheat, hence I thought I’d provide an update for those jump fans missing the sport.

Owner’s day success

There has been a great vibe around the yard this week just gone, with the whole team thrilled at how our annual owner’s day ended up. By a sheer stroke of luck we had a break in the rainy weekend and for the hours we hosted the 300 odd people that came along the weather gods smiled on us.
We paraded the 82 horses stabled in top yard all of which looked absolutely fantastic. Paul did plenty of work with all of them on Saturday, the idea being come parade time they would hopefully be calm and sensible.
Well, although it was great to see that Saturdays work hadn’t affected most of them it did give the team of staff leading them up some white knuckle moments!
We could not have been happier with how they all looked as a group, with their coats shining in the odd bit of sunshine that crept through the cloud.
Owner’s day as I described last year is a day I have always loved, I endeavour to be as busy as I can trying to talk to all of our owners in attendance, thank them for their continued support and give them an update on their respective charges.
Those updates I think are always easy at this time of year, because well in September none of the horses have been disappointing and we can dream that they are all superstars!

The work is stepping up

The daily routine for the horses is now stepping up all the time, with a lot of the yard doing their first pieces of work either Friday or Saturday. Obviously like any year there are more forward horses that are doing a great deal more, but as a rule the vast majority have just started to gallop at speed once or twice a week with aims of their first races in the middle to later part of October.
At this stage I could name paragraphs of horses that are taking my eye but I’ll give you three horses maybe a little of the beaten track who are catching my eye.
A juvenile hurdler called Dolos continues to impress with his maturity at this stage of the season. He a strong, seriously well built son of Kapgarde, a sire we have done well with, who could be ready to go to Chepstow in early October.
Another hurdler who the team is really pleased with is a four year old called Garo De Juilley, Jordan Williams one of our conditionals here is doing a brilliant job with him every day and is very pleased with how he is progressing.  A four time winner on the flat in France I believe that Garo has a touch of class and I can’t wait to see him over timber this autumn, possibly at the Cheltenham showcase meeting in October.
Alcala is a horse who has now been with us for three seasons and I still don’t think we have seen the best of him. He is rated 129, had some good form last year and I think over fences this term he will start to realise his potential. A great jumper who will possibly have a run over hurdles to start the year, he could be a nice horse to watch as the season develops.

A senior star bulletin

Another cause for great optimism at this time of the year is how our older stars are coping with their pre season. Silviniaco Conti Dodging Bullets, Zarkandar and Ptit Zig are all training really with plenty of zest and vigour. Conti in particular is going along very nicely, and as Paul said last week we are planning to go to Down Royal for the Grade One JN wine chase at the end of October.

A personal note

Now five months into my role as assistant trainer I think I am starting to find my feet a little more. Apart from riding out, there is no set routine to my days with Paul encouraging me to make the job my own and develop so that I will hopefully be as useful as I can. As with anything it takes time to learn about new jobs but I’m trying my best and being a bigger part of this amazing team is something I am really enjoying.

A big well done

Most of all though at this stage of the year I think our fantastic team of staff deserve lots of credit, we are working the horses very hard at the moment but the guys and girls are putting just as much in and it’s great to see so many partnerships being struck up.
From Scott on Cyrname, Harriet on Pilansberg, Lorcan on Southfield Theatre, Andrew on Crin Au Vent or Matt on Clic Work everyone is working extremely hard to make sure the horses are having the perfect preparations for their seasons. A season, which if you’re Harry Derham literally cannot come soon enough.

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Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better

You might not of heard of him but it was Pat Riley, former National Basketball Association player and now widely regarded as one of the finest NBA coaches of all time who said: “excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better”, and in Paul Nicholls there is living proof that Pat Riley was pretty well on the mark.

I’m not widely experienced in racing or life for that matter, and being the ripe old age of 21 I’m sure you’ll forgive me for that, but with a shared passion for sport with my Dad I’d like to think I have studied a number of pretty good sportsmen, women and managers with him from the comfort of the sofa.

The majority of high achievers are uniquely talented in their chosen disciplines but certain values lie deep rooted in all of them.

Passion, determination and competitive spirit are qualities I see in all of these people, and if you study Paul then what you see he is a man equaled by very few.

Uniquely talented of course, but his drive gives him that edge, he possesses the skills that makes him a truly special leader and a man without whom I wouldn’t be working in racing.

I grew up watching Paul and the irrepressible Ruby Walsh making a mockery of Saturday racing, winning Grade Ones just for sheer sport with superstars, the like of which were all horses of a lifetime.

The modern day history-making Kauto Star, the tank Denman (pictured), the hard-as-nails fighter See More Business, the laughably classy winning machine that was Big Buck’s, the sheer beauty of Call Equiname, the raw power of Master Minded, the recent achievements of the durable Silvinaco Conti or the guts and stamina of the gallant grey Neptune Collonges.

Nine King Georges, four Gold Cups, five Champion Chases, four World Hurdles, three Hennessy Gold Cups, a Grand National, nine Tingle Creeks, over 100 Grade Ones, well over two and a half thousand winners, and 40 Cheltenham Festival winners to name a few of Paul’s achievements.

The remarkable thing about these equine superstars was they all called Manor Farm Stables home and each one of them possessed a unique story and tale to tell, carefully crafted and carved out by the man at the top and his quite brilliant team which superbly assisted him over the years.

I know I’m not best placed to talk about Paul’s early career, mainly because discussions in the Derham house hold had not yet reached pondering child number two in 1991 at the time Paul moved into Manor Farm Stables having being given the chance of a lifetime by his landlord, and now great friend Mr Paul Barber.

Youtube is a wonderful thing though and having watched some of his videos as a jockey, not for a second questioning his accomplishments in winning two Hennessy Gold Cups, a Welsh National, an Irish Hennessy and quite spectacularly leading over Beechers Brook in the Grand National on Roman Bistro, I did always bite my tongue when style advice on my own riding technique was dispensed by the boss.

Do as I say not as I do I’m sure would have been his swift reply.

As with any great manager you are only as good as the team around you, something that Paul has always made damn sure he had right.

Clifford Baker, Paul’s head lad of around 20 years, is a man with whom you could set your clock by with the only difference being the clock is more than likely to run out of battery long before Clifford does.

Capable of eating his own body weight in food for a main course and then mine in cheese and a desert, there isn’t a moment that goes by where Clifford isn’t orchestrating the day-to-day routine that is required to be flawless in order for the Ditcheat standard to remain as dizzyingly high.

But Clifford isn’t the only one in fact he’s just the beginning.

Donna Hills, Gemma Groves and Andrew Doyle drive the horses racing, often to places not nearly as desirable as Ascot on a Saturday and those are long, dark hard miles clocked up by all three, caring for the horses as they travel.

Looking after the horses at home David Rochester, head lad of our second yard Highbridge and Rose Loxton, Clifford’s left hand in top yard and occasionally right when he’s very busy.

Don’t forget our two farriers, Tom Bougard and Dan Hubbard both with backs resembling the current state of the Labour party or Teresa Dufose who guides her caring hands over our weary and sometimes aching athletes.

Buffy Shirley Bevan whose watchful veterinary eye is cast over the horses before purchase and throughout their careers here in the yard, or Rob Lee who ensures the gallops await in perfect condition for the scores of horses about to use them.

Or the three fantastic women that run the office Lina Chadburn, Sarah West and Hannah Roche. Ladies that without their assistance I’d still be in front of my computer screen desperately trying to login and turn on Microsoft Excel.

I haven’t even mentioned our over excitable Ed Sheeran lookalike of a stable jockey who could make even the most disappointing of runs seem incredibly encouraging after kissing the owners, the owner’s friends and just about anyone else in the paddock for that matter.

And perhaps most importantly we must pay due thanks and celebrate the wonderfully diverse and ever-changing group of full time stable staff.

People come and go in this line of work, the reality being that in the bitterness of winter some people really can’t hack it.

To be honest on certain days coming back in from a third lot when you’re wetter than an otters pocket, I sometimes think they’re are the sensible ones, but this is a skilled and dangerous job and with that in mind the folk to my left deserve a huge amount of credit.

Twelve and a half days a fortnight is a lot of work but in those hours friendships are forged and  memories created some of which will last a life time.

Be good for a year, and well you’ll be good, be successful for a couple and you might be considered very good, but you only become a great if you stand the hardest test of all, the test of time.

For over a decade Paul has sat at the top of the trainer’s championship, and throughout those 10 years of being a champion a great deal has happened. The ability to move with the times, never be out of touch or date with the media, you the owners is nearly as impressive as his training record itself…

Oh and just for the sake of the waiters and the three of you he hasn’t got round to telling he actually has well over 100 thousand followers on twitter.

For those of you not fortunate enough to count Paul as a friend, he is best described as a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, who is always trying to win, be it Taunton in November, Perth in May, Plumpton in January or Cheltenham in March.

Paul became champion by building a brilliant team around him, by pouring his heart and soul into this yard, the yard he loves and works endless hours striving to improve, while yearning to uncover the next superstar or the next winner.

There would be no point in me standing in front of you, the people that make all of this possible and describing his passion because whether you’re witnessing it at the races, a friend listening to him around a table or one of his team, that passion and drive is relentless and remains there in the gloom of a January morning.

There could be 10 horses schooling round the loop with the rain coming down in proportions known only to people that spend their winters outdoors, yet somehow through the darkness and the cold, even when the chips are down, he is an unstoppable driving force, making himself the king of the sport he loves.

Over my 21 years, I have been many things to Paul and I’m hopeful increasing with usefulness as the years have gone by.

I was at first a nephew who would watch on from the truck with him, having traveled down from my home an hour away with the ever-present rock and great man that is my Grandad.

I then served as one of his lucky jockeys, receiving the odd rollocking while managing to steer a couple of his “bloody well placed certainties” round a number of Saturday tracks.

I was pupil assistant for year and now, as assistant trainer, I believe I have found my real niche in his team.

Saddling the horses, representing him, getting in the way and helping with the day to day running of the yard are of course vital, but while at the wheel of the Range Rover is where I am at my most helpful to him, providing essential backing singing to Paul’s quite spine tingling version of Adele’s classics.

While he may continue to be controversially overlooked for The Voice, Paul has more significantly given a young man an opportunity to make a career of his first love while realizing a couple of his dreams.

He continues to inspire me to be better every single day, especially in the singing department.

To you the owners, a trainer, to me and others a boss, to many of us as a friend, and to all of us a champion.

Ladies and gentleman please all raise a glass with me and toast Paul the 10 times champion trainer.

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