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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

Busy time in Ditcheat

With very little chance of me writing a blog over the weekend given the Ryder Cup will be on, I thought I had better check in to give an update on all things ‘Team Ditcheat’.

In a nutshell ‘busy’ would be the description I would go for.

We have hosted schooling mornings a plenty, accommodated lots of owners who have visited the yard and undertaken the everyday tasks that go into it all. With all of that in mind, September is passing us by extremely quickly but to tell you the truth that is no bad thing.

We always target mid-October to be ready to roll, so the latter half of September is a period when you cannot help but wish time by so we can get racing and see which horses have improved, which new ones are smart, how last season’s bumper horses take to hurdling and novice hurdlers to chasing.

We are well into our schooling for the season now and have been busy getting all the novices doing plenty. They will take another step up the ladder on Monday when they have a jump round our 400m loop, which represents a bigger challenge from the indoor arena and an assignment that will give Paul a great idea of how close they are.

Today (Thursday) was a real treat as Frodon enjoyed his first pop of the season under Bryony and safe to say he has not lost any enthusiasm for his job over the summer. He carted B round the school at about 1000mph and looked to have all his usual bounce and love for life, something that never fails to make you smile.

The great weather through September has been a real treat for all the team working at the yard and kept everyone in excellent spirits. The work is hard at this time of year and things have to be done to a very high standard to ensure the horses are getting the work they need to be fit. Everyone is putting that work in though and hopefully that will all pay off.

So what have I been up to?

As I say there has been loads going and I feel like my feet have not really touched the ground recently. There has been two yard parties, one bbq and one evening at a local Italian restaurant, a great evening which always always ends up in a few sore heads.

As you can imagine there are a lot of us and, for whatever reason, they did not quite have enough staff on for the evening so if you can picture Harry Cobden and I handing out plates of carbonara and pizza then you are basically there with us.

Last time we went to the aforementioned Italian, Charlie Davies took it upon himself to drink a whole bottle of Limoncello but much to Michelle, his fiancé’s delight he chose not to repeat that great act this time round.

Away from staff parties I was lucky enough to be invited to Harry Skelton’s Champion jockey bash a couple of weeks back and I must give credit to the Skeltons as they really do now how to throw a good bash. Harry spoke beautifully about his ambition and dream of becoming champion and how grateful he was to everyone for being a part of it.

Harry is a great guy and I was very happy for him to realise his dream.

With all hands on deck at the moment I have been doing a fair bit of riding out which, in such a good month of weather, has been a real treat and often a great source of entertainment.

Angus Chelada, one of our conditional jockeys, will not mind me telling you that for all his skills on the back of a horse, his knowledge of racing would not be the best, so Charlie and I have taken it upon ourselves to educate Angus, or Rodney Trotter as I like to call him, with a regular quiz about what happened last season.

With a little more work we think he will remember that Frodon won the Fighting Fifth and Epatante the King George, something like that anyway…

“Ahhhh I was about to get that,” being his favourite line.

Talking of team Ditcheat, we were all extremely proud of one of our own, Amelia Norris, who last Sunday completed her second half marathon inside a week for the incredible Racing Welfare and raised well over what her target originally was.

It represented a fantastically brave effort on her part, perhaps the bravest bit of all was her riding out four lots the Monday after when even walking across the yard looked a bit of an effort.

The one bit of sad news we have had to stomach is that poor Topofthegame is having to have another season on the sidelines with his injury taking longer to heal than first anticipated.

Since the news was broken, I have read serval people on various social media platforms helpfully telling Paul what he should do with the horse. But please rest assured he is in the absolute best of hands and Paul will do what is correct for the horse.

Topper is owned by two very patient men in Mr Barber and Mr Giles who will always put him first.

The horses on the track have continued to go well despite us not being busy and we are now up to 29 winners for this season which is great going for this time of year. Hopefully the summer form bodes well for the winter that lies ahead.

The last point I want to touch on is that our ‘horses in training’ brochure is out now and available online, essential reading if you are a fan of Paul’s horses.

That is just about it for this time but hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be back with lots of racing to talk about.

Until then however, go well.


Might be too hot

As I am British I do not think there is any other place to start than say god it’s hot isn’t it?

Might be too hot.

We have been starting early this week just to try and get all the horses ridden before the midday heat really kicks in so fair play to all the guys who have been up bright and early, even more so than normal. Having said that, speaking to George Boughey this week and hearing some of the Newmarket pull out times I think we are still on a fairly relaxed time schedule!

So, how have things been at Ditcheat? Well the simple answer is busy.

We are now up to about 95% capacity with the majority of the horses boasting their first few canters under their belts. It is lovely to see the strings marching out round the roads again and all of us getting back into the routine we all know so well.

As I said in my last piece of writing, getting on the horses is a lengthy process but we have a good team of riders with Natalie, Lorcan, Diarmuid and Rupert hopping on the majority for the first time in the school.

I will share with you a little tale from this week as it is still causing us all amusement a few days on. We have a lovely horse called Take Your Time in our care, he is an Owner’s Group horse who won well at Lingfield last year, generally he is a smashing ride, very well-mannered, nicely behaved and Beth who rides him every day thoroughly enjoys him.

Well, we were getting on the horses that had come back from their holidays at Equi Prep, Owners Group HQ, and from what I can see essentially The Dorchester for horses. The likes of Calva D’auge, Miranda and co were all in action when, and I do not over exaggerate, the moment of the summer so far occurred.

Step forward Mr Charlie Davies, hugely popular pupil assistant in the yard, a man who much to our surprise recently got engaged. Our thoughts Michelle are with you at this difficult time.

Now Charlie does not get on many of the fresh ones, especially now he is engaged as we figure we had better look after him, but I took the opinion that Take Your Time being such a nice horse would be ok.

The normal process was followed, tacked up, little lunge round all completed with no drama.

“Think we will be fine Char, let’s get on him,” I suggest.

Up Charlie got onto Take Your Time and, well for a good lap or two of trot, things went swimmingly. Charlie was in perfect motion, even managing a rising trot, something I know he’s worked on. However, for whatever reason Take Your Time then felt this was his moment to shine, a buck and a kick followed but Charlie, channelling his inner JB Mooney sat tight, held on well and very quickly came out with the line, “I’ve still got it lads”.

And, it was at this moment, Take Your Time really did think it was time to go. He squirted across the school, produced three nicely-timed bucks, for balance Mr Davies called them plunges, I’ll let you decide.

He then came to an abrupt halt and Charlie, stylishly I might add, was catapulted gracefully over his head. Take Your Time stood there watching and I am fairly confident found it as funny as us.

Both were of course absolutely fine and TYT is now behaving perfectly and completed two trots just this morning.

Charlie however, well I think he will be pulling sand out of his ears and elsewhere for some time to come. We do not have many little mishaps but every now and again one will inevitably catch up with you and as long as everyone is ok it does have the capacity to cause endless amounts of amusement.

Sorry Charlie.

In other news, I was lucky enough to go to Woburn on Wednesday. Paul is an ambassador for Racing Welfare and as luck might have it he is not a golfer, so his poor old assistant had to take this one on the chin and go to play Woburn – I mean can you imagine my disappointment?

The day was in aid of Racing Welfare and the Injured Jockeys Fund, two charities that need no introduction to racing fans. Both do incredible work for our industry and give them their due they put on a fantastic day which I hope raised a lot of money. The only sadness was I did not have enough Mulligans to play the entire round with, even so I’m not sure Collin Morikawa himself would have been well enough handicapped yesterday to claim the winner’s spot.

There is also no truth in the rumour that those in Racing Welfare HQ said: “Let’s get Harry from the Nicholls yard, he’d be a great acquisition.” thinking they were getting Cobby not Derham.

Anyway, some say in life that you should never meet your heros, well this week I met two of mine.

In fairness I was probably that annoying guy that when you’re playing golf you do not want to meet, but when you’re faced with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad you’ve got to have a picture haven’t you?
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They both were absolutely great, gave the stupid fan boy their time and happily had a picture with me.

Now please, please do me a favour and one of you nick Kohli off at Lords this summer as I’m having a day out to watch you, my first Test match in fact.



In other news, it was great on Monday to get back to Highclere’s annual rosé drinking contest following a year missed due to the pandemic. A parade of their horses revealed a fine bunch I would add with Lime Avenue our most recent acquisition. She is a stunning Walk In The Park filly who will be ready for a bumper in the autumn, I think they have a nice one on their hands.

Highlight of that day though was meeting Mr Andrew Gemmell, owner of Paisley Park amongst others, after an introduction from Emma, we chatted all things racing and cricket, so it is fairly safe to assume we did not struggle for conversation. What a sense of humour he has and talking to them both you get the impression Emma and Andrew have a lot of sport along the way.

Our fortunes were mixed over the weekend at the games with Scaramanga breaking his maiden on the flat in a 60k staying race at Newbury under an inspired Silvestre De Sousa ride while on Sunday at a sweltering Stratford the thoroughly likeable Chez Hans brought up his three-timer for the summer, all in the capable hands of his young pilot Ben Bromley.

The only dampener of the weekend came at Market Rasen where sadly we lost dear Saint De Reve after an injury that would have provided him with no quality of life whatsoever.

He was not the most talented horse in the world, nor will he be the most remembered, but he was a sweetly-natured animal who never gave a moments hassle for the four years he was in Paul’s care.

I have thought long and hard about BBC1’s Panorama programme on Monday night and, while I feel perhaps there was not a balanced argument in the show to demonstrate the care a large majority of horses enjoy in their post racing lives, I do think that questions were raised that we have to be open too as an industry.

The only offering I want to make on the subject is something Paul told me a couple of days ago when chatting about it.

“Harry, if a horse is good enough to you that he spends his entire racing life in your care then I, as his trainer, have a responsibility to try and provide him the best possible life after that racing career.”

I am confident that around the racing world there are countless other examples of that as well.

I think that is probably as good a place as any to finish.

Go well.


It is an odd thing summer

Obviously, racing is not nearly as manic and, here in Ditcheat, we only have a handful of horses in training to run, but life always seems to be busy in and around the yard.

Power washing, painting, checking horses, updating gallops, fixing stables, tarmacking bits and bobs, hedge cutting, rail cleaning and all sorts of tasks needs tackling. Everyone also needs some time off and, before you know it, the time is nearly upon us for next week.

Next week? What on earth is going on next week I hear you say…

Generally, if you find yourself in Paul Nicholls employment the mid-Monday in July is the beginning, where it all starts for another year.

The vast majority of the horses return from their 10-week summer staycation and get back to the routine of yard life with the fairly basic aim having most of them ready to go again in and around the middle of October.

That is give or take a week or two depending on specific targets and plans that have been made by the boss.

I really enjoyed my summer holiday this year with plenty of golf played badly, lots of cricket watched, some even live, which after the pandemic was an absolute joy while generally taking things easy for a month did me the world of good.

I adore my job and I was excited to get back, but the rest was nice and I think it does all of us a little bit of good to have just a little bit of time away from one another.

Just before the holiday I joked with Clifford that I’d miss him during my weeks off as my first conversation every single day of my working life is with him.

“I won’t miss you,” came the reply, tongue in cheek … I hope.

Wandering round the horses in their fields over the past week I am itching for them to come back in now.

As a group they have done well for their summer and apart from the first two weeks of their breaks when monsoon season arrived in Ditcheat, they have enjoyed some fine and warm weather.

This week, although busy, is mainly quite calm and relaxed with only one entry on Sunday as most of the summer horses have run in the last few weeks.

Hold onto your hats next week though because that is when the fun starts.

I always think it is amazing that next Monday at 6:30am, Manor Farm Stables will be empty yet 49 hours later it will be full to the rafters once again.
New faces, equine and human, always make for a fun and interesting couple of weeks but being honest I think Paul and Clifford are happier men in three or so weeks’ time when the horses are back into a routine.

My job for the coming weeks is a fairly simple task, but nevertheless a job I enjoy.

Essentially every horse that comes back in from the field is taken into our arena, has some tack fitted before we let them have a buck squeal and a kick. When they have that exuberance out of their system we pop somebody up onto their back.

This is generally a fairly-well organised exercise with the odd naughty one making things interesting for the incoming rider but, generally come the back end of next week, most of them will be up and going and having a trot up Ditcheat hill in their groups.

I often think people must question why, if a horse is not racing until October or November, would they need to come into work in the middle of July?

However, working for Paul, you very quickly realise that those first couple of months of work are absolutely vital to the success of a horse’s season.

The ground work that is laid in those first weeks, building their strength, training their minds to be calm and relaxed in all of their work is basically setting the foundations for a good year.

In other news. the horses this summer are flying, which is nice to see, a double on Friday at Newton Abbot took this season’s tally to 20 which is a pleasing figure at this time of year.

Kilmington Rose winning three on the bounce has been a personal highlight for the summer campaign so far for lovely owners Henry and Charlie Pelham, but she has been backed up ably with victories for Darling Maltaix, Mick Pastor, Chez Hans and Eglantine De Seuil among others.

When jockeys are injured the one good thing that comes from it is the understudies get a chance to be in the driving seat and I thought Bryony was brilliant in Harry’s absence through May riding loads of winners and generally doing a great job.

Now Harry is back I am just hoping they both stay injury free for the next ten months and ride us lots of winners between them. It has been great to have Harry back recently and I have no doubt he will have another brilliant year.

I’m sure everyone will join me in wishing Bryan Carver a swift return to the saddle too following his recent fall at Newton Abbot. Bryan fractured his T7 vertebrae in two places and we all wish him a speedy recovery.

I think that is just about all the news I have for you at the moment and, although I am not going to do a blog regularly this season, I will endeavour to scribble some bits down through the year and keep you up to date with the yard, the boss and what is going on with me.

Until next time however, go well.