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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

No fanfares simply satisfaction at the progress made

We reached a milestone at Chepstow on Wednesday, not with a fanfare, heightened excitement or with a big-race victory, but with the quiet assurance that a rebuilding process which Paul has invested so, so heavily in is progressing just the way he wanted.

Wednesday 16th November marked our 70th winner of the season, compare that then to 11th February nine months earlier, the date where we achieved our 70th last year and you’ll realise that we have made a fast start to the current campaign. However, a fast start is only good if you capitalise on that and as the season gets into full stride that is exactly what we are intent on doing. As you are all aware Paul is a ten-time Champion trainer and I would imagine for most that could be a lovely number from which to slow down, but the man I work for doesn’t see it that way – quite the opposite in fact.

I’m not declaring Paul is going to be trying to win the championship at a time when cars can drive themselves or when Sam Twiston-Davies is a grandfather, I say it because the way in which Paul works he is always building for the future.

There isn’t ever a French horse’s profile I present to him he hasn’t seen twice already, a young jockey riding a winner he hasn’t watched already or a young horse doing a nice piece of work he hasn’t made a plan for already. Paul is constantly thinking about tomorrow so his owners and team can enjoy today and in my humble opinion this week just past demonstrated that quite perfectly.

Super eight further evidence of young talent emerging

Happily, the week was another huge success with eight horses tasting victory but it was the horses that won that were significant. As this year goes on it is clear the old faithful that has served us so well over the past couple of years are now finding life more and more difficult, while the stars of tomorrow are emerging stronger and appear more exciting than the last few seasons.

Copain De Classe and Black Valentine won their respective novice hurdles while Politilogue and Tagrita struck for the first time of asking over fences. Brelan D’as (my highlight of the week) cantered through his handicap hurdle at Wincanton showcasing his abundant talent really nicely, while great friends of the yard Mark and Tessa Woodhouse enjoyed success with Sirabad and Present Man, showing that our second season chasers aren’t too bad either.

Generally the above are all horses that have only been heard about in stable tours interviews or when Paul has been asked about a dark horse for the season to follow. They are not so much names we associate with winning big races on a Saturday, but Paul is training his string in a way that these young stars will hopefully soon be ready to take centre stage.

As I drove Paul somewhere during the week he answered a call from a member of the press and, while on the phone, he described his passion for finding the next superstars, wherever they may be, he spoke of how he loves getting them, taking his time and learning about them before they hopefully prove their talents on the track.

This season has shown that more than ever while it’s nice to have superstars winning big graded races for team Ditcheat, the emergence of a young horse like Politilogue routing his rivals in his first novice chase is just as sweet.

Desire to improve drives Ditcheat on

I think this attitude comes from an ever-pressing desire to be better, introduce new ideas and push the boundaries of what he and his team can do. The more I see of how Paul works at first hand, the more I see how fine the balancing act has to be. It is absolutely a case of pedal to the metal for him, whether it is going racing, watching schooling, doing the board with Clifford, entertaining owners, talking to the press or a bloodstock agent, his life never stops. On the flip side of the table his horse’s lives are different.

Our string’s lives are structured by discipline, routine, respect and a promise that they’ll never run until Paul is fully happy of his understanding of them and their well-being and preparation sets them up to run for their lives. Paul’s athletes enjoy excellent lives, protected from the pressure cooker of running for the Champion before he believes they are ready, so while the never ending, military-run, ruthless business continues our wonderful string of young talent is never exposed to that coal face until they have the tools to cope.

Meticulous eye for detail continues to reap dividends

While I was a jockey, I’m sure like many do now rather selfishly, I was often frustrated why I wasn’t riding a certain horse or wasn’t considered for a certain plumb ride. In hindsight I shouldn’t have worried as the horses aren’t the only thing that is meticulously studied. Indeed, our roster of jockeys are surveyed by the man at the helm on a daily basis as well.

Often, while driving to the races, conversations sound like: “I think so and so would really suit him” or “they schooled brilliantly together today so I’m going to let him take the ride on Sunday” or “I wonder if they would mind claiming off their horse on Friday”. Paul builds his knowledge of a young rider and once happy he strives to give them an opportunity on the big stage.

For me, a 22-year-old with aspirations far higher than I’d ever make public, I wake up and turn up to work for a man that doesn’t see all his victories and success as a point of showing off or resting on his laurels, instead uses it as a pool of knowledge to dispense to the young and eager team around him. Whether equine or human, if you are young and driven to get better at what you do and don’t mind a day’s work while possessing a big dream then it’s a certainty Paul will bat for you.

Dodge lives to fight another day

As I write my blog this week my surroundings are a little more sedate than the last few weeks with no jockey to drive me home, no motorway store providing my Lasagne and no heated seat warming my back side after a Fontwell, Aintree or Auteuil chill has got to me.

I’m actually writing this blog on an afternoon off, an afternoon that has given me time to stop, take stock and reflect on a season that so far has smiled on us. It’s made me grateful of everyone’s hard work and happy that things are going so nicely. It’s made me smile that my friends like Nick, Sean, Stan, Jack, Harry and Jordan are doing well and that the horses I love so dearly are firing on all cylinders, but most of all it’s made me relieved that Dodging Bullets is back and fine in his stable after a day at Ascot where something was clearly amiss.

For whatever reason Dodge wasn’t himself and Nick made the right decision in pulling him up before any damage was done. A worrying few moments followed when Nick immediately got off him, but thankfully he’s fine and will live to fight another day. While nursing young talent is his passion, Paul’s knowledge of masterminding horses back from adversity is just as deep, and I have little doubt Paul and his team will get to the bottom of whatever was bothering Dodge.

I must go as an afternoon off is something I’m not intent on wasting. I’m going to look forward to this week however with plenty of big races to get my teeth into.

Bearded stranger leaves me smiling

I’ll leave you with two messages of appreciation if that’s alright, one to Mr Vogt for the reminder at Chepstow that I best not forget to mention his charge, the gorgeous and very exciting Copain De Classe – I believe that’s two mentions he has had now so I hope that should suffice – and the second to a gentleman at Wincanton whose name I never got, but we met outside the injured jockeys’ fund stall. He sported what can only be described a truly triumphant beard and I would like to say thank you for the comments about my blog, it is rare when a stranger makes my day, but you sir, did exactly that.


A great reception assured for Jordan following Aerial win

This week may have required Americans to make a difficult decision, however my decision for ride of the week was very simple with Jordan Williams easily winning my vote.

Over the last month I’ve talked a great deal about our young jockeys excelling in the absence of Sam, but until Sunday Jordan hadn’t yet been one of them as he was at Ditcheat with the rest of the team working hard and striving to get that one ride that could kick-start things. With this in mind I wasn’t the only one who was absolutely thrilled to see Aerial and Jordan win at Fontwell, in fact I was one of many. Jordan is a quiet young man who rides Aerial every day and was deserving of the big chance he received aboard his regular partner. He gave his mount a quite brilliant ride by picking his competition off one by one, producing him at the last to win nicely.

Tony and Sue Hayward along with Barry and Anne Fulton were also hugely deserving of Aerial’s success having shown unrivalled levels of patience along with Paul in order to get him back to the track in winning form.

Peak practice pays off at Fontwell

As you can imagine the journey home was a pretty buoyant one. Sean was at the wheel having just ridden a double and Jordan didn’t stop smiling all the way back to Ditcheat. I’ve always loved Fontwell since riding my first double there some years ago and today provided another memorable day at the track.

After Aerial‘s brave performance, More Buck’s once again jumped his rivals silly to take his Fontwell tally to two out of two, however we had to wait until our last runner of the day down there for my highlight. There are always horses that come along and do things nicely at home but there’s a huge difference between nice work on the gallops and winning, so seeing Peak To Peak make such an impressive debut was very encouraging. He jumped big the whole way round and will have learned lots, but he clearly has a good slice of ability and all credit goes to Kate McCormack who does a lovely job of riding him everyday – she is without any question his biggest fan.

Coastal a ‘shore’ star of the future

Peaky wasn’t the only star hurdling performance this week with Coastal Tiep winning at the start of the week at Kempton, creating quite an impression on Nick.

For me, Monday was one of the best days of my week by miles as I’m sure lots of you know a great friend of mine and the yard, Ian Fogg, has created Ditcheat Thoroughbreds so I spent a good chunk of the day at Kempton with Coastal Tiep’s syndicate, it’s fair to say they are a hoot. Some fantastic racing fans and hilarious characters made it a day where laughter was never far away and that is surely what it’s all about isn’t it?

Prior to laughing my way though tacking up Coastal Tiep and watching him win, Dad and I headed off to Kempton early on Monday to attend a BetVictor press day for their feature day at Cheltenham on Saturday. It was an occasion that without doubt provided me with my most embarrassing moment of the week.

BetVictor gaff leaves me red faced

It started well. I had my best suit on, Dad had driven so I’d had a little snooze and I was fresh and ready to give my thoughts on the weekend’s proceedings as we wandered in to a room that might as well of had BetVictor wallpaper for all the branding and banners that adorned the Desert Orchid suite.

A few much better qualified racing personalities were interviewed in front of the assembled crowd with no dramas, before Derham, the new assistant was summoned to the mike. I spoke for probably ten minutes on the chances of our horses until I declared that Frodon has a huge chance and come Paddy Power day he’d be ready, not the best thing to say in a room teaming with BetVictor representatives . . .

No matter though, and after blushing for quarter of an hour at my stupidity, I collected myself to talk to the excellent Tom Stanley from Racing UK. We are flying along now, I’m warmed up, it’s flowing much easier, I can see the questions coming, until, “Agghhh Harry stop, you called it the Paddy Power again”. Old habits it seems die hard even in a young mind.

Modus narrowly trumped but Prezien a Grade 1 candidate

There are certain races those of us at Ditcheat are accustomed to winning, happily the Grade Two Arkle Trial at Cheltenham is one of them, so it was pleasing to see Le Prezien keep up the tradition and score nicely. He is a work in progress who I can see running over two-and-a-half miles in due course. Channon Whitstone, who rides him every day, deserves a big well done and probably loves him more than her other half Stan Sheppard.

As this week has proved, results don’t always go the way one hopes they might, this was the case with Modus who was narrowly edged out by North Hill Harvey in the Greatwood Hurdle, a race that since Brampour popped up a few years ago has always provided fond memories for me. As you can imagine Brampour has been in my thoughts these last couple of days as he always is at this time of year, however it came as a huge surprise to wake up to a tweet from his owner Aaron Banks who was pictured with the real Donald Trump and Nigel Farage – a weird but relevant link for this week. It’s a funny old game.

Our thoughts with Severn Barrows on a day of high emotion

As Jordan, Sean and I walked Fontwell before racing I scrolled through Twitter and learned Sprinter Sacre has been retired in what turned out to be an awfully difficult day for all at Seven Barrows. Retiring one of the best National Hunt horses of the modern era must have been very emotional, but to then lose Simonsig only minutes later was the bitterest of blows. The pain suffered in a yard when a horse fails to return from a racecourse in such circumstances is acute and felt deeply by everyone involved. I know many at Ditcheat paused to think about their compatriots at Seven Barrows on Sunday evening and have empathy for the emotions they are feeling at the moment.

Memories are a wonderful thing and no doubt everyone has their own of the great horses over the years, but for me Sprinter Sacre was one of the greatest. There was something different about him, a swagger and brilliance that very, very few possess. As a racing fan, one could talk about a horse of Sprinter’s calibre for days, an animal with talent that rare that words, in my humble opinion, simply do not do him justice. I think the only fitting thing I can say from one top team to another is thank you and congratulations for making him such a wonder and a true joy to behold. Happy retirement Sprinter Sacre, by God you deserve it.


Highs and lows of racing

Considering the amount he dominates this blog, it wouldn’t be right I don’t start this week’s musings discussing Dodging Bullets.

As seasonal reappearance’s go I thought his run at Exeter in the Haldon Gold Cup was an excellent one. He gave loads of weight away to the winner and the runner-up and, having jumped brilliantly throughout, it was no surprise to see him have a blow from three out to the line.
Nick was thrilled with him and expressed the feeling that two and a half miles is now something he desperately needs. It was good news all round then and happily my mate Dodge has come out of the race really well so we will look forward to a season over a trip for him.

Fabulous Frodon heading to Cheltenham

Elsewhere, this week has been a productive one again for Team Nicholls with some excellent performances in both victory and defeat. For me Frodon was the star of the weekend, winning his third novice chase of the season with his ears pricked and will head merrily on his way to the Betvictor Gold Cup on Saturday at Cheltenham. Frodon came to us last year and very quickly became a favourite around the yard with his hilarious temperament and friendly nature. Holley Evans, who rides him everyday does a fabulous job with him and frequently has her arms stretched so deserves a lot of credit for riding him so well and keeping him under control in his training! Paul’s plan with Frodon has been meticulous and I can envisage him running a huge race come Saturday.

As I’ve said a million times before, young horses taking centre stage is always something I love, so seeing Capitaine romping home was really cool if completely uninformative. We obviously learnt nothing about his level of ability as he sauntered round Wincanton but it was good for him to get off the mark and start his hurdling career.

He wasn’t the only novice hurdler who did well this week however as Bistouri D’Honore put in an excellent display of jumping to win at Exeter whilst Winning Try ran with great credit in Aintree finishing third in his novice hurdle.

In the absence of our main-man Sam Twiston-Davies our team of understudies have once again all done their bit to ride winners and keep the show on the road. While Nick went to Paris for a hugely profitable working weekend Stan, Sean and Jack rode domestically but it was the birthday boy Harry Cobden who took the starring role on Saturday riding three winners at Wincanton.

While all of us at Ditcheat have missed Sam being part of all our recent success, it’s given all of our other jockeys a great platform on which to show off their talents and in my opinion not one of them has let us down, so well done men. Top work everyone.

Superbe voyage pour Dolos est magnifique

My working week has very much been a tale of two halves, the first being an excellent week mainly spent at home watching the horses training and spending hours on the gallops in the afternoon ensuring the surfaces stay in perfect condition for the 128 horses that depend on them every day.

However, I have hardly spent a moment in Ditcheat over the weekend, travelling to Aintree on Saturday to help with our team on Merseyside and Auteuil on Sunday to watch Dolos run a fantastic race to finish third in the three-year-old Grade One hurdle and in the process picking up more than he would have for finishing second in the Triumph Hurdle in March.

There are certain advantages to being an assistant trainer and on this weekend my mode of transport home from France was considerably quicker than most and without question hours and hours faster than the travelling team with the horses cared for superbly by Andrew and Scott.

With horses running in France and Ireland this weekend alongside the three domestic meetings it was another weekend that highlighted just how hard our travelling teams work. Many hours through the night and early mornings make going to exciting places with the horses anything but glamorous however everyone works so hard and does a fantastic job.

Freddy’s plight dominates our thoughts

Writing my blog this evening I’m not really thinking of the great success we have enjoyed this week, nor the tragic loss of one of the best and most graceful racehorses I have ever laid eyes in Vautour.

I am thinking, and have been all week, of a person I have never met, never spoken to or been in any kind of contact at all, the person I am thinking of is of course Freddy Tylicki, who has suffered paralysis of the lower half of his body in a horror fall at Kempton on Monday. We are all aware of the risks that jockeys take on a daily basis under both codes, the last thing I say to every single jockey I leg up is “good luck, safe trip” knowing only too well that a split-second accident can not only ruin a career but change the course of a life. Reading all of the heartfelt and touching comments the racing world have said towards Freddy gives all of us that didn’t know him an idea of the calibre of man people were dealing with, he is clearly a top class person.

I’ve often talked about my pride at being involved in Paul’s yard, but this weekend I’m particularly proud of working in racing. The way one and all have gathered and rallied around to raise money and offer support when required is very humbling. This sport can lift you to heights like no other but also has the capacity to take you to lows that I couldn’t even imagine. No doubt the darkest of dark days will follow for Freddy and his fight will be long and tough, but with his family, friends and the wider racing world there to support him one can only hope he will never feel alone in his fight.