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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

Trebles at Cheltenham and Wincanton

I don’t ask much of you as my blog readers, frankly I’m grateful you take the time out of your day to put yourself through reading it at all.

This week though I want to ask something of you. Your imagination is required in order for this to be a good read, so please if you will, open your minds and wander back to whatever you were doing on Thursday at around ten to one in the afternoon. Maybe you were at work, at your desk, on a farm, sat in front of a screen, in an office or maybe enjoying a coffee as your day passed by, in all honestly I have no idea where you were, but let me set the scene where I was.

Traffic troubles require trailblazer

At Exeter services, Nick Scholfield and I have just got into a rather panicked lorry, a lorry that was a temporary home to Capeland that afternoon, a Capeland who was due to line up at long odds-on in just an hour and a half down the road at Newton Abbot. Completing the party were Gemma Groves, one of our travelling head girls and Kate McCormack, loving mum to Capeland. The situation was this, Devon was literally in gridlock and we had half an hour to be there in time to declare Capeland for his race. What ensued can only be described as an act of both inspiration and brilliance from our second jockey, and if he fancies a career change anytime soon his options look healthy.

Master navigator to any team of explorers would be a doddle, taking Lewis Hamilton’s job in a McLaren would seemingly be taken in his stride while a chief negotiator in our government’s Brexit trade deals would also come easy.

Don’t panic Mr Derham!

The key lesson around horses is don’t panic whatever you’re doing with them, but as an assistant trainer early in one’s career, panic was the exact emotion I was feeling as Nick drove his now rather warm 5 series into the services in order to meet our stranded travelling team. The situation had developed around an hour prior when poor Gemma rang letting us know that Devon was in meltdown and getting to the races was going to be anything but straightforward and may indeed prove impossible to achieve on time. The one useful thing I brought to this situation was the thought we may as well all get in the lorry, and either fail or succeed together, with the greatest respect to Nick’s fitness and athletic ability he would not have won the race without Capeland. So there we were, in the lorry, traffic gridlocked in front of us, me at the wheel, Nick armed with his iPhone and AA road map while Gemma and Kate did a sterling job of keeping Capeland, our main concern, calm in a situation that was anything but.

Scholfield charm works the oracle

Nick had very intelligently sent his Exeter-based mother out as a route runner, to check the state of the roads and the news as we expected was not good. The thesis was simple, we either had to make it part way along the closed M5 or we’d be on the way home tail firmly between our legs.

Step forward Nick

I’d be lying if I said I was tremendously optimistic at the chances of getting onto the M5 as Nick ran over to the traffic officers ensuring the road block was kept in place, but five minutes later there we were receiving an escort from said traffic officers down the road onto what would hopefully be our way to success.

More studying of the map and phone calls to Nick’s mother Theresa assured us that we’d be fine and get there no problem. Twenty stressful minutes later, after going via Sainsbury’s deli counter, two fashion boutiques, a Persian rug sale, three local football pitches, 37 mini roundabouts and what seemed to be the most prolific speed-bumped village in the whole of Devon we arrived, showering Nick our new hero in applause.

I then felt the need to remind everyone of the importance of now winning the race we had tried so hard to get there for! Thankfully, an hour later Capeland played his part in a day I’ll never forget and won well despite his long day.

I’ll never know what Nick said to those traffic officers, and it’s something that Gemma, Kate and I will always laugh at as we look back remembering a guy still in his riding out gear assuring them that winning the 2.20 at Newton Abbot was indeed an event important enough for both their time and effort.

The much talked about Team Ditcheat was truly at its best on Thursday and it’s a story I’ll never tire of telling.

Record breakers

Much to my relief my week, aside from Nick moonlighting as James Bond, has been much calmer, full of exciting mornings riding Dodging Bullets and interesting afternoons watching our string canter their way through what is for Paul a record-breaking October.

It has been a truly wonderful few weeks with the horses running out of their skin in racking up wins left right and centre.

Something I have always been a huge fan of is young horses and riders taking their chances to impress when the moment presents itself and this week was a good week for both equine and human members of our squad.

Young talent again hits headlines

Jack Sherwood was once again among the winners and is becoming a Wincanton specialist while Harry Cobden further enhanced his reputation as the excellent young rider he is, with further wins aboard the newly crowned dude of the yard, Cliffs Of Dover, among others.

Movewiththetimes put in a performance of huge promise along with the afore-mentioned explorer Capeland, but it was one partnership in particular that gave me real pleasure this week just gone.

That was the team of Brahms De Clermont and Stan Sheppard. Stan has been my housemate and one of my closest friends for a couple of years now, so to see him ride his first winner at the home of jump racing while stood alongside his two other closest friends is a day I will cherish for many years to come. Stan gave Brahms a ride of real maturity and walking back in I urged him to enjoy the moment and take every second of it in.
That’s what I love about this job of mine you see, it has the capacity to give people experiences and memories as special as anything, which leads me onto my week’s undoubted highlight, and however good or bad this season ends up, yesterday (Sunday) will always be one of the best.

Wincanton win so precious to us all

Stood in the weighing room at a freezing cold Aintree, sporting my new scarf that I’ll be paying for in instalments long after my mortgage is paid, I smiled as Bagad Bihoue won the race that we in Team Ditcheat covet above any Grade One or valuable prize; the Dominic Baker Memorial novice hurdle at Wincanton.

Clifford Baker, above being a head lad or anything else to me, is now a dear friend so to win his late son’s race is so so important to me and in particular Paul, who saw at first-hand how dark those horrible days were in 2013.

This is not a time for mourning nor a time for pity, perhaps just a time to look back and realise how blessed we all are. I’ve spoken before of my pride in working for Paul, and to be part of a team that can give the Baker family a happy day in memory of Dominic is a feeling that pride doesn’t quite cover.

You know it’s a good week when a treble at Cheltenham doesn’t warrant a prolonged mention, a treble where the only person that sweated more than Marracudja was Ditcheat thoroughbreds founder Ian Fogg.

So there we are then, another special week in the lucky life of Harry Derham and, as the miles home from Aintree decrease, I sit in the passenger seat once again of Nick’s car hoping that our dedicated and hardworking team of staff headed up by a man who has just reached his fastest ever fifty remains in the form it is in, the horses stay healthy and this wonderful ride marches on.


Drinking from the bottle to our Magnificent Seven

It is Sunday, quarter to four in the afternoon, Nick Scholfield is at the wheel and we have just got on the M3 and raised a bottle of Lucozade and water respectively to Black Corton, who topped off what can only be described as a very good week for all involved.

Seven winners from 10 runners are the final statistics as the week closes with Cliffs of Dover taking the starring role winning on Friday and today at Kempton.

As Cliffs of Dover walked off the lorry in the summer, he set foot in our yard with a relatively modest profile ahead of a new career as a juvenile hurdler. However, with a first-class attitude to jumping and assistance from Harry Cobden in the saddle every day he has been transformed into a progressive young horse. Harry has settled him and taught him to relax during his training at home so it’s great that he has enjoyed due reward on the track with him.

Andrew, Gemma and Jayne make the trip worthwhile

Fakenham from sleepy Somerset isn’t a journey relished by many, but on Friday Andrew, Gemma and Jayne made the five-hour trip more than worthwhile bringing home two winners.

It’s so easy to forget the hours of hard work everyone puts in to get our horses to the races, and Fakenham is an 18-hour day for the guys that took Pilansberg, Keltus and Lou Vert so for them to be in the next morning at half past six says a lot about our dedicated staff.

A super Saturday work morning

First lot on Saturday morning saw 47 horses in action, among them some of our most exciting charges for the year to come; safe to say it was a work morning not to be missed.

With lots of big races now very much on the agenda we are gearing up the likes of Silviniaco Conti, Le Mercurey, Zubayr and Dodging Bullets for their first runs of the season, all of which are now not too far away.

Working over four furlongs never asks too much of our string or really tells us much we don’t already know, but as the weeks go by Capitaine continues to make an impression and, perhaps more significantly, he keeps pleasing Andrew who partners him every day. The two of them galloped past me on Saturday, Andrew crouching into his Davy Russell inspired position with a smile on his face indicating Capitaine was probably going quite nicely. Good news then as he will be entered on Sunday in the Dominic Baker Memorial at Wincanton a race, as I’ve said before, we long to win every year for very obvious reasons.

Highbridge quartet hit the heights

If like me you’re a huge fan of team Ditcheat then you’ll know we had five winners on Friday, an achievement we are all very proud of, four of those winners hailed from our numerically smaller yard Highbridge. David Rochester and Andrew Doyle are responsible for the day-to-day running of the yard overseen by Paul and Clifford so were hugely deserving of the pat on the back they received on Saturday morning from Paul. David feeds all of Highbridge and we often joke that he spends more time caring for his 46 equine inmates than his wonderful young family just around the corner in Alhampton. But well done men, a great day for everyone and in particular you two.

Sam’s loss felt deeply but others fill the breach

In the absence of Sam, who celebrated his birthday in hospital this week, the rest of our jockeys have been taking their opportunities to ride winners with one in particular seizing his moment.

Jack Sherwood, who longs to ride winners more than most folk long for their next breath, has done some great things in the colours of Mr and Mrs Woodhouse, so it was no surprise to see him make all riding Present Man at Wincanton. Jack gave Present Man a great ride from the front encouraging some super jumps from his partner and the plan made at the start of the season for Present Man is very much still the plan. More of that to come!

So there we are then, as you can see once again things in team Ditcheat are great, and I am appreciating and enjoying every winner we have knowing things are only going to become more difficult as the winter comes.

Living the dream at Marks and Spencer

We are some way down the A303 now and Nick is getting nearly as good a tune out of his car as he did Black Corton a few hours earlier. We’ve happily stopped at Marks and Spencer so, as a celebratory lasagne followed by profiteroles creeps ever closer, I afford myself a smile knowing that not only do I have a perfect evening in store it is only five days until the Ditcheat Thoroughbreds-owned Marracudja takes to the stage at Cheltenham.

There is plenty to look forward to then, but without doubt the best piece of news this week is that our main man and great friend Sam (Twiston-Davies) is on the mend and, despite his injury, in good spirits.

I know I speak for everyone at team Ditcheat Sam, in saying that we are wishing you a quick recovery and our very best.


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…