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Category Archives: Harry Derham’s Blog

A season review, well not review, just a chat about my year

While I am sure most of the seven readers of my long-lost blog are probably well over the mourning period for the afore mentioned and moved onto some copy far more engaging, entertaining and reliably produced, I have had the motivation recently to write about our season or year just passed.

The Covid19 year of no crowds, no cheering, no interaction, no normal.

The year of masks, cold, empty racecourses. The year of no clapping when the horses returned or atmosphere around a paddock. The unease in places through the winter of would it all continue?

Racing has faced many challenges this past year so I may shock plenty of you when I say that in all my five years as assistant, this is the one I will remember with most fondness.

I know it is odd but bear with me and I will do my best to make sense of that statement.

You see, during this pandemic-ridden dirt bag of a year that we have endured when separation, isolation and loneliness were commonplace, I do not think there has ever been a time when Paul’s often mentioned ‘Team Ditcheat’ has ever been so important to the people involved in that very team.

I am fully appreciative of the fact I, and everyone else working for Paul and in racing, that we have been incredibly lucky during the past 12 months to be able to get up, go to a job we love and, while things were not normal, we each had a purpose in life to wake up and carry on as normal as possible.

It turns out that is just about the most sacred thing you can have.

I think being part of something has made it easier for all of us and through it all I hope that everyone working in Team Ditcheat has felt we have stuck together and worked as a group to provide Paul with another fantastic season.

Numerically, from Christmas onwards, we felt that the magic number of 171 (up until then our best every tally) was there to be beaten, so we were all delighted when Threeunderthrufive ridden by Adrian Heskin won at Perth in the last week of the season to beat our tally. The clock eventually stopping on 176 after a fabulous three-timer at Sandown on the curtain closer.

This season though was not just about numbers, there were some truly memorable days scattered amongst the stream of victories and, like I did at this time last year, I am going to give you my top 10 moments from that season.

I will just add that these are not Paul’s highlights or the yards, they are just mine, things that meant a lot to me for some reason or another, moments that I enjoyed or got a kick out of – bigger than the one I do when we are lucky enough to have a winner.

I would also say that it is only when looking back at a season you realise this list could be 25 highlights long so 10 is the figure I reached hoping you would not fall asleep reading it.

10. Miranda goes up in Grade

I will start things off with a freezing cold January day in Doncaster. With such a great mares’ programme in the UK, having a nice mare in training can be lucrative so when the owners’ group syndicate purchased Miranda in November 2018 from Arqana in Deauville I am sure they did so in the hope her smart flat from would relate to hurdles. Happily, she took to jumping from the start and has enjoyed a good career ever since winning five hurdles’ races amassing just shy of 60 thousand worth of prize money.
Miranda is a charming mare with a fine temper when fresh, who can pull some snarly faces in the stable, but generally she has a wonderful personality and plenty of talent to go with it. Winning Graded races is always great but for a good-looking mare by Camelot this win in the Yorkshire Rose Mare’s Hurdle was significant for her future as a broodmare. I obviously hope we get to enjoy her for a good bit longer as a racemare, but when she does eventually retire to the paddocks she will do so with a good pedigree and that all-important black type which makes certain she will have a lovely home for life. Nothing short of what she deserves.

9. A January six-timer

Saturday 9th January, Wincanton, Kempton and a rearranged Chepstow. January is never all that busy for Paul, in fact up until this season he had never had more than 10 winners in the month. This Saturday in question though helped put that record right and gave me one of the finest days of the season. I headed to a freezing Chepstow where Pozo Emery and Storm Arising did their stuff, the Wincanton team got the job done with hugely promising Flash Collonges and Capeland while Harry and Paul headed to Kempton to win with Barbados Buck’s, Mcfabulous and Master Tommytucker.

It was one of those days that just when you thought it could not get better it did. Macfabulous has always been a horse I love so it was great to see him do the business but also fantastic for owner breeders Tony Fear and Louise Cabble to watch their Tommytucker win, despite giving everyone heart failure at the last.

We are lucky enough to enjoy doubles or trebles with some regularity, but a six-timer was very cool indeed.

8. Next Destination’s season

This highlight is not a moment, or a race for the matter, this is an entire season. In an earlier life, Next Destination had the world at his feet, placed in a Ballymore Novice hurdle he then went on to win the Grade One novice hurdle over three miles at Punchestown, stardom surely ensued.

Sadly for the subsequent three years, he was plagued by injury preventing him from racing at all in that period, so when Mr Denmark entrusted Paul with him in June it felt like one last roll of the dice with what is clearly a talented, but fragile horse.

It was very clear from the start, that we were dealing with a wonderfully natured horse who, despite a fair degree of rust, seemed to have retained all his enthusiasm and enjoyment for his work.

Paul and Clifford, along with Charlie who rides and looks after him, eventually found a routine for him that worked, a routine that included weekly sessions on the water treadmill combined with a different kind of work day including two steep hill trots as well as his hill cantering. Eventually he became ready to start.

A run behind British super mare Roksana at Weatherby started things off nicely before our lad notched a brace of Grade Two novice chases to add to his already impressive cv at Newbury and Warwick, where his bold, accurate jumping came to the fore.

He then went onto the Cheltenham Festival for the NH Chase where he found only Galvin too good in a race where a slightly faster pace might have suited. However, it was still a really good season that would not have been possible without a huge amount of a patience from Mr Denmark, a well thought out routine from Paul and Clifford, care every day from Charlie and hours of physio work from Theresa Dufosee.

Touching all the wood possible that the wheels remain attached, I have little doubt Next Destination will be capable of mixing it in some of the top staying chases next season. He is a fantastic lesson to a young wannabe trainer like me that flash homework from a horse is about as much use as a sunroof on a submarine.

Good lad Denis.

7. Harry riding breaking through the century of winners for Paul

If you are going to have a good season and train loads of winners, I find it is dead handy to have an excellent stable jockey. In my opinion Mr Cobden is just that. It is so easy to forget due to his impressive cv he is in his very early 20s. It was significant that on the final day of the season, when asked on ITV for a seasonal highlight Paul opted with the performance of Harry and how well he has done throughout the year.

During the year I have spent a huge amount of time in the car with Harry and he has become a really good friend, telling me about his farming, his personal ambition for his riding career and shooting, as well as offering the odd well-placed and timed moment of humour. Without doubt what I respect him for the most is his ability to stay level-headed.

I will just add that half the reason I am routing for him all the time is that if he keeps doing well he might get a new car. Sitting in the back of his current conveyance would be seen as a form of torture in some parts of the world.

It is a well-known fact that jockeys have a brutally tough way of life with falls an occupational hazard, not to mention the fact that even the best of them only win 20 or so percent of the time. Nothing remarkable about that I hear you say and there is not, but Harry throughout the year won and lost, was brilliant and not so brilliant, but he was the same guy at the end of every day, something I find really hard.

After Cyrname flopped in the King George he wandered out ready to ride in the next race and his first words to me wearing his big smile was “wasn’t that brilliant for B” same after Clan won at Punchestown, a text that evening saying what a fabulous result and how delighted he was for everyone.

It is a tough sport and he, more than anyone like every other jockey, desperately wants to win but his attitude in adversity is what I respect him for most. I also genuinely believe he is getting to be a better and better jockey. Sadly, the jockey’s championship dream did not work out this season but he will be back better than ever before too long.

I cannot write a jockey section without mentioning Bryony, Lorcan, Bryan and Angus who have backed up the main man all with great skill and success. Paul does his best to stick with his team when he can and they all ride plenty of winners. It is also nice on occasion that we can use Sam Twiston-Davies, Sean Bowen and Harry Skelton, three long-time friends of the yard.

6. Keep with the old and welcome the new

If you are being picky, then I have to say this is kind of two highlights, but they were both in December and they were both Grade One wins so work with me please. Any Grade one victory is special, and always provide memorable days, but the reason I want to talk about these two are because they came from two high-class horses at different ends of their careers.

Politologue has danced just about every dance, ran in more than his fair share of brutally tough contests and what is so wonderful about him is his sheer love and appetite for his job. He is a special horse in Ditcheat and as he galloped round Sandown jumping with his trademark pin-point accuracy, his ears permanently pricked forward down the back straight eyeing up his next jump – it was clear he was at his best.

He galloped up the Sandown hill that day under a Harry Skelton-drive to register his second Tingle Creek triumph and fourth open Grade One. Politologue is not the best horse to win the Tingle Creek but he is adored by those in Ditcheat and the Hales family who have enjoyed him for so long.

That day he was followed up the hill by a certain Greaneteen, who has improved beyond all recognition through the season to end up scooting up in the Grade One Celebration chase at Sandown on the final day of the season.

Bravemansgame’s success in the Challow for owners Bryan Drew and John Dance was another great day because for me this was a snapshot of what is to come from him. Admittedly, he was not good enough at Cheltenham and bumped into one at Aintree at the end of a long season, but this is a horse who, when he takes to chasing, will be wining plenty more Grade Ones.

Harry set a pace that suited him throughout the race and when he asked him for more effort up the home straight he galloped out really well. You hear it all the time the old ‘anything he does over hurdles’ type chat but with his physique and scope I am sure in the words of Frank Sinatra the best is yet to come.

5. Secret Investor’s Denman chase

Now I could talk about this lad all day long, Secret Investor. You would travel a long way and not find a better natured, kind or more wonderful horse to be around. He is a complete joy. Full of character, completely bomb proof around people or traffic, hilariously boisterous to saddle he is just one of those horses who if he were rated 80 you would not be able to help but adore him.

Throughout his career he has been a fine servant, winning plenty of nice races when the ground conditions are in his favour, the Denman Chase however was his day in the sun that he so richly deserved. When he is on song, for those of us that know him well, he’s a joy to watch, when things click and he bowls along with his handsome Kayf Tara head bowed, nose pointing out just to assure you he is doing his best, you know he’s going to take a bit of passing.

I know he beat a not fully-wound up Clan Des Obeaux, but for Clive and Joan Hitchens and Kate who looked after him it would not have mattered what he beat; Secret Investor won the Denman Chase, and even under the mask I could not hide my smile for a horse with a heart of gold and one that will always hold a place in my heart.

4. Frodon is the Christmas king

“So in conclusion Harry what’s your view, do you think he should run in the King George?”

“Absolutely Mr Vogt, if Paul and team are happy with him then he should absolutely run, he’s more than good enough to run in it, I know you’ve wanted a runner in the race for some time and whilst I cannot see him beating Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux, he more than deserves his place”

Shows what I know.

That was a conversation Mr Vogt and I had a few weeks before Frodon and Bryony bossed a King George like only they could. Paul made no secret of the fact he was not the most fancied of our runners on the day but the thing is with this combination is they have a habit of springing a surprise and this was no different.

Of course, Frodon is a very high-class horse and, perhaps if he had not got stuck in the mud at Aintree three weeks before, he would have been half the price. Irrespective of that blip, Bryony got her best and most loyal partner in a fabulous rhythm out front and before you knew it they were in total control. His trademark kick from three out meant he got away from his rivals and he galloped home with his ears pricked to win the famous Christmas spectacular.

Mr Vogt is a wonderful man, whose patience and loyalty has massively paid off over the past few years and every time we have a winner for him there is not a person in the yard not delighted for him. I know he has suffered some personal tragedy this year and, while he is a private man, I am sure he will not mind me saying that I have no doubt at all that Frodon did her proud as he always does.

3. Bumper pack of young guns

To be honest, such is my passion for the yearly cycle of young horses in Paul’s care I could have quite happily written an entire blog on these bumper horses, but in the interest of not wanting my readers to fall asleep I thought I best keep it a little more concise.

In a nutshell they really did Paul proud this season. From being purchased two summers ago, broken in by Will Biddick, a man whose skill with young stock is unrivalled in my opinion, to joining “big boy” school, this year’s crop were always a lovely bunch.

From Stage Star who won in very taking fashion at Chepstow, Silent Revolution, Petrossian, Chavez and Gold Bullion all really good winners, Chavez a bit of a yard favourite due to his consistent and sustained effort to drop Angus on a daily basis, an effort that in fairness yielded plenty of success.

Shearer and Mr Glass, two of my personal stars winning three bumpers between them, Le Chiffre
D’or
, Kandoo Kid, Rainyday Woman and Flemenstide all getting their heads in front too.

It was perhaps fitting then after such a brilliant bumper season that Knappers Hill topped it off by winning the Grade Two Aintree bumper under a superb ride from Meg. At this stage, Knappers holds the best form and his schooling has been excellent, but I am confident that all of these young horses will be very exciting novice hurdlers and chasers to appear in the coming seasons.

It is such a satisfying way of producing horses and Paul, I know for a fact, gets a great thrill from giving them time to develop and turn into future stars. He is not the only one. Not forgetting that Mcfabulous, Enrilo, Threeunderthrufive and Flash Collonges have all come through this system, so it is clear in the results that some lovely horses are being produced.

2. 12th championship for the boss

When you get to the sort of dizzy heights Paul has managed to achieve in his training career one may be forgiven for thinking that there is not much left to tick off. Well, in Ditcheat that is not really the way we see it. Paul being crowned champion trainer for the scarcely believable 12th time was a magnificent milestone for him as well as everyone that puts so much in to make it possible.

A championship cannot be done with a week of hard work or a few months for that matter. It is the sum total of a year of endless toil from a huge number of people to make it all happen, the summer runners, the isolation yard, the rest and recuperation yards, pre training, the farriers, vets, physio, feed suppliers, fencers, jockeys, stable staff, office staff, Clifford Baker and David Rochester our two head men, it literally cannot be done without everyone putting it in all year round and so, when Paul stepped up at Sandown to collect a trophy he knows so well, I smiled at a really good job done.

It was the second trainer’s championship I have been lucky enough to be assistant for and I am so delighted I was part of it. Sometimes working with him every day you would be forgiven for taking what he does for granted, but he will keep doing it in his restless, unrelenting, competitive I will not be beaten sort of way.

1. The final punch from Clan

Now before you say Punchestown was not really a part of last season I am aware of that fact.
It was however one of the best racing weeks I have ever enjoyed and while Bob And Co and his fantastic owner/rider David Maxwell were brilliant in winning the champion Hunter Chase on the Friday, this trip for me was made on the Wednesday by a certain Clan Des Obeaux.

Tremendous at Aintree 20 days before hand when winning the Grade One Betway Bowl, Clan went to Punchestown in excellent form with Paul and team expecting a big run on a track that looked sure to suit him. With a dual Gold Cup winner as your main rival you are never bursting with confidence, but we really felt that if Clan put up one of his best efforts we would be right there in the mix.

Of course, I am biased as we came out on top of a brilliant race, but what unfolded in the Irish Gold Cup is exactly what you desire in a high-class staying chase in my eyes. An unrelenting gallop with pressure on horses’ jumping where stamina and class comes to the fore.

Having watched it back now 784 times I am still struck by how brave a ride it was from super sub-Sam who kept pressing the pace throughout the race and was quite brilliant on Clan conjuring five of his best jumps at the last five fences.

Sam was so strong and committed approaching the last two fences and Clan bravely answered his jockey’s request. My dream is and always will be to be part of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it is the race that inspires me the most and one day I hope I will be lucky enough to be part of that.

To be part of winning the Punchestown equivalent though was something I will never forget and in difficult circumstances I still felt the warmth of the Irish hospitality, hopefully we can go back there next year with a big team and enjoy a more normal year.

So there we have it, another year gone by full of great days, fun days, hard days, sad days, funny days, satisfying days, slow days, freezing bloody cold days and just about everything in between. As I said at the top of the blog, I have felt lucky to be doing what I am doing still in work and have something to wake up and do in such odd, uncertain and scary times.

May is always busy with plenty of racing still on the agenda and, rather excitingly back at base camp, a brand-new schooling arena to get right. There is also some other May-type jobs to do, as well as turning most of the horses out for their holidays – I am sure the month will fly by before June.

June is going to be my rest this year, a bit of Padstow, bit of golf, hopefully lots of cricket and some sleep. That will take us up to July and we will be ready to hopefully do it all over again.

Let us hope that come next winter we will all be able to go racing in a more normal world once again.

Until then however, thanks for catching up and go well.

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The final chapter of yard stalwart

There is not a racing yard in the country that does not dream of having one; the person who has been present for so many years that their presence and character helps to shape the very nature and fabric of the yard.

The person whose service to many outside the yard would go unnoticed, but to the team on the inside, at the coal face in the rain, hail or sunshine, is present striving tirelessly for hours upon end to make sure the boring, mundane and everyday vital chores and tasks are completed.

I believe the term is ‘worth their weight in gold’ and my god Rose Loxton was just that.

On Friday 14th August, having battled with illness for just under two years, the only thing that could have possibly beaten Rose finally did and, in the end as much as it hurt those who loved her most, it was probably a relief that one of life’s old fashioned bloody good eggs would suffer no more.

Rose worked for Paul for many years, latterly in the top yard essentially becoming Clifford’s right arm, bandaging cuts and nicks, ensuring horses were rugged correctly, keeping the team of staff of our top yard in check, providing them with just enough rope that they could learn and enhance their skills in horsemanship, but never too much that they’d get anything wrong.

Rose was professional to the core but made sure humour and a bit of fun was never too far away. A temper was also available when required and proved remarkably effective on occasions.

Through the very golden years of Paul’s training career when Kauto Star and Big Buck’s ruled their respective roosts, Rose was an integral part of their stories, in particular that freakishly talented big staying hurdle mate of hers, Buck’s who she probably ended up spending more time with than her loving husband Sam.
Rose did everything with Buck’s; she travelled with him, rode him, led him up, mucked him out, galloped him and probably give Ruby a fair idea of what to do on his back too!

Although I was very young when he was rewriting just about every record possible, I always remembered the stress, worry and panic she put herself through when he was racing and the sheer joy she got from his unique brilliance.
It was perhaps quite fitting that as Kauto Star won his last two Grade Ones at Haydock in the Betfair Chase and at Kempton in the King George where the two roofs were removed such was the crowd’s ecstasy, there alongside the old champions’ side was Rose, aware of how special a horse he was but with absolutely no notion how incredible she was.
You see with Rose it was not just the full-time role at Paul’s she was undertaking – no, no a job working twelve and a half days a fortnight while being the rock of a family, a mother, a wife, and a grandmother was not nearly enough for Rose.

Somewhere in the great mystery of time she also managed to fit in training umpteen point to point winners with some of Paul’s older horses that had fallen out of love with the game, grand old timers who had lost their fire a little.

Well, give Rose six months with them in her back garden on the hills of Bruton and she made them sing. Alongside her husband Sam, weekends were filled with a trip to Larkhill, Chipley Park or Charlton Horethorne adding another trophy to the collection and she loved it.

Her highlight as Rose Loxton the trainer came, without doubt, courtesy of Caid Du Berlais who danced to victory in consecutive Punchestown Champion Hunter chases, although what got her started in the point to point field was her partnership with Paul’s daughter Megan who, in one season, won just about every lady riders’ race across the land.I know Paul and Meg will always be grateful to her for what she did in those early days of Meg’s riding career.

In 2018 when Rose suffered a horror fall off one of her pointers, she broke enough bones to just about stop a normal person dead in their tracks, but it was that fall which ironically made her aware of her illness.
Throughout everything though, every bit of shit she had to go through and at times there has been untold amounts, there was never a moan, never a hint of sympathy demanded, she faced her illness like she did everything, with humour, determination, and a work ethic that very few people could even begin to imagine let alone match.
When she started riding out again it was almost beyond belief that someone could possibly be so tough, but ride out she did and yet more rules about the recovery of someone who had broken most of the bones in their body while battling a life threatening illness were ripped up. Slow down and take things easy? No chance, Rose lived life to the absolute maximum and that it what I most respect her for.

She leaves behind a loving and wonderful family that has been shaped by her and, while it will be hard for them in the coming days and months, they will move forward and keep on going knowing that Rose would not have it any other way.

If you have loved racing over the past 20 years and enjoyed any of Paul’s horses lighting up a winter’s Saturday, then you too have been touched by her as you can bet your bottom dollar whether that horse was winning a Hennessey or Tingle Creek, Rose will have fed him lunch and cared for him over those years.
Rose is a person so ingrained in all of our lives at Ditcheat it will be tough coming to terms with the fact she is gone, her quick wit, good fun, sharp temper and incredible love for horses will no longer be enjoyed by us, the people so lucky to have had her in our lives.

Lucky? Without doubt, but we are grateful too as I am damn sure they do not make too many like Rose anymore.
The last few weeks have been incredibly tough for Rose as the fight became too much for even a mountain of a woman like her to handle, she battled and battled but gut wrenchingly her last chapter is now written and in any time, in any walk of life Rose’s story is a belter.
All men and women die, but not all of them live . . . well Rosie lived.

Rest well dear Rose, my god you deserve it x

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All the staff have been brilliant

With three weeks of lockdown under our belts and another three in front of us I thought it a good time to write another blog to update you all on how we are holding up at Ditcheat.

I think I speak for everyone at the yard really in saying I just feel so fortunate to still be able to come to work everyday and help keep the yard ticking over, everyone I’m sure in every walk of life and job has days that they wake up and think they cannot really be bothered but right now I am very happy to be coming to work. I think one of the few positives that will come out of this horrible situation is we will probably all appreciate the normal days an awful lot more. Popping to the pub for a quick pint after work, a BBQ with your friends or a round of golf all things without doubt I took for granted and when we are out of this I fully intend to appreciate those things a whole lot more.

All of Paul’s staff through this ongoing situation have and continue to be brilliant, adhering to the government guidelines as best they can when at work, carrying out their duties and as soon as that work is done returning home. Clifford last week said it was Team Ditcheat at its best and while I prefer to think of us at our best when we have 20 runners on a busy winter Saturday, I suppose he does have a point. Everyone is pulling together and making sure the horses continue to have the same standard of care they always receive.

Happily, the horses themselves look fantastic. Most of them continue to do a routine two canters up Ditcheat Hill every morning just to keep them calm and not too fresh before they head out to grass the week commencing the 27th. They are all well ‘roughed off’ now wearing no rugs all the time in their stables and eating more hay than you could shake a stick at ensuring they look big and well for when they go out, Paul has always drummed into me if you turn a horse out looking poor they will never do well, work hard to get them in good shape before they head to the fields and they are much more likely to thrive through their ten weeks of turn out.

The horses that are still training on a slightly more intense programme are the large group of un-raced horses we have, mainly four year olds who would not have run this season, but having spent most of this term learning their trade at Will Biddick’s excellent pre-training yard just down the road from Paul. They have now joined what the boss calls ‘big boys school’ and are settling into their lives nicely. This time of the year Paul always puts them through their paces a little more, pushing a few buttons ensuring they are ready for what lies ahead come the autumn. They all experienced a day out at a local point to point track before the lock down for a canter round and I am optimistic this is a smart bunch of horses. In there is a lovely son of Flemensfirth, Kapgarde, Secret Singer, a couple of Sholokov’s, a trio of nice Fame And Glory’s, a Valirann a racey son of Sageburg and a nice Yeats to name but a few and these are the horses I know Paul loves producing. They will contest bumpers next season and the year after go hurdling with the aim that one day they end up smart chasers. That is the dream anyway.

We are due rain today (Friday) which is no bad thing looking ahead to turning the horses out, the fields now chain harrowed, rolled and fertilised will appreciate a drop of rain and with the grass now coming through very well I am optimistic that Paul’s string will have an excellent summer out.

For the horses that are staying in, a team of around 20, they will just tick over until a return date looks more concrete. We have a handful of fair flat performers to have a go with and a slightly bigger handful of jumpers but at the moment the hope in Ditcheat, like it is around the world, is that globally we break the back of this miserable virus and that we can return to some sort of normality and safety.

Take care and of course stay/be and go well.

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