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.
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.