Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 29 April 2017

De Bromhead's strength in depth

Trainer Henry de Bromhead with his Gold Cup hopeful Champagne West. Photo: Matt Browne
Trainer Henry de Bromhead with his Gold Cup hopeful Champagne West. Photo: Matt Browne

Marcus Armytage

Henry de Bromhead stood in his large, airy indoor school at Knockeen, his yard on a hill overlooking Waterford, early last week. The first horse in for the loose-schooling session was Gold Cup hope Champagne West.

Loose schooling means that the horse is set free and canters round the inside of the large barn taking in a chase fence down one wall and a hurdle down the other. There is no lane or rail as such and nothing to guide him except the trainer and a couple of his lads in the middle to stop him cutting the corners. If he wanted to duck out at an obstacle he could.

It brings out traits in the horses' characters and demonstrates their different styles of jumping - how they would like to do it without any interference from a jockey. Champagne West, the Thyestes Chase winner, knows what it is all about and as soon as his head-collar comes off he is flying round, looking for the next obstacle.

His preferred method is to get close to the take-off boards, nothing too extravagant. He is cautious. Some Plan, the yard's Arkle hope, is lower and faster and flicks through the birch as a two miler should.

The novice chaser Marinero is exuberant but as soon as All Hell Let Loose is set free he gets down and rolls in the deep Wexford sand, a surface now so ubiquitous in racing establishments both sides of the Irish Sea that De Bromhead drily wonders if there is a grain of it left in Wexford.

Champagne West has had his jumping problems in the past but this, it seems, has filled him with confidence. "And we all need a bit of that," explained the trainer.

Few places were hit harder by Ireland's economic crash in 2009 than Waterford. Eight years on, the old harbour city is still trying to find its feet after 3,000 jobs were lost following the bankruptcy of Waterford Crystal, which in its glory days sponsored the Champion Hurdle.

It is possible, however, that through Petit Mouchoir, the Champion Hurdle will return to Waterford on Tuesday week. For against the backdrop of decline, De Bromhead (45) has established himself as one of Ireland's top three trainers.

The forward-thinking trainer, whose first runner won the first race of the new millennium - Tramore was the only course in Europe to race on Jan 1, 2000 - has developed the family home at Knockeen into one of Ireland's foremost training establishments, with 60 'en suite' stables, each with a French window on to its own turn-out area .

The trainer's name may sound no more Irish than Petit Mouchoir's but, via England, the family arrived in the area at the turn of the last century, marrying into a local drinks business - Henry Downes No 9 whiskey is still blended in the family pub run by De Bromhead's cousin.

Relations have popped up at occasional high points in history. One was secretary to Marie-Antoinette but was guillotined with the boss, while Gonville Bromhead VC was played by Michael Caine in Zulu. More pertinent, perhaps, to the present-day operation, Henry's father Harry, who never had more than 10 horses, won the 1993 Pertemps Final with Fissure Seal.

"It was my first visit to the Festival," recalled De Bromhead, "and someone told me that a good system in handicaps was to start at the bottom and work upwards until you came to the first horse which had been placed in its last four starts. That was Fissure Seal, so I had a good bet on him too." Last summer, however, De Bromhead was one of the net beneficiaries of the merry-go-round of some of jump racing's biggest owners; Alan Potts, through whose patronage De Bromhead established himself, left, taking Gold Cup runner Sizing John with him. But Gigginstown filled the boxes. "It's a shame to have lost a few," he said, "but look what we've gained."

De Bromhead, already an Arkle and Champion Chase winner with Sizing Europe, may have a more modest team than Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott but his dozen include a runner in each of the Festival's holy trinity, and as well as Petit Mouchoir and Champagne West he has the Special Tiara in the Champion Chase.

He will also field three - Some Plan, Three Stars and Ordinary World - against Altior in the Arkle. "He's going to be hard to beat," he said. "But I hate going out running for second . You run to win and that's it." In the 2008 Champion Hurdle Sizing Europe was cantering three out, but at the second last he stopped as if he had been shot.

"I'm not sure I have unfinished business with the race," said De Bromhead . "Even without the history I'd love to win it."

De Bromhead may have more strength and depth to his raiding party this year but he is counting no chickens. Experience has taught him that you need everything to go right. "It's easy to enter them. It's a bit harder when you get there."Telegraph

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