De Bromhead savours the calm before the storm
Trainer hoping Sizing Europe and Australia will have the last word, writes Ian McClean
Henry de Bromhead is the very model of a modern racehorse trainer. Not only does he have a Facebook page, he is probably the only trainer to have an owners' syndicate formed from visitors to his Facebook page.
The Social Network Syndicate may or may not include Mark Zuckerberg, but long before thoughts of Zuckerberg, Facebook or even the internet were born, the greatest manifestation of a social network on the racing calendar resided in one place only -- Cheltenham. Since, like, forever.
Henry de Bromhead's first memory of the Festival goes back a long way. "I remember Ultimato finishing fifth and Jim (the box driver) coming home and saying in another 100 yards he'd have won."
Henry took over from his father at the home place at Knockeen in Waterford and the jeep patrols us around the open swathes of heath marked by gallops of sand, grass and woodchip, amidst the houses where the family still lives.
Henry recalls his father's first Festival winner. "In 1993, when I was working at Derrinstown, I went over for the first time and we won what is now the Pertemps with Fissure Seal. Charlie (Swan) rode him and was leading champion jockey that year with five winners."
Most people can recall Montelado, but Henry can list all five -- proof, if needed, that first impressions last.
De Bromhead Jnr took over from de Bromhead Snr in 2000. "When you start training you dream about just having a runner.
"But as a National Hunt trainer all you really want is a winner at the Festival," Henry reflects, before adding: "Having worked in various places, like Robert Alner's, it's amazing how hard it is to have a winner there."
JD Rockefeller once said there were three things required to be successful in life: go to bed early; get up early; and strike oil.
It sums up the lot of a racehorse trainer, and de Bromhead's oil strike came in the dual shape of owner Alan Potts and Sizing Europe. Nowadays the Sizing prefix is silent round Knockeen and the yard's galloping flagship is reverently referred to simply as the single continent -- Europe. While success in the Arkle and Champion Chase in the last two seasons has been sweet, it is balanced by the lingering bitterness that attended Europe's 2008 defeat in the Champion Hurdle.
"Europe came along and won the Greatwood in 2007. Then we won the AIG and from there all roads led to Cheltenham. I can remember after jumping the third last everyone whispering 'Look at Sizing Europe. Look at Sizing Europe.' And then bang -- he was gone."
When pressed, Henry distances himself from recalling the exact feelings associated with watching almost certain victory helplessly succumb to withering defeat in what is unquestionably an unconscious mechanism of self-protection -- only offering the executive summary, "So that was pretty depressing."
The mystery demise transpired to be a sacroiliac injury that afflicted the horse in a freak spasm, never having occurred before or since.
Inexplicable, with echoes of Devon Loch. One of the features of Sizing Europe's chase career has been the vacillation in distance and while he has been gallant in defeat, he has yet to register a win at three miles. The flirtation with the staying distance came to a definitive end at Down Royal in the North before Christmas.
"When Alan [Potts] saw how gutsy he was and what a hard race he got [at Down Royal] he just said, 'Enough. No more.' Not on soft or heavy ground.'
"The only reason you want to go three [miles] is to win a Gold Cup. But it's not three, it's three and a quarter and it finishes up a bloody hill."
In contrast to last year's build-up to the Queen Mother, Sizing Europe has had three victories this season -- as opposed to three defeats last campaign. The campaign reflects the odds, last year he was 10/1, this year 10/11.
But the trainer doesn't equate it the same way "I give him the same chance this year as last year. It's just his price isn't the same. Last year was such a mixed-up season. I think if he'd gone the same route last year as he has this year he'd have done something pretty similar. It was just astounding last year (in the Queen Mother) seeing two or three horses he'd beaten the previous year over course and distance ahead of him in the betting. This year he may be even-money favourite but I don't see it as much different to last year."
Media attention has been magnified this year, but his own pressure last year was internal.
"I was under as much pressure last year because I wanted him to prove how good he was."
The trainer concedes he was more media-shy in the past. "I wasn't so keen on it all after the Champion Hurdle and it's been nice under the radar the last couple of years.
It's also nice to have gone and done it. I really didn't want the horse to be all over the papers until he'd gone and achieved what we hoped he could achieve. Now I see the attention as recognition. It'd be worse these days if no one was looking for you."
De Bromhead is unique in that his entire Cheltenham team -- both of them -- are defending titles. As well as Europe, the trainer travels Australia for the Cross Country.
"He loves the course and he knocked six seconds off the record last year. It's the type of race where horses often repeat a good run."
The trainer could easily have more runners, Bertie's Dream and Darwins Fox to name just two, but he is nothing if not a realist.
"We could have half a dozen runners but I just don't see the point unless you have a realistic chance. We have a favourite for the Champion Chase and third favourite for the Cross Country so we're just very lucky really."
After the madness of the build-up, de Bromhead loves the solitude and tranquillity of the trip over in the horse-box which leaves today. "I love the trip over. I sit in the back of the lorry and it's all very relaxing."
Until Tuesday that is, when the madness starts all over again.
Sunday Indo Sport