Donn's Articles » Henry De Bromhead

Henry De Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead had never even heard of Alan Potts until one evening in December 2004 when the phone rang, and the Yorkshire accent on the other end of the line told him that he wanted to buy his point-to-pointer, Oscar India.

Things were quiet enough for de Bromhead at the time. A small yard with no more than 20 horses, he had had just four winners on the track that season, The Spoonplayer the flagbearer. But Oscar India had won a winners’ point-to-point at Lingstown, and the timing was opportune. Between the time of the phone call and the time that Alan Potts actually arrived at de Bromhead’s yard in Knockeen, County Waterford, however, Oscar India developed a bit of heat in a leg. It wasn’t anything major, but the trainer wasn’t willing to take a chance.

“I can’t sell you that horse,” the trainer told the prospective owner when he arrived at the yard. “But I have two others that you might have a look at.”

Potts looked at the two horses, a son of Oscar and a son of Dr Massini, and bought them both. The intention, de Bromhead thought, was to bring both horses back to the UK and put them in training with Sue Smith, with whom Potts had other horses. But one of the horses wasn’t fully broken and, as a gesture of goodwill, Henry said that he would break it before sending it over. Perhaps he would be able to source young horses for Alan Potts in the future. Potts thought differently, however. He told de Bromhead that he would leave the two horses with him.

Before Cheltenham the following March, disaster struck. The Oscar gelding had died of colic after a second surgery and the Dr Massini gelding, who had been working like he would win a four-year-old bumper with his head in his chest, fractured his knee. It was a bitter blow, an opportunity spurned. Potts invited de Bromhead and his wife over to Cheltenham. They sat down for a drink on the evening that they arrived.

“I’ll tell you what,” was Potts’s opening gambit. “If you mess up any more of my horses, you won’t be getting any more!”

De Bromhead put it down to experience. He had tried, but it hadn’t worked out. Events had conspired against him, horses being the fragile creatures that they are, and he had lost a good owner. But Potts had not lost faith. Just before the Irish National, he phoned the trainer to tell him that he was coming over, and that he’d love to go looking at horses instead of go to the races. They started off at John Bleahen’s on Easter Monday morning and ended up at the Costellos on Tuesday afternoon. In that time, between leaving from the K Club on Monday and sitting down to have dinner with the Costellos in Dromoland Castle on Tuesday evening, they had bought 14 horses. The trainer couldn’t believe it. He was used to putting a group of lads together to buy one horse, yet here he was with 14 horses in 24 hours. Sizing Europe, a half-brother to The Spoonplayer, was one of those 14.


Henry de Bromhead plays down the quality of the facilities that you see in front of you. Words like bog-standard and meagre trip easily off his tongue, but the guided tour in the front of the Land Rover tell you that his presentation does them a dis-service. A two-furlong round sand gallop, a five-furlong woodchip gallop up a hill for which most trainers would gladly trade their eye teeth, an equine spa, four schooling fences, three schooling hurdles and more land than you can shake a stick at. Meagre this isn’t.

“Dad was essentially a farmer who trained a few horses,” says the trainer candidly. “I had no interest in the farming end of it, but I loved the horses. He trained Bishops Hall to win the John P Harty Memorial Chase at Punchestown and to run in three Grand Nationals, and he trained Fissure Seal to win the Gold Card Final at the Cheltenham Festival in 1993. That was some day.”

Young Henry began his near-adult life at college, trying to be an accountant, which is where the similarities between him and Jim Bolger end, he assures you. His father was anxious that he would have a qualification behind him before he began to make his way in the horse world in all its precariousness. Alas, he lasted long enough only to figure out that accounting wasn’t for him, and he left to take on a job with Coolmore Stud. He worked with Derrinstown Stud, Robert Alner, and Ron Shaw, all the while gaining in experience, before moving back to the UK to take on a job with Mark Prescott.

“Dad had bought Mandalus from Mark Prescott as a stallion years before,” he says, “but I don’t know if he even knew that I was Dad’s son in the beginning. There was an ad in the Racing Post looking for somebody, I was one of about 80 applications, and luckily enough I got the job. He was fascinating, a brilliant man to work for. He worked you to the bone, but you learned an awful lot.”

A spell at Tattersalls in Newmarket lasted about three months. It just wasn’t for him. He left and joined Coolmore again, full circle.

“That was brilliant,” says de Bromhead. “I was doing what was required in the office, selling stallion nominations, going with Demi O’Byrne to look at yearlings, selling horses out of Ballydoyle, I went to Australia and sold nominations down there for six months, went to Lexington. It was a phenomenal job, but I just had this thing in me that I wanted to train horses. I don’t know, I couldn’t shake it out of me, sadly. I tried, but I just couldn’t.”

His father had a minor stroke in 1999, and Henry decided that he would go home and give the training thing a go. It was time. Before he left Coolmore, John Magnier told him that he was sorry to see him go, but wished him well. On January 1st 2000, after the brand new trainer’s first runner had won, he received a fax from Barbados: ‘Congratulations on your first winner. Hope it’s the first of many. John and Sue Magnier.’

Ask de Bromhead to name the best horse that he has ever trained, and he has no doubt. He has always loved Sizing Europe – favourite for this afternoon’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham – since the first time that he saw him down at John Bleahen’s. Of course it helped that he was a half-brother to The Spoonplayer, but this fellow has always looked a bit special.

“He’s very arrogant,” he laughs. “He needs a lot of TLC, but he deserves it. He has a very high opinion of himself. If he’s half as good as he thinks he is, he’ll be a champion!”

Things looked grim at Punchestown a month ago. Sizing Europe had just taken it up from Aitmatov in a two-and-a-quarter-mile listed hurdle on the approach to the second last flight when he stepped at the obstacle and came down. Henry was gutted. We will never know for sure how it would have panned out. Noel Meade said afterwards that his horse would probably have won anyway, Ruby Walsh on Sizing Europe said that he would have won. But what is certain is that, had Sizing Europe been beaten, it wouldn’t have been by much.

“Not only did he fall on his shoulder,” says Henry, “but then Salford City galloped right over him. And the ground is lively enough these days so he got a right thumping. When he pulled up, he was hanging his leg, so I thought he was in trouble. But I’d say it was like if you got a dead arm or a dead leg. He came back sore, we gave him some anti-inflammatories, and he was a lot better the next day. We did a lot of cold hosing, gave him a lot of Arnaca. Within three days he was moving perfectly, but he still didn’t have full flexing on his shoulder for about 10 days. We’ve done loads of schooling, and he seems to be in great form now.”

Typically, de Bromhead assumes most of the blame for the fall. They had been toying with the idea of going chasing with him this term, and had schooled him over fences a little, with the result that he thought the horse jumped a little big in the early stages. It didn’t help his confidence over his hurdles. All his schooling since has been over the smaller obstacles, and he is zinging.

“The Greatwood Hurdle has been on my mind for him all summer,” says the trainer. “I just think he might be on a lenient handicap mark, and I’m seeking to exploit it. Bar the fall, I thought that I was progressing into handicap company without an issue, and use that as a stepping stone, go back to taking on the good horses off level weights. I’m anxious. I worry about everything. It’s not ideal going into a good handicap on the back of a fall, but I’m very hopeful.”

Try to get the trainer to think further ahead than this afternoon, and you struggle. Eventually, you get him to concede that, with normal luck, Sizing Europe could be dining at the top table this season.

© Sunday Times, 18th November 2007