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Henry de Bromhead

Rewind two years, this day 2007, Greatwood Hurdle day, almost certainly Cheltenham’s wettest and coldest racing day since records began. Henry de Bromhead looks like he has just had a shower with his clothes on, but he doesn’t care. He watches intently as Sizing Europe travels well just behind the leaders on the far side under Timmy Murphy. He holds his breath as his horse joins Osana between the last two flights and he exhales a mixture of joy and relief as he comes clear on the run-in.

Fast-forward four months, Champion Hurdle day 2008, same place, same horse, de Bromhead watches on the big screen from the little pocket in the parade ring as the Alan Potts-owned gelding again travels well just behind the leaders, this time under Andrew McNamara. They jump the third last and his horse is the only one still on the bridle. He can’t help overhearing the people around him, “Look at Sizing Europe,” they are saying, “Look how well he is travelling.” De Bromhead doesn’t think about winning the Champion Hurdle, he doesn’t dare, he just continues to watch the big screen in front of him, transfixed.

They jump the second last, and suddenly Europe isn’t travelling so well, he isn’t going forward with the same momentum. McNamara is getting lower in the saddle, but there is no forward movement. The other horses are beginning to get away from him and he starts to slow, powering down. McNamara eases off, something’s wrong, he’s a beaten horse. Euphoria to disaster in a couple of strides. For a several minutes, de Bromhead doesn’t know what to do. He stands there numb, powerless. Davy Russell comes back in on Farmer Brown and says that he had better get out to his horse.

Later that evening, Denis O’Regan, who rode Bobs Pride in the race, tells Henry that he noticed that Sizing Europe wasn’t putting his hind leg down properly after the second last. It isn’t until the next day, however, when the horse has cooled down and they can get the Cheltenham racecourse vet to have a look at him, give him a little jog, check him over, that the problem is identified – his sacroiliac, the joint between his spine and his pelvis. It’s a difficult problem to diagnose and a difficult one to treat, but the vet has it diagnosed straight away, so treatment can begin immediately. That’s crucial.

Fast-forward another 20 months, November 2009, and de Bromhead is circumspect about the whole affair.

“It was a major blow on the day,” says the trainer now. “It was tough all right. But there you go. I don’t want to say that’s racing, but these things happen. You just have to deal with it. You know what the key with him was? To get him back. The sacroiliac, most horses don’t recover from it at all, it was very important to get him back.”

It’s Henry de Bromhead all over. Pragmatic as a reality byte. The difference between training the winner of the Champion Hurdle and not training the winner of the Champion Hurdle for a young trainer who was in the process of making a name for himself was as wide as a chasm. It didn’t happen, that’s the way it goes sometimes, move on and look to the future. It is the next chapter that interests him, not the last one.

It has always been so for de Bromhead. His father Harry, who trained Fissure Seal to win the Gold Card Final at the 1993 Cheltenham Festival, thought that young Henry should have a qualification behind him before he went into the horse business, but he studied accountancy just long enough for him to realise that it wasn’t for him. He worked in many different areas within racing and bloodstock, he has worked with Coolmore Stud, with Derrinstown Stud and with Tattersalls, he has ridden out for Robert Alner and he has worked as assistant trainer to Sir Mark Prescott. Put all of that together, along with hugely supportive owners and hard-working loyal staff, and you get a man who is well equipped to cope with most of the quandaries that he will face as a racehorse trainer.

Last season was a frustrating one for Sizing Europe and all those who sailed with him. Niggly little problems meant that he only got to run twice before Cheltenham. Even so, he went to the 2009 Champion Hurdle with a real chance of winning it, setting the record straight. De Bromhead was delighted with him in the lead up to the race, everything was right, he expected him to run a big race. The trainer travelled over with him in the lorry, just to make sure that he would be on hand should anything go wrong.

The day before the Champion Hurdle, things looked good. De Bromhead took him out for a walk on the track, and he felt great. They had brought a travelling companion with him, and the trainer thought how much better than him Europe had travelled. He took his temperature, checked everything, all was fine. He ate and drank his fill.

That evening, the horse didn’t drink as much, but the trainer wasn’t overly concerned. The next morning, Champion Hurdle morning, same story, he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. Now it was time to get worried. The vet checked him over and said he was suffering from transit fever, travel sickness. Amazing. They had never heard of it before. Sizing Europe had travelled to the UK three times previously and had been as healthy as a crow each time. Of course he couldn’t run in the 2009 Champion Hurdle. In fact, he was so sick that the vets wouldn’t let him travel home until the following Saturday.

The season was salvaged somewhat at Punchestown in May. Sizing Europe ran a cracker to finish fourth behind Solwhit in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle. It was some recovery. He had a high temperature in the middle of March and he was able to come back and run out of his skin just six weeks later. It was time to go steeplechasing then. They had put it off long enough. He had done so well to get back, he was still so fresh and the ground was so good that de Bromhead decided to allow him make his debut over fences later in May at Punchestown before letting him off for his summer break. He was good, he jumped really well and won doing handsprings. Denis O’Regan got off him and said that he was one of the most natural jumpers of a fence that he had ever ridden. Then, on his debut this season back at Punchestown last month under Andrew Lynch, he was even better.

“We always felt that he was going to be a better chaser than a hurdler,” says de Bromhead. “We were going to go chasing with him two years ago, he has always schooled well over fences, but then he won the Greatwood Hurdle and we decided that we’d have to have a go at the Champion Hurdle. Last season, I suppose we just felt that there was unfinished business over hurdles, but hurdles have gone out of my mind with him now. We’re just really enjoying jumping fences with him.”

Things could hardly be going better for Henry de Bromhead. Some 35 horses riding out, probably the most exciting novice chaser in the country under his care, and 13 winners in Ireland in the bag so far this season, already more than he has ever had before in a full season. As if that wasn’t enough, he brought Loosen My Load over to Cheltenham on Friday for the Grade 2 novices’ hurdle, and won it.

“It’s going well all right,” he says. “I’m lucky to have such great staff and to have some really good owners, including Alan and Ann Potts. As well as being a great owner, Alan is like a mentor to me. You wouldn’t get anything easily from him, but he’s very loyal, very supportive, and he has given me the confidence to get on with things here.”

The next chapter unfolds at Punchestown this afternoon. Read on.

© The Sunday Times, 15th November 2009