Donn's Articles » Cheltenham 2010

Cheltenham 2010

Henry de Bromhead travelled over to Cheltenham last Saturday, followed the horsebox that carried Sizing Europe and Sizing Australia and Changing Course in his car, nothing left to chance.  Sizing Europe likes to travel with a horse on either side of him, he doesn’t rock when he has a horse on either side, it minimises the chance that he will suffer from travel sickness, like he did the last time he went over, so he was carefully placed in the middle with his stable companions on either side.  You are all the while learning in this game.

De Bromhead felt under pressure, no question.  He felt under pressure for the horse, anxious that he would run up to his ability.  Win or lose, he thought, if the horse performed as well as he knew he could, he would be happy.  By Tuesday morning, the anxiety seemed to lift.  A friend told him that he had never seen him so relaxed before a big race.  Nothing more could be done.

He talked to rider Andrew Lynch before the race.  Andrew told him where he thought the pace would be, what horses he would track, when he would move.  Henry talked about the second last fence, be sure to be in your position before the second last fence and be sure that you get to the landing side upright.

Lynch walked the track on Monday evening and he walked it again on Tuesday morning with Timmy Murphy.  When they got to the second last, they stopped and had a look at how the ground slopes into the fence, then levels off on the landing side.  It’s a tricky fence at a crucial stage in the race, and it can catch novices out.  Don’t be afraid to lose a length at the second last fence, Murphy told Lynch.  If you are travelling, you should be able to make up the length, if you are not, you won’t be involved in the finish anyway.  The last thing you want to do is end up on the deck.  You won’t win anything if you end up on the deck.

De Bromhead has had to abandon his lucky viewing spot in the parade ring at Cheltenham since the 2008 Champion Hurdle, when Sizing Europe travelled like the most likely winner down the hill, then stopped as if shot on the home turn, pulled muscles in his back subsequently diagnosed as the culprit.  He won’t tell you where his new lucky spot is, however.  He wants to hold on to this one.  This one works.

“He travelled brilliantly,” the trainer recalls.  “He winged the fourth last, winged the third last, popped the second last, then winged the last.  It crossed my mind, just at the bottom of the hill, at the spot at which he stopped in the Champion Hurdle, and it was just, Jesus Christ, but it was only for a split second.  He travelled so well.  Unusually for me, I was absolutely silent, I just didn’t say a word, I just let out a yahoo when he crossed the line, when I knew he had won.  It was quite incredible.  I don’t think it has sunk in yet.”


Colm Murphy was a little disappointed on Tuesday evening.  His mare Voler La Vedette had run well in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, the last race on the day, but she had finished only third behind the Willie Mullins-trained mare Quevega.  She just didn’t settle in the early stages of the race.  Indeed, considering how free she was, he thinks, she should have been tailed off.  Even so, on Tuesday morning he thought that she was his best chance of a winner for the week, and there he was on Tuesday evening, cupboard bare.

He had just one more runner at Cheltenham during the week, Big Zeb in the Champion Chase on Wednesday.  Murphy doesn’t believe in bringing horses to Cheltenham, or even to the UK, if he doesn’t think they have a real chance of winning.  He doesn’t really do ‘social’ runners.  Look at the horses he has brought to the UK in the past: Brave Inca, Zaarito, Big Zeb, Clew Bay Cove, Feathard Lady – not many tourists in there.

He was up early on Wednesday morning, up to take Big Zeb out for a morning stretch, and the horse nearly ran away with him.  It was the first time in ages that he had done that.  They had him over on Sunday, and they didn’t do a whole lot with him between Sunday and Wednesday so that he would be fresh for Wednesday’s race.  When he is fresh he travels, and when he travels he jumps.

“He was bursting out through the bridle on Wednesday morning,” says Murphy.  “He was just so well in himself.  He can get a little bit wired, we usually have to put ear plugs in his ears, but we didn’t need them this time, he was just fresh and well and mad for it.”

As race time approached, he went to the weigh room to get the saddle from Barry Geraghty.  They didn’t discuss tactics, they didn’t need to.  The trainer was happy that the rider knew the horse well, and he was happy to leave all tactics up to him.  That’s why you employ good jockeys, that’s why Murphy was happy to wait on Geraghty even though there was a chance that he was going to be claimed by Nicky Henderson to ride Petit Robin in the race.  There is no point in having a dog and barking yourself.

Murphy’s most anxious time in the near-four minutes that it took to run the race was watching Big Zeb over the first two fences.  He was very free over them, he charged at them, he didn’t gallop down to them, and it could have all ended in disaster.  Once he was over those two fences, and once he settled into a rhythm, Murphy knew they were in business.

“Travelling down the hill, he was going so well, the only big problem was the fences,” says Murphy.  “It’s always in the back of your mind, especially going over the fourth last, the fence at which he fell last year, but I couldn’t believe he was travelling so well going down the hill.  I saw that Master Minded in trouble and AP was asking Forpadydeplasterer to pick up.  It was some feeling when he won it.”

It is four years since Murphy trained Brave Inca to land the Champion Hurdle.  For the trainer, it seems like a lifetime.  The pressure now or then was nothing like the pressure that he felt before Brave Inca’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.  That was his first, accompanied with the fear that, if he didn’t win it, the whisperers would speak of what might have been if he had been trained by Willie Mullins or Noel Meade.  He need not have had any such fears.

“You hope that you will get one top class horse in your lifetime,” he says, “but to have two so close together is just incredible.”

There were celebrations on Wednesday night but, with no more runners for the week, Murphy was back at home on Thursday evening for his dinner.  Some week

© The Sunday Times, 21st March 2010