Donn's Articles » Henry de Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead

It was in 2010 that Henry de Bromhead took Sizing Europe to Kempton for the King George VI Chase, gave up his Christmas Day at home with wife Heather and his two-year-old twins, spent the time travelling with his horse.

He could have let the horse travel ahead of him, trusted that he would have been okay with his lad and his physio, had Christmas dinner at home with his family and flown over the following morning, but that would not have been his way. It was a tough decision, but de Bromhead had travelled every journey with Europe since the beginning, breathed every breath with him, kicked every ball with him, and if Europe was going to Kempton, his trainer was going with him.

Then it snowed and the race was postponed.

At least this year, Christmas will be spent at home.

It has been a good year for the Waterford trainer. There were reverses, like Special Tiara’s defeat in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown two weeks ago, when he was hampered at the final fence by the winner Sire De Grugy just when it looked like he was coming to win his race. The stewards did not reverse the placings on the day and, after much deliberation, de Bromhead and owner Sally Rowley-Williams decided against an appeal. You have to choose your battles, and they just didn’t think they would win it on appeal.

There have been many high points in 2015 mind you. There was Shanahan’s Turn’s win in the Galway Plate for starters. It is difficult to think Galway Plate these days, immersed as we are in depths of the National Hunt season, but that day in July was a massive day for Henry. His dad Harry had gone close to winning the Plate with Bishops Hall, beaten an agonising length and a half by Life Of A Lord in 1996, so it was great to win it. It’s such a big race. And it was a bonus that he fielded the third horse home as well in Sadler’s Risk.

The spring was good, Sizing Granite won the Grade 1 Maghull Chase at Aintree and Special Tiara won the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown, and this season has kicked off nicely. Sadler’s Risk won the Munster National, Sizing John is morphing into the steeplechaser that his trainer thought that he could become with two wins out of two attempts, and Three Stars surprised him a little with his win in the For Auction Hurdle. And then there was Identity Thief.

“We had always liked Identity Thief,” says de Bromhead. “He won his bumper and his maiden hurdle last season on his first two runs, but then I lost my way a little with him. He wasn’t right after the Deloitte.”

Pulled up in the Deloitte Hurdle last February, his trainer took things slowly with the Gigginstown House horse, allowed him the time to recover, watched Cheltenham drift past. Identity Thief returned at Fairyhouse in April, and he ran a cracker to finish second to Sempre Medici.

“He has matured this year,” says Henry. “We were delighted with him at Down Royal. Then things didn’t work out for the Morgiana Hurdle. He just gave a couple of coughs when we went to put the saddle on him. It turned out to be nothing, but we couldn’t take a chance.”

You don’t take a chance with a horse with Identity Thief’s potential. Not when there are other races, not when there are other days. This is a long-term project.

The Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle two weeks later was owner Michael O’Leary’s suggestion. There were no expectations. It was just a case of finding out where they stood.

“I would always be more pessimistic than optimistic,” says the trainer. “Realistic maybe. So I didn’t really have any expectations going to Newcastle. I was looking forward to seeing how he would do though. It was a case of seeing where we stood rather than going there expecting anything.”

They know where they stand now: they stand tall. It didn’t look great when Identity Thief was passed by Top Notch going down the back straight after leading, but the Kayf Tara gelding was back travelling well for Bryan Cooper at the top of the home straight. He looked the likely winner on the run to the final flight, but a mistake there appeared to end his challenge. However, Cooper got him back going again on the run-in, and he caught Top Notch 100 yards out, before going on to win by a neck.

“It was a very clever ride by Bryan,” says Henry. “They hit a bit of softer ground down the back straight, and Bryan said that he didn’t travel that well on it, so he allowed the other horse past. I still thought that we had a chance when he made that mistake at the last, he was travelling so well before it, I still thought that we had time to catch him, it is a fair pull up from the final flight to the winning line. It was great that he got there, it’s great to win any Grade 1 race.”

You have to treat Identity Thief like a Champion Hurdle contender now. That’s the rule. You win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, you go down the Champion Hurdle route. You train him like that for sure, all County Hurdle thoughts in ribbons around you. Maybe an each-way chance, Henry is saying. That’s realism for you.

Identity Thief will run in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, see if he can win some of his owner’s prize money back. After that, they’ll have an even better idea of where they stand.

It will be a busy Christmas for de Bromhead and his team. No trips across the water this year, but lots to be doing at home. Sizing John, one of the most exciting two-mile novice chasers in training, will run in the Racing Post Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day.

“We’re really pleased with him. He was always a chaser in the making, and we were very happy with his first two runs over fences. The Racing Post Chase is shaping up to be a very hot race, but he deserves to take his chance in it. I’d prefer if we didn’t have all this rain though. The better the ground, the better he will be.”

Sizing Granite will go in the Paddy Power iPhone App Chase, Three Stars will go in the Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle and Sizing Gold will line up in the Paddy Power Chase.

“We were happy with Sizing Gold’s comeback run at Punchestown,” says de Bromhead, “and he should come on for that. It was nice to get him back on the track after such a long time off. His stamina isn’t assured, but I liked the way that he galloped to the line at Punchestown. He has a chance, but it’s a very difficult race to win.”

There’s that realism for you again.

© The Sunday Times, 20th December 2015