Donn's Articles » Henry de Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead tugs on Petit Mouchoir’s ear, the horse’s grey head bowed low, relaxed, at ease.  More like a domestic pet now than the powerball that galloped his rivals into submission in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown the last time you saw him.

“He looked to be going well in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle when he came down,” the trainer says. “Obviously we have no idea how it would have unfolded.  But at Leopardstown last time, he was so good there.  He was awesome.”

Common consensus is that Petit Mouchoir would have won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle had he not come down at the third last flight.  He was travelling so well.  It was gutting.  Thankfully, the horse got up, dusted himself down, and his trainer had him bursting with wellbeing again when he lined up for the Ryanair Hurdle on the last day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival last month.

He was a little keen in behind Nichols Canyon in the early stages of the Leopardstown race, so Bryan Cooper allowed him stride on after they had jumped the first flight.  He coasted in front, he travelled with ease and his jumping was fluent and efficient. 

Then after they jumped the second last flight and started to round the home turn, his rider got lower in the saddle and gave him a squeeze.  Petit Mouchoir changed gear and, in a hoofbeat, the race was over.  He came home seven lengths clear of the top-class Nichols Canyon and clocked a fast time.

“I got slagged for saying that he was awesome at Leopardstown,” says de Bromhead.  “But he was.  He was really good.  He just galloped away from them.”

As he did, he galloped himself into the Champion Hurdle picture.  Today’s BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown was always the obvious next step, it was always his next target.  And if he has to face Faugheen, he has to face Faugheen.

“He wouldn’t blow you away with his work at home.  He’s just one of those horses who turns it on on the track.  In a funny way, he reminds me of Sizing Europe.  I’m not saying he’ll be as good as Europe or anything like that, but in the sense that he is a real galloping horse.  And those guys really turn it on on the track.”


Strange the way life works out sometimes.  It was last August that the news broke that owners Ann and Alan Potts would be moving all their horses away from Henry de Bromhead. 

It was the end of an era, 11 years after Alan Potts had decided to take a chance on the young trainer from Waterford and together they had traversed the country and bought 14 horses.

There had been trying times, like the 2008 Champion Hurdle, when Sizing Europe travelled like a winner down to the second last flight before he suffered that sacroiliac injury and he laboured home.  But the good times out-weighed the bad by stones.  Sizing Europe’s Arkle, Sizing Australia’s Cross-Country Chase, Sizing Europe’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, Shanahan’s Turn’s Galway Plate, Sizing Europe’s Punchestown Champion Chases, Sizing Granite’s Maghull Chase, Sizing Europe’s Tingle Creek Chase.

It was difficult to think of Henry de Bromhead without thinking of the Potts green and yellow colours.  It looked like a hammer-blow to the trainer when the owner decided to move all his horses.

But the darkest hour is just before the dawn.  Within days of the departure of the Potts horses, Gigginstown House Stud’s Eddie O’Leary said publicly that Gigginstown would be increasing the number of horses that they had with de Bromhead, pointing out his qualities as a trainer, how highly they rated him.  If de Bromhead was suffering from a lack of confidence after losing his main owner, it was just the fillip that he needed.

Then the tectonic plates of Irish racing moved again.  At the end of September, 60 Gigginstown House horses were leaving champion trainer Willie Mullins and seeking new homes.  Valseur Lido arrived at Knockeen.  Petit Mouchoir arrived.  Balko Des Flos arrived.  Put the new Gigginstown horses along with the team that de Bromhead already had, and the net result is that he now has the strongest team of horses that he has ever assembled 

And the results reflect it.  Valseur Lido won the Grade 1 Champion Chase at Down Royal and Sub Lieutenant won the Grade 2 Belfast Chase on the same day.  Identity Thief won the Craddockstown Chase at Punchestown in November.

“We were very worried when Identity Thief pulled up at Leopardstown last time,” says de Bromhead.  “We feared the worst.  But he’s fine now.  He has worked well since and he schooled well during the week, so we are hoping that he can get back on track on Sunday.”

Special Tiara won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton at Christmas, two days before Petit Mouchoir danced away with the Ryanair Chase.  Then last Thursday, de Bromhead won the Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park with Champagne West, exactly a quarter of a century after his dad Harry won it with Grand Habit.  Special day.  Special season.

“We’re very lucky to have such a strong team now.”

Already the trainer has had more winners and amassed more prize money for his owners than he has in any other season before, and we have not left January behind yet.  All the talk is of the battle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott for the trainers’ championship, but de Bromhead is third behind them, hunting them up, clear of the rest.

“It was desperate to lose Valseur Lido for the season, but hopefully he will be back next season.  And we have some high-class horses to be getting on with in the meantime.  All going well, we have lots to look forward to for the rest of the season.”

The rest of the season starts at Leopardstown today.


© The Sunday Times, 29th January 2017