Donn's Articles » Henry de Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead

The work doesn’t stop.  Friday morning, you’re on The Curragh, working horses.  When you’re finished there, you stop in to see a horse in Kildare.  Then you drive to Wicklow to see another horse.  The wheel keeps turning.  The next horse, the next race, the next winner.

But every now and then, as you go about your business these days, you get a flash.  The Gold Cup.  When you are watching a horse work.  The Champion Hurdle.  When you are driving the Wicklow roads.  The Champion Chase.  Before last week, no trainer had ever won the three jewels in the Cheltenham Festival crown in the same week. 

Henry de Bromhead got the night ferry home from Pembroke on Friday night.  He was on his own, but he didn’t mind.  He quite liked it actually.  No phone coverage on the ferry meant that he had a few hours alone with his thoughts.  Me time, he says.  Time to reflect on an extraordinary Cheltenham Festival.  Time to try to get your head around what happened.

He got home to Knockeen in County Waterford on Saturday morning.  Covid restrictions and quarantining meant that he couldn’t go into his yard, only about a hundred yards from his sitting room, but he heard the cheers later on Saturday morning when the horses arrived back from Cheltenham.  Some atmosphere about the place.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” he says.  “Not properly.  I think that it will take a long time.  You dream about these things.  When you start training, you imagine what it would be like to win the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle, but you don’t think that it will happen for you.  Not really.  Then it does.  Then you don’t really know what to do with it.”

And yet, despite himself, despite his natural inclination to pour cold water on optimism’s flames, there had to have been a high level of expectation going into Cheltenham week.  The team that he had assembled.  The quality of the horses.

That doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  It was in 2008 that Sizing Europe travelled like a winner down the hill in the Champion Hurdle, but a back injury meant that he struggled up it.  De Bromhead took Sizing Europe back to Cheltenham in 2010, when he won the Arkle, and in 2011, when he won the Champion Chase, the same year that Sizing Australia won the Cross-Country Chase.

These were the building blocks.  Proof that, when he had the horses, Henry de Bromhead could compete and succeed at the highest level.  He won the Champion Chase with Special Tiara in 2017 and he won the Ryanair Chase with Balko Des Flos in 2018.  Owners took note, Gigginstown House and JP McManus and Chris Jones and Brian Acheson.  Some of the top owners in National Hunt racing.  Kenny Alexander and Barry Maloney and Cheveley Park Stud.  And the horses followed.

“During the lead up to Cheltenham, people were telling me that this was our strongest Cheltenham team ever.  But people were telling me that last year as well and, while we had a great first day last year, we petered out during the rest of the week.”

He had a great first day this year too.  He watched the first race, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, on the big screen in the parade ring, watched Ballyadam finish second and Irascible finish fifth behind Appreciate It.  He watched the second race, the Arkle from the same spot, as Captain Guinness finished third behind Shishkin. 

He legged Rachael Blackmore up on Honeysuckle before the Champion Hurdle, he legged Robbie Power up on Aspire Tower, and he walked out onto the track behind them.  He stood at the final flight with the Irish lads and watched on the big screen in front of him, the spot from which he had watched Balko Des Flos win the Ryanair Chase in 2018.

He watched as Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore moved to the front on the run around the final bend and set sail for home.  He could see Sharjah making ground behind her, but he knew that Honey would stay.  She flew the last and powered up the hill.

“That was unbelievable.  Relief.  Elation.  I think that people were all congratulating me, but I’m not sure.  It’s a bit of a blur to be honest.  It was brilliant though.  Honey was brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on her again.  Unreal.  A Champion Hurdle.”

He stayed at the racecourse after racing on Tuesday.  Stayed with the lads for a few hours, helped out in walking the horses after racing.  There was nothing else to do, no owners with whom to go for dinner.  He got back to his hotel room at half eight on Tuesday evening exhausted, but quietly satisfied: Honeysuckle still unbeaten and a Champion Hurdle in the bag.

Wednesday rolled in and Henry watched from the same spot as Bob Olinger won the Ballymore Hurdle and Put The Kettle On won the Champion Chase.

“That was phenomenal.  You know how highly we regard Bob, so for him to go and win like he did, provide Brian Acheson with his first Cheltenham Festival winner, that was brilliant.  And Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase, she’s so tough, she was so brave.”

Thursday started inauspiciously, with Envoi Allen falling at the fourth fence in the Marsh Chase.

“It was just one of those things, but thankfully he was fine afterwards, as was Jack (Kennedy).  That was the main thing.”

Then, Rachael Blackmore drove Telmesomethinggirl home in the Mares’ Novioces’ Hurdle, followed home by Robbie Power on Magic Daze, providing the trainer with a 1-2 in the race.

 On Thursday evening he told Lydia Hislop on Racing TV that it was probably Monday night, that he was asleep in his hotel room, that he’d wake up soon and it would be Tuesday morning.

But it was real all right, or unreal.  Friday started with Quilixios winning the Triumph Hurdle, and it ended with Minella Indo winning the Gold Cup and A Plus Tard chasing him home.

“I was watching both of them, and I was watching Al Boum Photo.  I thought that he was going to come and beat the two of them.  Then they jumped the last and started up the hill.  I can’t describe that feeling.  The Gold Cup.  The whole week.  For everyone here.  The whole team.  Everyone works so hard.  And for the owners, the faith that they have put in us.  Incredible.”

Still sinking in.

© The Sunday Times, 28th March 2021