To say Harry Derham has had a new year to remember would be an understatement. Over the past two weeks, the young National Hunt trainer has sent out eight winners from 18 runners – which means he is currently operating at a whopping 44% strike rate.
“I can’t really believe it,” says Harry, 29. “I was banging my head against a brick wall on Christmas Day, as our last three runners before Christmas all finished second and all beaten under half a length. They weren’t running badly, but it was frustrating.
“Since Boxing Day, things have taken off, which has been extraordinary. The horses have run fantastically well. I won my biggest race in terms of prize money on New Year’s Day with Fidelio Vallis [who won the Auld Reekie Handicap Chase at Musselburgh under Alice Stevens]. He is owned by John Gregory, who has been one of my biggest supporters since the start of my career, so that was very special. Queen’s Gamble also won my first Listed race on Saturday [30 December, at Taunton under Jonathan Burke] – it’s one of those parts of the season that you don’t want to end. Then to have a treble on New Year’s Day was beyond anything you’d ever dream of – it was mega and we’ve had a very special couple of weeks.”
Horses are in Harry’s blood. His grandfather taught him to ride and he was an active member of the Berkeley branch of the Pony Club.
“I did some pony racing too and from there, I graduated to race riding for three years,” explains Harry, whose uncle is multiple champion jumps trainer, Paul Nicholls. “I worked at Paul’s for 11 years, with six of those as his assistant trainer – it was such an informative time.”
“When Kauto won his first Gold Cup, I was 13, so having a front seat to that is what got me into racing,” says Harry. “Paul is obviously amazing, but during those years, he had the most incredible horses, like Denman and Master Minded too, and Dan Skelton was his assistant. Paul is a massive hero and those were magic years for me.”
Harry was a successful jockey before hanging up his boots to focus on training. He won the Martin Pipe at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival on Salubrious, but retired at the age of 19, a year later.
“My most enjoyable victory in the saddle was winning the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham on a horse called Brampour in November 2011. I was 17, not long out of school and still an amateur. It was extraordinary – I don’t think I’ve ever been so fast in my life,” he laughs. “I can still remember all of that race and I’ll never forget crossing the finish line and pulling up – it was an amazing day. I thought ‘this is fairly straightforward’ though too, and 100% did not take it all in and massively took it for granted.”
Harry explains it was a fall that closed his chapter on life as a jockey.
“I had a fall with a horse called Fox Run at Chepstow where he sadly lost his life. I just never got back to riding as well as I was before that after the fall. My theory was if I was getting worse at my job at that age, I needed to find a new job.
“The hardest thing to do when you’re riding down to a fence is nothing and when you’re confident and things are going well, you gallop down to a fence without thinking anything of it. But the moment you start thinking about it too much, you start missing strides and horses jump badly, then you’re stuffed, basically.”
A new era
When it comes to pinpointing his best day working under the tutelage of Nicholls, Harry says it’s “difficult to name just one”.
“I had some absolutely unbelievable days. The one that really sticks out for me, and I’ll never forget, is when Frodon won the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2019 – the reception he and Bryony [Frost] got that day was absolutely extraordinary. He is such a magnificently special horse. I walked up to meet them at the top of the hill and then followed them back down, just watching the reception they got. That was when I realised how rare it was to have those special moments. He’d had a right old tear up in front of 60,000 people and given absolutely everything and all of those people really appreciated what a special horse they’d just seen – that’s what’s special about jumps racing.”
For sure, Harry did not walk around with his eyes closed during his time at Nicholls’, and he is certainly employing what he learnt there, now that he has gone out on his own.
“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from my time at Paul’s is his consistency – every day with him there is an aspiration to do better than the previous day,” says Harry. “He always used to say to me, ‘whether you get a horse in the yard that cost £500,000 or £5,000, they get exactly the same care’. That’s really important and the same applies to my yard. My job is to get the best out of each horse, no matter their level of ability. If I can get a horse to perform above himself, even once, it’s so satisfying.”
Harry says taking the plunge to go out on his own as a trainer was “daunting”.
“But you have to have an element of confidence, otherwise you’d never do it,” he explains. “I’m very lucky as I have a very supportive group of people around me. My sister Amy is my business partner and she’s been a massive part of what I’m doing. I’m sure the same applies across the range of equestrian sports – whoever you are, you can’t do it alone. So I thought, ‘well, I’ve got a really good team around me’, including Graham, my head lad, who is a superb horseman and very knowledgeable. If you have those good people around you that can help you and believe in what you’re doing, you can do the job.”
Harry also has the expertise of former successful National Hunt trainer Oliver Sherwood, who is now working as assistant to Harry.
“If anyone was going to criticise me, it would be because I am a young trainer, and there’s nothing I can say to change that, because that’s exactly what I am,” Harry says matter-of-factly. “But I can say ‘Graham and Oliver have seen everything between them’, so that gives me confidence, because I can fall back on their knowledge. I’ve got fantastic, knowledgeable staff too, who are really invested in what I’m trying to do and it’s a team effort. If you’ve got really good people around you, you’ve got a chance.”
Harry has set up shop between Hungerford and Newbury in Berkshire.
“I had the opportunity to train from this base, which is owned by the extremely supportive Caroline Sutton and her partner Woody. I came to the conclusion that I’d only get one chance in my life to be at a place like this, so I took the plunge,” says Harry, who describes the plot as a “falling down farm” when the project first got under way.
“I now have 52 stables and I hope one day to expand. We have a six-furlong uphill gallop, a warm-up area and an arena too, but the key thing is that it’s an amazing place for the horses – they seem very happy and relaxed, which is obviously so important.
“I think the environment, the surroundings is why the horses are so settled. There’s no main road too close so they don’t have to go out onto the road to do any work. It’s peaceful with nothing to bother them – none of them are weaving or stressed or box-walking.”
First runner – first winner
Harry didn’t have to wait very long for his first winner as a trainer. In fact, no time at all. The first horse he saddled came home a winner in the form of Seelotmorebusiness at Huntingdon on Boxing Day in 2022. It was an even greater training performance given the gelding, owned by Harry’s mother Julie, had been off the track for 442 days.
“I still can’t find the words to describe that day. You wouldn’t even be brave enough to dream of it. I would love to go back and relive that day – I’ve genuinely watched the race back hundreds of times. It was the best day of my life,” says Harry. “Any time you’re lucky enough to have a win, it’s fantastic, but that day at Huntington will be at the top of the tree for a long time.”
In terms of goals, Harry would like to expand his string.
“If we continue to have a good season, then that feels like a realistic target into next season,” he says, but he states it must be at the correct pace. “I want to do it at a rate that my team and I can manage. I don’t want to ever feel like it’s getting out of control, because I want to feel like I’m doing a really good job with the horses that I’ve got. Currently, I know the horses I have very well, and I don’t want to ever get to a stage where I’ve grown too quickly.”
In terms of other goals for Harry Derham Racing, it’s simple.
“I want to look back at the end of the season and be able to say that I got the best out of each horse I have in my care. I hope that we have a really good spring – I know I’ve got some really nice horses that are capable of winning, but I just need to get them in the right races and try and get the best out of them.”
Harry Derham’s ones to watch
Givemefive (2020 gelding by Holy Roman Emperor, owned by Smash Racing): “He recently won at Market Rasen and will run again at the end of January. He’s a really lovely horse.”
Queens Gamble (2018 mare by Getaway, owned by A Frost and E Galvin): “She is a lovely mare with so much promise.”
Spirou (2020 gelding by Cracksman): “He’s a new beautiful French horse, who will race in late January or early February. I think he could be a lovely horse.”
Court In The Act (2019 gelding by Court Cave, owned by Heart Of The South Racing 132): “He came second for me on debut over hurdles, plus he has already won me a bumper and also won over hurdles on Boxing Day at Kempton – he’s a lovely horse.”
Joker De Mai (2019 gelding by Balko, owned by David Maxwell): “He recently won over hurdles at Lingfield.”
Young Butler (2016 gelding by Yeats, owned by the Beyond Redemption Syndicate): “He’s really lovely and won on his first time out for me at Newbury in November.”
Brentford Hope (2017 gelding by Camelot, owned by The Optimists Syndicate): “He has already won three for me since I’ve had him and he’s been a star.”
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