Derham discusses Whatsapp chats with Brooks Koepka, Cheltenham Festival ambitions and his desire to disrupt the luck of the Irish
Rising star Harry Derham is hoping for more success as he looks to build on an impressive start to life as a trainer.
The 29-year-old handler, who moved into his new purpose built Boxford yard last summer, tasted victory for the first time after taking out his license with his first ever runner when Seelotmorebusiness won at Huntingdon on Boxing Day 2022.
Since then Derham, who spent six years as assistant to his uncle Paul Nicholls, has enlisted the help of Grand National winning trainer Oliver Sherwood and led up two Cheltenham Festival contenders.
Now, in his first full season, one of racing’s hottest prospects is handling a horse for LIV Golf stars Brooks Koepka and Graeme McDowell – Givemefive, who cruised to a dominant victory earlier this week – and is dreaming of celebrating a Cheltenham Festival winner with one of his three chances.
Speaking to OLBG, Derham discusses Whatsapp chats with Koepka, Cheltenham ambitions and his desire to disrupt the Irish’s dominance.
Q: How did your partnership with Brooks Koepka and Graeme McDowell come about?
HD: Graeme McDowell, who owns a part of Givemefive, I knew him through his caddy. I trained a horse last year called Fourofakind who won for the caddy and some of his friends and I was then invited to a pro-am tournament in the summer with Graeme.
He said let's do a nearest the pin contest and I thought “There has got to be something in it for me” so I suggested a bet - if I was nearest the pin then he would buy me a new horse and by some miracle, I got nearer to the pin than Graeme.
I hit a nine-iron, about 132 yards, never ever will I hit a better shot in my life, I am a really bad golfer.
I concentrated! My cousin Megan [Nicholls] bought the horse privately from Johnny Murtagh and he was good at Market Rasen on debut but he was really, really good winning at Warwick. We will go to the Grade 2 Adonis (Juvenile Hurdle) at Kempton on February 24 with him next.
Brooks [Koepka] is good mates with Graeme and they are on the same Smash GC team with LIV Golf. I met him in July, we are on whatsapp regularly now! It was going off a lot after Givemefive’s win.
Q: Seeing Brook’s tweeting about you and the horse must inspire confidence for yourself?
HD: It’s a nice confidence boost for me but more importantly, I would suggest, is that our sport is always talking about getting new owners into it. New owners, such as Graeme and Brooks, are all new to the sport and they are all having a fantastic experience, which is great for me. I hope they are becoming fans and enjoying it.
They are high profile but they are just like everyone else - though they just happen to also be very, very good at something else. They are really nice guys and currently lucky owners so hopefully they will buy more horses with me!
Q: How do you assess the current state of British racing - and how do we claw back the dominance from Ireland?
HD: I think British racing is very well attended, I hear all the time how bad the age and the demographic is, but regularly I see younger people at the races.
I have seen racing clubs and syndicates become more and more prominent which is a great way for younger people to get involved in the sport. We have a fantastic product with a welfare record to be extremely proud of, I think we have a very clean sport in our country.
Are the best horses in Ireland at the moment? Without question, but when Paul Nicholls won three Gold Cups in a row in 2007 to 2009, all the best horses were here.
At the time, all the best horses were with him at Ditcheat. A few years later, all the best ones were at Seven Barrows with Nicky Henderson. Currently, all the best are in Ireland. I have no issue with that, fine.
Now, my job is not to moan about that or think the Irish are lucky, they are just doing better. My view is that I need to pull my socks up, do better, train more winners and then I’ll get the better horses.
I think there are lots of very, very talented trainers over here in Britain but currently the likes of Willie and Gordon are numerically stronger. If they are buying four horses to every English trainer’s one, the likelihood is they are going to end up with better horses.
I am a young trainer, I am very ambitious about where I want to go and I am very optimistic about having a really successful future.
Q: Do we put too much emphasis on the Cheltenham Festival as the be all and end all?
HD: It’s probably not for me to say but look, it is the Olympics of our sport so of course there is going to be a huge amount of focus on it. Do I want to have a Cheltenham winner? Desperately, so to that end, it has become a massive beast and bigger than it ever has been.
Everyone wants to have a winner there and not everyone wants to have a winner everywhere else, so that says it all. I think, as a jockey or a trainer, you can take your career to the next level if you have a winner there.
If you’re winning there then you think it is massive and if you don’t then you might not think it is the be all and end all but I desperately want to have a winner.
Q: This is your first full season as a trainer and your second Cheltenham Festival - what are your expectations?
HD: I thought last season when I had two runners there and they were both social runners, neither of them were good enough and ran their race but I went home thinking that social runners are a waste of time.
I am far too competitive to enjoy having a day out and finishing 15th, I want to compete. It is no good going there and saying that I had a great day out and finished last.
That novelty of simply having a runner wore off pretty quickly - I want to have runners that can compete.
Q: We are seeing a lot more sportsmen take an interest in racing - they must be good for the sport?
HD: A lot of the sports lads seem to like their racing. One of my best mates is Jamie Overton [England cricketer] and he’s involved, he has got some of his mates into it as well, one of my runners, Brentford Hope, is part-owned by [England cricketers] Liam Livingstone, Joe Clarke and Craig Overton.
I suppose they earn good money and like being involved in racing and it’s great. They like having an interest in racing and having a good day out.
It’s expensive, that’s the thing. People, as they get older, earn more money and therefore have more disposable income. Those sportsmen are fortunate enough and talented enough to make good money and it’s great to have them involved.
Q: What’s next for Givemefive and for Brooks and Graeme - plus your other Cheltenham runners?
HD: Givemefive has been entered in the Triumph Hurdle (14/1) at Cheltenham and will also be entered in the Fred Winter (16/1). The Adonis at Kempton though will really tell us where we think he will go. It’s a Grade Two so if he went and did something silly like go and win that then we will probably go to the Triumph with him, and if he’s not quite good enough then it’ll be the Fred Winter.
Queen’s Gamble will go straight to the Mares’ Novice Hurdle (25/1), she was very good at Christmas and won nicely at Taunton. The Mares’ Novice Hurdle has always been the objective for her all season so she’ll go there in, I hope, very good form.
Young Butler could run in the Pertemps, he will run at Newbury on February 10 first of all and if he goes well then he’ll go to Cheltenham.
What is the pressure like for trainers at the Festival?
HD: Last year it was very relaxed for me as I only had two runners but for the top trainers like Paul [Nicholls], Willie [Mullins], Gordon [Elliott] and Nicky [Henderson] I can imagine that it is an absolute disaster of a week.
Obviously I have seen it with Paul first hand how hectic it can be and how much pressure you are under but if you’re a trainer then you want to go to Cheltenham and be really busy. At any meeting for that matter and have that pressure. There is nothing worse than going to a meeting and not having any pressure on you.
Q: Do you thrive off that?
HD: I think that is a privilege. I want to go racing under lots of pressure and being very, very nervous because I have got big chances. If you are going racing halfway nervous, no worries with one runner, you don’t want that. You want to go thinking this really matters because it is such a big day.
I have lots of races that matter to me between now and Cheltenham. Whether they are running on a Monday at Stratford or Taunton on a Tuesday, they are all important. I put all sorts of pressure on myself with just one runner at Chepstow. It is important to that owner. Wherever I go, I expect myself to get good results for my owners.
Q: You’re only a youngster but is Constitution Hill going to be one of the best of all-time?
HD: He’s utterly dominant. The only thing I agree with is something that Ruby Walsh said, is that to become an all time great then you need to have longevity. If he stays sound he will retire an all time great.
Q: Who wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup?
HD: Galopin Des Champ does - and quite comfortably as well. I’d love to say Bravemansgame, i cheered him home for Paul last year but if Galopin is like he was last year - and a lot of things went wrong for him in that race - but he had an unbelievable ride to win the race. If he gets a straightforward ride around this time, there is nothing that can beat him.