As Mullins and Elliott launch into a titanic struggle for Ireland’s trainers’ title, so Noel Meade and Henry de Bromhead set about leading the chasing pack.
I recently wrote of Meade’s impressive start to the latest campaign, and the yard’s outstanding form was confirmed with a treble at Punchestown on Saturday. De Bromhead’s place towards the top of charts, comes despite a seismic shock as the season began.
News broke in September that owners Alan and Ann Potts had ended their association with Henry de Bromhead, and had removed 13 horses from the Waterford trainer’s yard. An alliance that had brought huge success for almost a decade had finally come to an end.
The shining light of the union was of course Champion Chaser Sizing Europe. He won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2007, before victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle a couple of months later. Made favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, he looked the winner when cruising into contention, but faded rapidly in the latter stages. His trainer later reported that he’d suffered a back injury.
It was when switched to fences in 2009 that Sizing Europe’s career leapt to another level. He won the Arkle Chase as a novice and a year later took the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He went on to win six Grade 1s, including the Tingle Creek in 2011 and the Punchestown Champion Chase in 2012 and 2014. He was retired at the end of the 2015 campaign having won more than £1,300,000 in prize money.
But he was by no means the only Potts-De Bromhead success story. Sizing Australia took the Cross Country at the Cheltenham Festival, and twice won Punchestown’s equivalent. More recently, Shanahan’s Turn won the valuable and prestigious Galway Plate, and the talented Sizing John had captured a Grade 1 over hurdles before proving himself a top-class chaser when chasing home Douvan in the Arkle. Connections also produced the talented yet diminutive grey, Smashing, to win a pair of Grade 2s over fences.
Despite the pre-season blow, De Bromhead has knuckled down to the task of producing winners. And with a strike-rate of 18%, and 34 wins already on the board, he’s doing a terrific job.
The Waterford handler has benefitted from the arrival of Gigginstown’s useful young chaser, Sub Lieutenant. His seasonal return at Limerick was eye-catching, and the seven-year-old may well prove competitive at the highest level this winter. He was third for Sandra Hughes in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown back in April, and looks to have a bright future.
De Bromhead already has a potential star chaser in the yard, with young novice Identity Thief. Another owned by Gigginstown, he looked a natural at Punchestown over the weekend, and is set to take high rank over the coming months.
The trainer will also be excited by the return of Sadler’s Risk, who romped to victory in a Grade 3 chase earlier in the month. The handicapper is sure to make life difficult for the talented eight-year-old, but he looks a staying chaser with plenty more to offer. Already a winner of the Munster National, the trainer is sure to have Aintree on his mind.
Another novice chaser worth keeping a close eye on, is recent Grade 3 winner Three Stars. More than handy over hurdles, the son of Westerner is already two from three over the larger obstacles. His breeding suggests a step-up in trip is on the cards, and he could prove a surprise package this winter and beyond.
De Bromhead also tasted success at Cheltenham last week, when Heron Heights led home stable companion Full Cry in the stayers’ novice chase. Showing a terrific attitude up the famous hill, he could be one for the four-miler back at Cheltenham in March. Decent ground appears to suit, so don’t be surprised if he disappoints in deep winter conditions.
Since taking over from his father in 1999, De Bromhead has continued to build a powerful team at his Waterford base. Success and failure go hand in hand in this unpredictable sport, and this latest chapter in his training career must have proved a testing time. Nevertheless, this talented trainer has plenty to be optimistic about, and looks set for another lucrative and successful campaign.