Henry De Bromhead has ‘good days and bad days’ in wake of family tragedy – The Irish Times

Perspective hardly gets more grim than the sort of context facing Henry De Bromhead every day he goes to work since the death of his 13-year-old son Jack in September.

The winning and losing of horse races has always been relatively trivial although anything but irrelevant for those pouring their hearts and souls into it.

No trainer accumulated more of jump racing’s greatest prizes as plentifully or as quickly as De Bromhead did in the last couple of years.

Successive Champion Hurdle victories with Honeysuckle came accompanied by back-to-back Gold Cup successes through Minella Indo and A Plus Tard as well as Champion Chase glory for Put The Kettle On last year.

During those dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the sight of Rachael Blackmore guiding De Bromhead’s stars to major victories was a tonic for many more than those within racing.

In particular, Blackmore and Minella Times breaking the mold in the 2021 Aintree Grand National was a global feel-good story, as epic as it was pioneering.

That he completed an unprecedented ‘Grand Slam’ of National Hunt’s greatest prizes for their trainer was inevitably overshadowed by public attention on the ground-breaking jockey.

But no one within the sport was in any doubt about what a superb accomplishment it was by the man based just outside Waterford city.

For such dizzying heights to be followed by the cruelty of the most devastating blow of all contributed to overwhelming public sympathy for De Bromhead, his wife Heather, and their daughters, Mia and Georgia.

Just as that sympathy was sincere, over time has come the inexorable reality of people moving on with their own lives, leaving the devastated to cope as best they can.

In the circumstances, the resolve shown by the man forced to face every parent’s worst fear has been noteworthy by any standards. The urbane figure, who turned 50 last month, remains genuinely appreciative of public sympathy as he and his family cope with such a private struggle.

Nevertheless, the reality of maintaining a business with over 100 of the best jumpers in the game is just as unavoidable which was why on Monday De Bromhead faced up to some media chores at his Knockeen stables.

With Honeysuckle & Co outside basking in autumn sunshine, their trainer bluntly acknowledged the dark reality.

“It’s horrible, to be honest. You’ve had your good days and bad days, but that’s it, what do you do?” he asked. “It’s really tough, obviously. No parent should have to go through it.”

What he has discovered, though, is that, despite his loss, the sting of defeat on the racecourse remains. There’s almost reassurance in it.

On Saturday, A Plus Tard, or ‘APT’ as he’s known, didn’t come even close to living up to his Gold Cup winner’s billing at Haydock. Blackmore pulled him up with three fences to jump, leaving a long trip home from Merseyside to ponder what went wrong.

“I’m very lucky to be doing something I really enjoy doing. It’s tough at times and when you’re as low as I am, the disappointments are even harder.

“It was really frustrating with APT. Richard [Thompson – owner] just said we’re in bonus territory now so he was brilliant. But, obviously, we were all really disappointed. It’s fine for him to say that. But we need to work out why it went wrong,” De Bromhead said.

It’s unlikely to be an easy task as A Plus Tard looked a picture of health and contentment on Monday.

Along a short and exclusive row of stables also containing, among others, Honeysuckle and Minella Indo, APT stood outside his box in a small personal outdoor area alongside other elite neighbors scanning the countryside and Waterford city in the near distance.

“His bloods were done last Monday and they were perfect. I think the racecourse checked his heart straight after, and he scoped and he was perfect. He’s moving perfect. Genuinely I don’t know,” De Bromhead added.

It’s the sort of conundrum that normally leaves trainers tearing their hair out in frustration, but one De Bromhead looks like he may relish concentrating on.

The same applies to the increasingly enigmatic Bob Olinger, a horse once with the racing world at his feet but now exhibiting a problematic combination of superb homework with blowing hot and cold on the track.

In terms of raw ability, De Bromhead still rates him as good as any horse he’s had, describing him as having “a savage engine”.

Considering such a comparison includes the phenomenon that is Honeysuckle, it is a comment to bear in mind before dismissing Bob Olinger as any busted flush.

Honeysuckle herself will bid to secure a record fourth Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse next month. Already though, many thoughts have turned to a potentially epic clash with Constitution Hill at Cheltenham in March.

Some of the unbeaten English novice’s more vehement fans have been dismissive of the current dual-title holder, something that doesn’t faze her trainer.

“Years ago, I used to get mortally offended with Sizing Europe when people used to [criticise him]. Everyone is entitled to their opinion [but] I’ve enough things to get wound up about. All we can do is keep trying to get her there as best we can,” he said.

Working alongside the trainer in teasing out such quandaries will be Blackmore, whose support since September De Bromhead was keen to acknowledge.

“We’ve all said what an amazing jockey she is. She’s just an amazing person, I think. Prior to Jack, I was always thinking she just naturally says the right thing.

“But then to see her around when we had our tragedy, oh my god, as a person, to see her with my children, friends, with all of us; she’s an incredible person, as well as being a brilliant jockey,” he said.

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