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Derham’s family affair

By Chris McGrath

Pedigree always counts for a good deal on the Turf, but sometimes it is sooner a matter of heart than blood.

The previous weekend Joseph O'Brien had turned even an environment as commercially momentous as the Breeders' Cup into one of intimate family celebration.

And yesterday, albeit the stakes were not quite so giddy, a second teenage jockey charged another of the sport's great theatres with a corresponding glow of dynastic pride.

At 17, Harry Derham remains a year younger than O'Brien, and an equivalent separation persists for now between their respective potential and achievement.

Even so, the cool and verve with which this precocious amateur contributed to another landmark weekend in the training career of his uncle, Paul Nicholls, identified him as a talent equal to both the privileges and pressures of kinship.

Derham's success in the Greatwood Hurdle, one of the most frantic handicaps in the calendar, was only his fifth under Rules.

But there was a seasoned flair to the way he observed Ruby Walsh's counsel of restraint, before driving Brampour two and a half lengths clear from the final flight.

Nicholls is long accustomed even to the sort of success he enjoyed during the biggest meeting of the jumps season to date.

After a treble on Saturday's card, he had already won the prestigious novice chase sponsored by this newspaper — for the fourth year running, and the eighth time in all — with Walsh-ridden Al Ferof, and would later land a gamble with Rangitoto.

But there was no mistaking the heightened buzz he discovered in seeing his sister's son riding a first Cheltenham winner.

“I've been coming here since I was 11 with Paul's horses and watched Ruby come in on so many winners,” Derham said.

“So to be part of this is all I've ever wanted. It's a dream, I'm in a daze — to ride for someone who is not just champion trainer, but your uncle as well.”

Something of a journeyman in his own riding career, Nicholls stressed that Derham is only being given the chances he earns.

“He's a lot better than me, and I'm very proud. He's naturally gifted — he gave that a peach of a ride. He's very grounded and he could be very good,” said Nicholls.

As for Al Ferof, his name will now be carved beneath that of Best Mate himself among previous champions to have announced themselves in the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase.

Al Ferof came bounding seven lengths clear of Astracad.

It was also a good meeting for David Pipe with a treble on Friday and then the big race on Saturday, the Paddy Power Gold Cup, with Great Endeavour.

An established Festival operator, Big Zeb, meanwhile won the Fortria Chase at Navan yesterday for the third year running.

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