It was as Santa was trying to find a flat roof in 1990 that Chapple-Hyam was told he was to inherit the reins at perhaps Britain's most venerable training establishment. This was a yard with Classic traditions stretching back to Victorian times, but one that had recently seen off Michael Dickinson and Barry Hills. Words such as jinx were gaining currency, but Chapple- Hyam still took great awe with him on to the trial grounds. The son of a Leamington Spa greengrocer was shocked. And that initial surprise has not fully fled his ample body even today. "I was amazed when I first arrived at Manton and I still am," he said yesterday. "I remember thinking it would take me years to get used to the gallops."
Chapple-Hyam's charting of Manton's terrain, which stretches over 500 acres and 11 separate gallops, was initially undertaken as assistant to Hills. There were those who expected his colleague of the time, Joe Naughton, to make greater waves in the training ranks, but it is Chapple-Hyam who has compiled the more staggering record, particularly in the Derby.
In the three years the 32-year-old has been sending horses to Epsom he has finished fourth, third and, at the first time of asking in 1992, first, when Dr Devious beat home a field including the trainer's beloved Rodrigo de Triano.
Chapple-Hyam seeks to embellish that record on Saturday when Court Of Honour and Spectrum, the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner and second favourite for Epsom, jump out of the stalls for the 216th Derby. If history is the impetus, they will fill the frame.
Manton has been a captivating arena since Victorian days. Alec Taylor jnr, "the Wizard of Manton", was so entranced he left the place only on race days, while Hills has insisted that he went to the nearby town of Marlborough just twice during his reign, to get a haircut.
Times past are remembered in the Manton museum, where visitors can put their bottom on a Classic winner, Bayardo, who won 22 of his 25 starts including the 1909 St Leger and 1910 Ascot Gold Cup. For his troubles, the great horse had his hide fashioned into the upholstery of the museum's weighing-room scales.
It may be incongruous that in these halls of traditionalism, the great days have been rekindled by a man with little of the snooty baggage carried by others in his trade. The great thing about Chapple-Hyam is that he does not think he is great, a merciful attribute in a sport where there are so many tweed suits and trilbies wandering around with doctorates from the University of Smartarse.
Chapple-Hyam is also one of the few who seems to enjoy big successes rather than treat them as inevitable additions to the portfolio. Before races he can be disturbingly animated, growling at his charges and slapping them on the neck. After victories it all comes out, most notably after Dr Devious's Classic win.
At Epsom, some racegoers look svelte and comfortable in morning suit. Others look like Chapple-Hyam. The image of the trainer's jig down the course to greet "the Doctor" is still vivid to many, but not to Chapple- Hyam himself. He intends to carry home sustainable memories of the Downs this weekend. "The Derby was the big one for me but I want to prove it wasn't a fluke," he said. "I was too busy dancing around to let it sink in, and want to win it again so that I can sit back and appreciate it."
Chapple-Hyam's main chance in 48 hours' time rests with Spectrum, who, as his name suggests, has drawn a wide-ranging series of thoughts on his capacity to see out the Derby distance.
"From the very first time I worked him I thought he was a staying horse," Chapple-Hyam reported. "People said I was mad to run him over a mile in the Irish Guineas, and then afterwards changed their minds and said he wouldn't stay the Derby distance. In the space of two minutes he'd gone from a stamina horse to a doubtful stayer.
"It has even put a doubt in my mind, and I might be even more confident if he'd finished a running-on second.'
In the trainer's thoughts, however, Spectrum has already achieved high order. "In the past I've had Rodrigo, a class horse, a quality horse, and the Doctor, who could battle his way past anything. This one is more like Rodrigo, a horse who can kill them in 10 strides."
Before he sends his colts out to war on Saturday afternoon Chapple-Hyam will be a clandestine figure, locking himself away for an appointment with coffee and a packet of Silk Cut. "I won't want too many people talking to me so I'll get away for a smoke," he said. "I've done my service down the years for the tobacco industry. I've just about rescued them single- handed." He has achieved close to the same for Manton.