Every novice trainer knows how hard it can be to keep your head above water, but the process can seldom have been as literal as in the case of Harry Dunlop. Last Friday, he peered out of his stable office to see a torrent of water swelling down Lambourn High Street. Within a couple of hours, the yard housing half his 40 horses would be immersed in four feet of water. He began a series of desperate calls to trainers higher up the village.
"Fortunately John Hills had just sent a bunch of horses to the sales and was able to take 15," Dunlop said yesterday. "And Tor Sturgis took the other five. It was pretty scary, but the staff were brilliant, as was the local transport company. It was quite a sight, all these horseboxes splashing through the waves."
The flood ebbed away over the weekend, and Dunlop can now resume his quest to approach the professional high-water marks previously recorded in this yard, over jumps by Nicky Henderson and on the Flat by his landlord, Peter Walwyn. After all, it is hardly as if Dunlop needed reminding of the ancient counsel against building your house on sand. His career has the most robust foundations.
His father, John, continues to set exacting standards at Arundel, while his brother, Ed, has already met them in his handling of Ouija Board among others. Harry himself completed his apprenticeship with Henderson and Henry Cecil, and when he took out a licence last autumn, with his own first son just a few months old, a racing dynasty seemed to be taking root.
But while suitably grateful for the privileges of his birth, he knew that cynics would always assume any silverware to have been melted down from his collection of spoons. He had to make his education and contacts pay. "All that was a huge benefit, of course it was - my name, and the people I have worked with," he said. "Here I am with 40 horses in my first year, something I could never have envisaged. Of course, that brings a pressure of its own, but I know how lucky I am and how much harder it might otherwise have been to find clients."
Upon that bedrock, Dunlop allowed himself one layer of sand: the all-weather track at Wolverhampton, where he saddled his very first runner, Situla, to win a maiden last November. But the real test of his assurance would come when he tried to install the stairs.
If there was one filly in the yard with the genes to match his own, it was Festoso. Sent to Dunlop by one of his father's longstanding patrons, Prince Faisal, she made a solid start by winning a maiden at Newmarket in May. But then she faded into 11th place at Royal Ascot, leaving Dunlop fully exposed when he decided to persevere with her into a Group Two race at Newmarket. In the event, Festoso beat all bar You'resothrilling, and now proceeds to the Lowther Stakes at York next month.
"I knew what people might be saying," Dunlop said. "'What's he doing, sending her there? He's young, he's inexperienced.' So when she ran so well, it was lovely to have your judgement vindicated.
"We do have a good team here and we always liked her. It was the most exciting day's racing I have ever had, and marvellous to have so many people coming up and saying well done: family, people who have helped me, owners. We rode her differently, that was the key. At Ascot, she did too much, and didn't finish. It was good for my confidence, because after Ascot the owner's manager had been slightly nervous about running."
Dunlop knows that he must plough his own furrow and admits to some "different ideas" from his father. At the same time, he cherishes his advice in moments of doubt. It was a call home, in fact, that finally emboldened him to run Festoso at Newmarket.
Still, he suspects that the most enduring lessons are learned in adversity. "It has been fantastic to see Henry Cecil come back, after going through such difficult times," he said.
"When I was there he had two Derby horses, Beat Hollow and Wellbeing, and they both scoped dirty a month before the race. To see him get them ready, in so little time, and finish third and fifth - it was absolutely fascinating. I'm sure you learn more when things go wrong. It's all so easy when you're winning."
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