With 20 fags a day, Mr Grumpy mug & memories of Queen serving him beer, racing hero Peter Chapple-Hyam is finally happy
THEY say you should always be kind, because you never know what people are dealing with behind closed doors.
Take dual Derby-winning trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam who, on the surface, was the man who had it all. But, in reality, for many years he struggled day-to-day with his mental health.
No doubt, when he started out, there were trainers who would grumble enviously whenever they caught sight of him.
After all, he was the unproven, 29-year-old rookie who was given an opportunity most would have killed for when he took over the stable of powerhouse owner Robert Sangster in 1991.
As lucky breaks go it was a big ’un, and Chapple-Hyam would end up training two legends of the turf in his very first season.
It’s only now, though, that he can look back on the careers of Rodrigo De Triano and Dr Devious — not to mention Authorized — with pride and satisfaction.
Because while he was living it, he rarely enjoyed himself. He was wracked with nerves on the big days and it got so bad at times it would make him physically sick.
“After Rodrigo won the Champion Stakes, someone came over to congratulate me but I was throwing up in the flowerbeds!” he laughed.
But Chapple-Hyam, now 60, hasn’t always been able to talk about his problems, let alone joke about them.
He said: “I didn’t have depression, it was more panic attacks and anxiety I really struggled with.
“I’ll be honest, I did get to a point when all I wanted to do was top myself.
“I had to go home and lie in a dark room and stop myself.
I ended up in a mental hospital for a while and, when that happened, the owners took their horses away . . . which made me worse.
“I got down to about 12 horses from 60. Tough times.
“My panic attacks got so bad I’d set off to go to the races but have to turn around and come home, I couldn’t even overtake a lorry on the motorway.”
When he speaks about the dark times, while twiddling one of his 20 fags a day in one hand — and clutching his favourite Mr Grumpy mug in the other — he looks off into the distance and his eyes begin to glisten.
He is managing his anxiety now better than he has ever done and he wants to leave the past in the past.
Not the good days, though, he is more than happy to reminisce about those, and there were plenty of them.
He wears a beaming smile when remembering Sangster’s superstar Rodrigo De Triano — the horse who gave Lester Piggott his final Classic success in the 1992 2,000 Guineas — and Derby hero Dr Devious.
He said: “Rodrigo was a wonderful horse, he was unbelievably good. One of the greats.
“We never let Lester ride work but, before the Juddmonte International, he came in to have a sit on Rodrigo.
“He couldn’t pull the horse up and he went crashing through a fence at the top of the gallop.
“My assistant said to me, ‘shall we go up there and give Lester a lift back?’
“We decided not to. Instead we all went to the bookies and took the 14-1 about the horse for York!
“By the time Lester had got back, the price had completely gone, which annoyed him no end.
“But he got his own back at York when I bumped into him arriving at the track.
“He turned to his taxi driver, pointed at me, and said, ‘he’s paying’, and walked off. I was £50 down before the day had started!”
Dr Devious’ antics on the gallops at Manton also convinced Chapple-Hyam that he was a big player in the ‘92 Derby.
He said: “The horse was actually taken off me early in his three-year-old season and was sent to the States to run in the Kentucky Derby.
“He ran badly there and the owner decided to send him back to me . . . but I had to pay for the horse’s flight home.
“All I could afford was a flight to Frankfurt, where he spent the night in the zoo with the zebras, and we went over with a horsebox to pick him up.
“On his first day back in the yard he got loose and was galloping around Manton, so I knew he was ready to go for the Derby at Epsom.”
His second Derby win would come 15 years later, when Authorized ended Frankie Dettori’s Derby hoodoo in 2007.
And it was here he had his famous interaction with Her Maj.
Chapple-Hyam smiled: “I went up to the Royal Box at Epsom after Dr Devious had won and the Queen asked me if I’d like champagne, and I said ‘actually, ma’am I’d love a beer’.
“They scrambled around and eventually found me a can of Heineken which was warm, it was like alcoholic tea, and she asked if it was OK.
“I was honest and said to Her Majesty it was ‘a little warm but it’ll do the job’.
“Years later when I went back up there after Authorized’s win, they had an ice-cold beer waiting for me on a silver platter.
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“The Queen said to me, ‘I knew your horse would win so I made sure your beer was nice and cold this time, Peter’.”
He’s achieved so much it’s easy to forget he spent four seasons in Hong Kong from 1999 to 2003.
It’s hard to believe, but some of his owners in the Far East were even more colourful than Chapple-Hyam.
He said: “I had an owner who sent me a horse with American breeding, and he told me he could only eat American food.
“I asked what he wanted me to feed him, and he said: ‘I’ve brought you six steaks’.
“So every Sunday he came and brought a new batch of steaks and I told him I’d fed them to the horse — though obviously I was the one eating them! He really was a cut above my usual owners!
“Then the horse started winning and we were going up in class . . . so I told him we needed better quality steak.
“I even joked about feeding him a Beef Wellington, and the owner turned up to the yard with one which I very much enjoyed for Sunday lunch.”
And what about the future?
After several seasons in the doldrums, things are finally looking up at the historic St Gatien Stables in Newmarket.
He has a nice team of young horses, including Rochelle and Rogue Enforcer, and has sent out as many winners in 2023 as his previous three seasons combined.
He was close pals with the late great Sir Henry Cecil, with whom he spent many a boozy night.
And Cecil’s famous comeback story is definitely a source of inspiration to Chapple-Hyam.
He said: “I loved Henry, he was a hero of mine.
“As for me, I’m definitely enjoying the sport more now than I have in a long time.
“We have some lovely young horses. Who knows, maybe one of them could be a Derby horse?”
Mr Grumpy or not, if anyone deserves another shot at the big time, big Pete does. Then maybe he’ll finally buy a Mr Happy mug.
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