28 MARCH 1998, Page 41

The turf

Epsom acorns

Robin Oakley

From little acorns, mighty oaks can grow. Sketching Derrick Morris, the new boy on the block in Epsom, leading his first lot out at 7.15 on Friday, wouldn't have taken too many strokes of the pen. As the wagtails skipped along the tiled roof of his Ermyn Lodge stables and the team headed for Langley Vale and the Fibresand train- ing track, there was only Derrick, on an unnamed three-year-old chestnut, and Mark Potts on the five-year-old grey mare Duchess of Ermyn, who'd be described as a strapping wench if she was human.

Ermyn Lodge is home at the moment to just six horses. But there are orders for some more for the flat. And Youdon'tsay, a mare previously with Joe Naughton who was recently covered at a Newmarket stud, will come in for the 120 days she is permit- ted to go on racing when in foal.

The name is printed in bold capitals on the bright new plastic buckets and Derrick Morris is not short of ambition. Though he is running a mixed yard, jumping is his pas- sion, and he wants to put himself on the map as the nearest jumping trainer to the heart of London, enabling owners to come to watch their horses on the gallops before they motor into the City for a day's work. Unusually, he quit his post as stable jock- ey to Lambourn trainer Roger Curtis in mid-season to take up an offer that was too good to refuse from Jeff Daniels, owner of the stable complex in Shepherd's Walk. Unlike many former mid-table jockeys who take up training, he is not starting in a cou- ple of converted cowsheds but in a smart brick-built yard with a well-mown central circle. He is able to lease as many boxes as he needs, with more to come as he expands. There are paddocks at the back, a schooling ground nearby, and facilities like a horse-walker to be shared with his next- door neighbour Angus McNae, another Daniels tenant in the lower yard who was formerly assistant to Joe Naughton and whose cheery face I encountered behind a mucking-out barrow as he checked a skit- tish filly on the walker. These are two hands-on operations and, with Geoff Lewis's former assistant Brett Johnson also starting out on his own, Epsom has sudden- ly acquired a whole new generation of trainers.

In the saddle Derrick Morris did not quite get the breaks he might have done. He began as a 71b claimer with John Jenk- ins and rode among others for Trevor Hal- lett in Cornwall and Gerry Gracey in Caterham before he joined Roger Curtis as second jockey to 'Iron Man' Ray Goldstein (so named because he had so much metal pinning various injured limbs). After a few months, injury forced the iron man into retirement and Derrick was number one for nine years. He has ridden more than 120 winners, but he has not quite hit the high spots of Jamie Osborne' and Carl Llewellyn, with whom he was hotly contest- ing the conditionals title one year before a four-month injury break cost him his chance.

He has a reputation, though, as a quietly effective horseman, the sort who has some real information for an owner and trainer after a ride. Though he had thought of retiring from the saddle and has been nurs- ing an ankle injury this season, the urge remains too strong and he won't be hand- ing in his riding licence yet. He is pleased to be in Epsom, and has nice things to say about his training colleagues: 'They have been nothing but helpful. None would turn you away if you asked a favour. They've all been there before, starting up and know what it's like. And you can't be jealous of anybody's success ...' Epsom, he concedes, is a touch out of fashion as a training cen- tre these days. But it is only because there hasn't been a big race winner for a while.

Sadly for Derrick he has not had a win- ner from his first few runners. Four horses joined him at Roger Curtis's while he was waiting for his licence and the move to Epsom. They seem to have picked up the virus which has so afflicted the Lambourn stables this jumping season, a pernicious virus which does not show itself in training gallops. But all, he reckons, have winning potential.

The five-year-old Mister Ermyn, he says, is 'very uptight'. He needs to take life steadier. Gradually he is being persuaded to do so. 'He's got the engine and the framework but he needs to fill out a bit.' He'll have another year over hurdles and go chasing at seven. Duchess of Ermyn, another five-year-old, has been unlucky in a couple of bumpers and will probably run in one more when she scopes clean. She has schooled well over hurdles. But Ermyn's Pet is proving more of a problem. Rather more than pet-sized at 17.1 hands he shows scant respect for his hurdles and has capsized twice.

There's a no-nonsense, practical air about Ermyn Lodge. Derrick Morris talks a lot about 'my business' and doesn't over- hype his horses. Once the virus problems are surmounted I would be surprised if we did not see some Ermyn Lodge winners. And it is nice to have a real jumping man, as opposed to flat trainers with a few hur- dlers, planting acorns in Epsom once again.

Robin Oakley is political editor of the BBC.