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2016 interview with the owners of Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River

Husband-and-wife team Garth and Anne Broom (far left) of Brocade Racing in the winner's enclosure with Native River and jockey Richard Johnson after their Hennessy triumph
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First published on Thursday, December 22, 2016

The ownership name Brocade Racing sounds distinctly like a syndicate. In fact, the partnership behind Coral Welsh National favourite Native River consists of just two people: the husband-and-wife team of Garth and Anne Broom, retired Somerset farmers who fulfilled a long-held ambition to get into racehorse ownership when they sold up nearly a decade ago.

Since then, they have had more than a modicum of success, their familiar red, purple and yellow silks having been carried by more than 80 winners, among them a Cheltenham Festival success courtesy of Golden Chieftain in the JLT Specialty Chase, several valuable handicaps with three-time Rehearsal Chase winner Hey Big Spender and a Midlands National with Master Overseer.

Native River, though, is the best of them all. "He'd be at the top of our pecking order," agrees Garth Broom. "Hey Big Spender was an absolutely superb handicapper and touched 160 at one point but this one has won a Grade 1 and a Hennessy. I'm hoping there's still some improvement, but there's got to be if we're talking about the Gold Cup for him."

Indeed so, but the six-year-old has gone from strength to strength in a couple of years since the Brooms bought him and put him in training with Colin Tizzard, with the horse's ultra-game Hennessy triumph providing the most exciting moment of the couple's ownership ‘career' to date.

"We've been very lucky and done things we couldn't have dreamed of," says Garth, 69. "We've had 81 winners altogether but the Hennessy has to be the highlight – the festival was great but the Hennessy is a much bigger race. On both occasions we felt as if we were in a bit of a dream."

Native River: bids to put down a Gold Cup marker at Newbury
Although they are lifelong racing enthusiasts with various family links to horses, the Brooms' entry into ownership dates from when they sold up their Wellington farm and moved (not very far) to Bradford-on-Tone near Taunton.

"Anne's father had horses with Gerald Cottrell and my uncles were both amateur riders just after the war, so we were brought up with it to some extent," explains Garth. "We've always gone racing and always wanted to own horses ourselves but we couldn't afford to do it until we retired and then we decided to bash on and enjoy ourselves.

"There's no point trying to do it until you can afford to do it – it's the old saying: you can only make a small fortune if you start with a large one. When you buy your horses, you write that off straight away and if you can go towards paying your training fees, you're doing okay."

Brocade Racing sounds rather distinguished, even if its antecedents are rather more prosaic. "We took the ‘Bro' from our surname, and we used to farm at Cades Farm. So we stuck them together to make ‘Brocade'," says Garth. Now their interest has mushroomed to a string of 17 horses, the majority with Tizzard supported by the remainder with David Pipe and Philip Hobbs. The Brooms had long-term links with all three trainers, as Garth explains.

"We've known Colin for a long time," he says. "We used to chat to him at the races and he'd say, ‘Come on then, when are you going to have a horse with us?'. We'd say, ‘We will when we can afford to'. Then one day we did!

"I've also known Martin Pipe since our teenage days. He always says: ‘I had to retire before you could afford us!' We actually started with David, and Philip Hobbs was born in the same nursing home as my sister, and all the parents were friends 40 years ago."

A chestnut with four white feet and a big white blaze, Native River looks more like California Chrome – or maybe Tingle Creek – than Arkle. Either way, he represented a departure for owners with a distinct Tim Forster-style predilection for horses with a proper chasing stamp. "A bumper is for education, hurdles are a bonus and chasing is what they're bought for," explains Garth.

"That's how we treat it and usually we buy big, strong bays. You always think you need some size because very, very few get to Grade 1 level, so the majority end up as handicappers and if they're gonna be any good, they're gonna be carrying weight, so you need the size to do that. That's been our policy. Every horse you buy as a store or anything, you think that's gonna be our Gold Cup horse, like everyone else."

When bloodstock agent Tom Malone contacted the Brooms to see if they were interested, he warned them Native River was not their usual type. "He's nearby and we only went to have a look out of courtesy," admits Garth. "But as soon as we saw the horse, he was so athletic, sort of feline . . . we looked at each other and said we'd go home and think about it. But we didn't leave it too long because we knew we both wanted him. We called back within an hour and took a punt."

Now, even if he is slightly overshadowed by high-profile stablemates Thistlecrack and Cue Card, Native River is only a 20-1 chance for the Timico Gold Cup. His owners, though, are far from impatient on that score. "That's the plan and it would be a dream for us but a lot of people forget he's only a six-year-old," says Broom.

"If he was eight or nine you'd be pushing on a bit harder but we realise we're lucky to have had a horse of a lifetime come along and in one way we don't want to get to the bottom of him too much and empty him out. It's a fine balance. Everyone says he's a Grand National horse – well, maybe further down the line he will be, but he won't be next year.

"He'd deserve his place in the Gold Cup but I wouldn't say he could win it this year," he adds. "If he could run well, then hopefully he's got time on his side to strengthen up. It's a big dream but they don't often come off."

The Brooms' personal string has grown alongside the burgeoning Tizzard operation. "Colin was doing well with some generally average horses but the ball hasn't stopped rolling," says Garth. "All the owners there are sort of one big extended family – we all share the highs and lows, we all follow each other's horses. Occasionally when the horses clash, there's no bad feeling – if we've got to be beaten, I'd rather be beaten by one of Colin's owners. We cheer for Thistlecrack as much as anybody else."

What about if the pair line up, with Cue Card added into the mix, at Cheltenham in March? "Well, I suppose if we're against him we might not be cheering quite so much!" he grins. "We're all friends before the race and then we draw a bit of a truce during the race, then we're friends afterwards. You wish everybody luck but obviously you just hope you get a bit more luck than they do."

Welsh National bid depends on weather

Native River's owner Garth Broom, one half of the husband-and-wife Brocade Racing partnership, warns the Hennessy winner is by no means a certain runner in the Coral Welsh Grand National after Christmas.

That said, a shortage of alternatives could force his connections' hand, although the Cotswold Chase is a possibility. "We left him in the Welsh National to give us an option," says Broom. "It depends on the rain – if it's really heavy, we won't ask him to carry top weight in the normal conditions of a Welsh National. We'll probably make a last-minute decision and it's very ground-dependent.

"He's only six and he had a hard race in the Hennessy, so we're not sure another hard handicap is a great idea, but we're a little bit stuck for options. If it was a good-ground Welsh National we'd be more tempted but if it comes up a complete bog we'd probably not run."

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I'm hoping there's still some improvement, but there's got to be if we're talking about the Gold Cup for him
E.W. Terms