James Delahooke was at a major art gallery some time back with a top international art dealer and confesses: “I couldn’t understand what the hell he was talking about from one picture to the next, or comprehend what he was trying to explain to me”. People who have accompanied James Delahooke to the sales have felt much the same way. The 50-year-old bloodstock agent extraordinary with 18 individual Group One winners bought at auction as yearlings and heaven knows how many Group Twos and Threes, admits that he and the art dealer are brothers under the skin. “What I do is intangible too. Even more so than a work of art, really because you are talking about three dimensions. I don’t think you can teach anyone to do it. I hope you can’t, or I would be out of a job!”
Delahooke lives in some style in The Old Rectory, a Georgian structure built in 1810, just above the Pennine snowline at Barningham, Richmond, North Yorkshire. Born at Mursley, in Buckinghamshire, the son of a farmer, he went to Wellington College, “Quite close to Broadmoor, which is very appropriate”. When he left, he moved on to Cirencester Agricultural College, where he soon realised farming was not for him and went to work at a stud in Hunter’s Valley, in New South Wales, Australia. Delahooke returned to help run the family stud at Adstock Manor and, later, became involved with Guy Harwood, “who was the first person who had the confidence to say ‘Go ahead and see what you can do’ in the late 70s”. What he did was to purchase such stars as Ela Mana Mou, To Agori Mou, Young Generation and Kalaglow, which shone at Harwood’s all-conquering West Sussex stable. Later he also purchased the brilliant Dancing Brave for the Coombelands maestro.
Delahooke’s association with Khalid Abdullah was tremendously successful and he set up the Juddmonte Studs in Berkshire, Ireland and the States — “I bought all the mares the bred the good horses they’ve had ever since”. Add to that, two back-to-back Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners in Rainbow Quest and Dancing Brave and you begin to see that the man knows what he is talking about.
Best Day’s Racing:
York, August, 1980 — the day High Line, who stood at my stud, sired four winners and a second from five runners, including two Group One races and a Listed race.
Dancing Brave’s Derby. I thought I was due a Derby. It meant that I had been second twice, on the other occasion with Master Willie, third twice and fourth twice.
The great Italian, Federico Tesio — the greatest breeder of all time. I suppose he was the man responsible for the modern breed of thoroughbred as we know it, having bred Ribot and Nearco.
Towcester, my local one as a boy. I was very lucky there and had a lot of fun.
Kempton. I’m sure it is a very good racecourse and a very good test but I can never imagine anything nice happening there. It’s too urban and awful.
What would you do if you were senior steward?
Make sure a brilliant and involved owner-breeder, such as Gerald Leigh, was brought in to give racing the benefit of his acumen. So many recent and past Jockey Club appointees don’t even own a racehorse.
Or champion of the BHB?
Stop racing until the Government and the betting industry rang me to ask how much I needed. It would not take long.
Or the Chairman of the Levy Board?
Try to assist the BHB in making our racing the envy of the world rather than the poor relation.
Funniest moment in racing:
My brother Matt rode a hurdler for me at Sandown one day. He had never had a fall and particularly disliked the idea of having one. It missed the second and he came past the stands going down one side and up the other, performing acrobatic miracles to avoid the dreaded fall. Tony Balding and I were having to hold each other up for laughing. He finished fourth to Tree Tangle and never did have a fall.
Persons to whom I owe most in life:
My mother, Pricilla, for giving me an eye for a horse, and Guy Harwood for giving me the chance to use it.
People who try to impose their views on everyone else.
Nurseryman – I love trees and have planted a lot on my studs.
Ideal evening out:
An evening in. A dinner party at home, where Angie chooses and cooks the food and I choose the wine and the company.
Yes — I’ve got some!
The great English breakfast, particularly where they do it well, like at the late Jeremy Tree’s.
The Waterside Inn at Bray.
The Harley, at Lexington.
Favourite sport outside racing:
Desert Island Disc:
A Fool Such As I.
Everything except opera or rap.
Jeans — it is easy to get new ones as I expand.
Greta Scacchi — I can’t spell her name but I don’t ‘arf fancy her.
Ruth Pinder — Peter Savill’s fiancee. She must have a sense of humour.
Bordeaux — The Definitive Guide, by Robert Parker.
To buy a Derby winner.
Are you superstitious?
Not when things are going well.
Sporting hero outside racing:
by Fleetwood Jones, Saturday, April 15, 1995.