The entries are in for the 57th Al Shira’aa Derby, with one of the most open fields in years set to contest Hickstead's iconic showjumping class.
With a prize fund of £105,000, including £35,650 to the winner, it remains one of the most coveted titles in equestrian sport with many of the horse world’s biggest names gracing the roll of honour.
The winner of the Al Shira’aa Derby is presented with the famous Boomerang Trophy, which depicts Eddie Macken and his four-time winner descending the Derby Bank. They will also be given the Al Shira'aa Trophy to take home and keep as a memento of their win, which is presented by the title sponsor. The trophy showcases Al Shira’aa’s logo, which is drawn in Arabic calligraphy and incorporates the design of both a wind sail and a horse’s head.
Nigel Coupe and Golvers Hill, the reigning champions, will return to the All England Jumping Course in the hope of retaining the trophies they won last year. If the pair can repeat their success of 2017, they will be the first horse and rider combination to secure back-to-back victories since William Funnell and Cortaflex Mondriaan, who won in 2008 and 2009 following their first win in 2006.
Funnell also has a very good chance of winning a fourth title, this time with the talented Billy Buckingham. The pair were the Eindhoven Derby winners in 2017 and finished sixth on the horse’s Al Shira’aa Derby debut 12 months ago. He has been specially targeted at this class and is certainly one to watch in the Sunday afternoon showcase.
Harriet Nuttall has a remarkable record in the Derby, finishing third in 2014 and second in 2015, 2016 and 2017. She jumped a clear round with A Touch Imperious in last year’s class only to come second in the jump-off against Nigel Coupe, so she’ll be striving to go one better this year. As well as boasting an ultra-consistent record in the Al Shira’aa Derby, Harriet and A Touch Imperious have just come third in the Longines Grand Prix of Switzerland, meaning they’re on excellent form ahead of their Hickstead return.
Holly Smith and Quality Old Joker are another pair with a good chance, having finished third equal last year on their first attempt at the class. They recently finished fifth in the Hamburg Derby with just one fence down. Meanwhile, the winners of last month’s Hamburg Derby were Matt Sampson and Gloria Van Zuuthoeve, shooting them straight into contention for Hickstead’s equivalent class. Matt was the only rider to jump double clear in the German Derby, and he will be aiming to have an equally clean sheet next week at Hickstead.
Glenavadra Brilliant is another horse to look out for. Having won the 2016 Hickstead Derby with William Whitaker, Glenavadra Brilliant is now ridden by William’s younger brother Jim, who will be bidding to become the fourth Whitaker to have his name added to the famous roll of honour. Jim’s cousin Joe Whitaker and his mare Virginia plan to have a crack at winning, as does Robert Whitaker, who has had several top 10 placings in this class.
Irish rider and former World Champion Dermott Lennon is likely to have two strong chances in the Al Shira’aa Derby, having finished third equal last year with Gelvins Touch and seventh equal with Vampire.
Other riders to look out for include Elizabeth ‘Esib’ Power, an Irish international event rider and the sister of top jockey Robert Power. She has had two top 12 placings in the Al Shira’aa Derby, and has the potential to go well once again with Doonaveeragh O One, a horse with an excellent Hickstead record.
The starting line-up for the Al Shira’aa Derby will not be confirmed until after the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial, which takes place on Friday 22 June. The highest placed 35 horses qualify for the Al Shira’aa Derby, with qualification passing down the line.
In addition to Sunday’s grand finale, the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting boasts a number of World Ranking classes and has attracted a field of almost 100 riders from 16 different countries including the UAE, Australia, Japan, the USA and Brazil. Great Britain’s number one showjumper Scott Brash is among those due to compete at the show, along with British showjumping legend John Whitaker, who returns to the event after an absence of several years, and former Hickstead Derby winner Guy Williams.
The Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting takes place from the 21-24 June, with tickets on sale now.
Follow news and updates from this year’s Al Shira’aa Derby contenders using the hashtag #RoadtoHickstead.
Irish star Shane Breen produced a record-breaking performance to win a memorable Equerry Bolesworth International Puissance on Friday night.
Bolesworth's International Arena was at its majestic best in glorious sunshine as a capacity crowd witnessed a truly outstanding exhibition of power and precision jumping.
Shane and 18-year-old puissance specialist Acorad 3 were immaculate across all five rounds of the Equitop Myoplast-sponsored showpiece, clinching victory by jumping a Bolesworth record 2.20 metres (7ft 3in).
He was joined in the fifth and final round by four fellow Irishmen - Anthony Condon, Michael Pender, Richard Howley and Paul Kennedy - with Shane and his brilliant partner the only ones to clear the famous red wall.
It was a spectacular display, and one that Shane admitted left him bursting with pride.
"It was my first puissance on this horse," Shane said. "He is a puissance specialist, and I am the sixth Irish rider he has taken to victory in this type of competition.
"He is an absolute pleasure to ride. He is an incredible horse.
"He has never knocked a puissance wall down, and I am delighted to have won it. It was fantastic.
"He has jumped 2.20 before, and a little bit higher as well. Last year, I had him in my stable, but I didn't get to do a puissance with him.
"I am just so happy. Riding this horse is an absolute dream. When he was younger, he jumped grands prix and did everything.
"He has extraodinary scope, a super brain and is beautiful to ride. He just loves jumping."
Paul Kennedy led an Irish grand prix one-two as this year's Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show reached a thrilling conclusion on Sunday.
Paul, who is based in nearby Shropshire, captured the £30,000 Equerry Grand Prix top prize aboard 12-year-old Cartown Danger Mouse to deny his countryman Billy Twomey and Kimba Flamenco victory by just nine hundredths of a second.
Decorated British Olympian - 62-year-old Yorkshireman John Whitaker - finished third with Cassinis Chaplin, while John's nephew William Whitaker was fourth on Ilusionata van 'T Meulenhof.
Billy, twice winner of the Liverpool International Grand Prix, looked to have done enough as the five-day show reached a pulsating crescendo, but last-to-go Paul had other ideas as he guided his home-bred mare to victory in masterful fashion.
There were hard luck stories as well, but the day belonged to last-to-go Paul, who thrived under intense pressure and claimed a truly outstanding success, punching the air as he crossed the finishing line in a time of 38.56 seconds.
"I am absolutely delighted. It is a really good feeling," Paul said. "It is certainly a day I will never forget.
"To be honest, I didn't feel the pressure so much. I was very calm. I have a really good team, and they had it all worked out what to do, and as I was coming into the arena I knew exactly what I had to.
"This win has to be right up there at the top in terms of my career."
Billy, meanwhile, added: "Credit to Paul. His mare has been jumping well all the show, and he was probably the favourite today.
"I thought the course-builder did a really good job. The course was difficult enough, and it made for a really good grand prix, very entertaining for the crowd.
"My horse is absolutely going in the right direction. Hopefully, he is going to be one to look forward to."
Third-placed John was delighted by the performance of Cassinis Chaplin, stating: "Well done to Paul and Billy. My horse jumped great. The last few weeks, he has really improved, stepped up a gear and jumped really well."
The grand prix brought the curtain down on another memorable Bolesworth, and Paul paid tribute to show president Nina Barbour and her entire team.
"This is a very local show for me - I am just down the road in Whitchurch - and it is an absolute credit to Nina and the whole team.
"They haven't had it easy over the last few years, but they keep going, they get better every year, and for us riders to come to a place like this on home soil in front of a home crowd is amazing."
International showjumper William Funnell is hoping to achieve a fourth win at this month’s Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead.
The Surrey-based rider has a very good chance of adding to his tally of wins with the talented Billy Buckingham, who finished sixth in the class last year. The pair left all the fences standing, but a hesitation at the top of the Derby Bank resulted in a backward step and four faults, along with a single time fault.
“I was very pleased with the horse’s first attempt – having left all the fences up, it was technically a clear jumping round, and those don’t come around very often in the Derby,” says William.
Although the Bank caused them issues twelve months ago, William believes this year the horse will be more confident about going down the famous 10ft 6in slope.
“Now he’s been down the Bank safely, I’d like to think it was a nice experience for him. Billy Buckingham is quite a sensitive horse, and when you’re at the top of the Bank there’s a fine line between reassuring the horse and overdoing it. If you’re too strong and use too much leg, he might think there’s something to be wary of,” William adds.
According to Funnell, the 10-year-old homebred is reminiscent of Cortaflex Mondriaan, the horse who gave him three Hickstead Derby victories in 2006, 2008 and 2009. “Mondriaan was a pure natural, and while Billy Buckingham hasn’t got the same experience he feels as much as a natural as Mondriaan, so I’d like to think he’ll have his chance too.”
While William holds a place in the Hickstead history books as one of the few three-time winners, he has come very close on several other occasions. In 1997, he finished runner up after Comex knocked down the 1m high jump on top of the Derby Bank, and in 2012, he jumped a clear in the first round with Dorada but ended up second to Ireland’s Paul Beecher after a jump-off.
“There are a lot of unlucky stories in the Derby,” William adds. “With 21 jumping efforts, it’s common to have just one fence down that costs you the win. I’d always wanted to win the class and to have lost on Comex because of knocking down the smallest fence on the course was really tough. Although it was disappointing to come so close with Dorada as well, it was a bit easier because I’d won the class three times by that stage.”
William now bids to join the elusive group of four-time winners, including Harvey Smith, Michael Whitaker and John Whitaker. Ireland’s Eddie Macken is the only rider to claim four consecutive Hickstead Derby titles, having won every year from 1976 to 1979 with the incomparable Boomerang.
The Al Shira'aa Derby at Hickstead is now in its 57th year, but William believes it has lost none of its magic. “For me, it’s the most exciting class in showjumping in the UK. For the public, it’s special, because the course stays the same every year, and everyone knows the history of the class. It’s always been my ‘local’ show and winning the Derby was always something I aspired to. It’s a big part of my season every year.”
William Funnell will be among the main contenders for this year’s Al Shira’aa Derby, which takes place on the Sunday afternoon of the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting (21-24 June).
Tickets are on sale now from www.hickstead.co.uk with discounts available to those booking online in advance of the show.