Nigel Coupe waited 27 years to win Hickstead’s most famous class, the Al Shira’aa Derby, and next month he returns to the All England Jumping Course with the aim of retaining the title.
Nigel and his horse Golvers Hill were one of two combinations to jump clear in last year’s class, alongside Harriet Nuttall with A Touch Imperious, but in the end it was Lancashire-born Coupe who came out on top after a jump-off against the clock.
He was presented with the Boomerang Trophy – which depicts Eddie Macken and his four-time Derby champion Boomerang descending the Derby Bank – as well as the brand new Al Shira’aa Trophy, and the first prize of £34,650.
“A few hours after winning the class last year, someone asked me what the prize money was and I had to look it up!” says Nigel. “It was an amazing amount, but to be honest it could have been for a pound and it wouldn’t have made any difference to how good it felt to win.”
Coupe now hopes to join an illustrious group of riders to net consecutive wins, including Harvey Smith, Paul Schockemöhle, John Ledingham, William Funnell and, most recently, Trevor Breen, who won in 2014 and 2015. Peter Charles and Michael Whitaker both won three times in succession, with Eddie Macken remaining the most successful rider in Derby history with his four wins in a row from 1976 to 1979.
“To win the Al Shira’aa Derby for the first time was amazing, but now I’d love to experience that all over again,” says Nigel, who admits it will be tough to secure back-to-back wins due to some fierce competition. “There are about six to eight combinations with a good chance of winning it this year, and my horse is one of those, but it all depends on how things go on the day.”
It takes extraordinary skill, talent and often a dose of good luck to jump clear round the Derby course, which has remained the same since the class was first held in 1961. There have only been 60 clear rounds since then, which is testament to its difficulty. Many of the fences are up to full height (1.60m) or width (2m), and there are a number of unique challenges including the 15ft Open Water, the double of water ditches, the Road Crossing, the Open Ditch, the 10ft 6in slope of the Derby Bank and the Devil’s Dyke, widely regarded as the most difficult obstacle on the course.
Nigel Coupe and Golvers Hill had an extraordinary season last year. In addition to their Al Shira’aa Derby victory, the pair won the Cock o’the North title at the Great Yorkshire Show and the Leading Showjumper of the Year title at Horse the Year Show, and they represented Great Britain on several Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup teams.
The plan is for the horse to jump in the Hamburg Derby – Germany’s equivalent class, which is held in May – then return to defend their Hickstead title on 24 June. But before they can line up in Sunday afternoon’s show case, they must qualify in the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial, which decides the start list for the Al Shira’aa Derby.
The Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting takes place on the 21-24 June, with tickets on sale now from www.hickstead.co.uk. Discounts are available on tickets bought online in advance of the show.