Hickstead and its illustrious history never fail to deliver the goods — and this year’s Equestrian.com Derby meeting was no exception.
The picturesque West Sussex setting provides a rich tapestry of legendary showjumping deeds dating back more than half a century, and spectators are never left disappointed.
The June highlight is, of course, the Hickstead Derby, an event that holds a unique place in the equestrian world. Yes, there are many derbies held throughout Europe and beyond, but nothing comes near to matching Hickstead’s magic.
Iconic challenges like the Derby Bank and Devil’s Dyke are just part of a three-minute course that tests the very best rider and horse combinations to the maximum. Since the Derby was first run in 1961, there have only been 57 clear rounds. That’s how tough it is.
Irishman Trevor Breen, though, has found a winning formula, becoming the first rider since Nick Skelton’s late 1980s feat to win the Derby in successive years on different horses.
Having triumphed 12 months ago with the one-eyed wonderhorse Adventure De Kannan, Breen rode to victory again aboard Loughnatousa WB, a 16-year-old chestnut gelding that, in turn, became the first horse to land Hickstead’s Derby with two different riders.
After prevailing in 2012 with Paul Beecher, Loughnatousa WB again conquered the Derby’s demands majestically, leading Breen to collect a winner’s purse of just under £33,000. There was a five-way tie for second spot as William Whitaker (Glenavadra Brilliant), Billy Twomey (Diaghilev), Steven Franks (Carlow Cruiser), Nigel Coupe (Golvers Hill) and Harriet Nuttall (A Touch Imperious) each had four faults.
Reflecting on his latest Derby triumph, Buckinghamshire-based Breen said: “It is an unbelievable feeling. I was riding two past Derby winners in Loughnatousa and Adventure De Kannan (equal seventh), so I felt that I had a shout.
“But it is such a tough course, extremely difficult, and you need a lot to go right. Both horses jumped superbly for me. To win the Derby once is a dream come true, so to win it twice feels a bit surreal.”
The Derby meeting opened with British Nations Cup rider Guy Williams, who is based in Northern France, winning the Bunn Leisure Tankard on Depardieu van t’Kiezelhof, while Ireland’s Richard Howley secured the Stoner Jewellers Vase and the Camardo Coffee Speed Derby qualifier.
There was also firm evidence of Leicestershire’s Holly Gillott continuing her fine form of 2015 when she guided her Nations Cup ride Dougie Douglas home to win the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial.
“Although I was last to go in the jump-off, I hadn’t seen anyone else go, so I just did what I thought would be good enough. Luckily, it was,” said Gillott, who collected a winner’s purse of £5,750.
“He (Dougie Douglas) wants to leave the fences up, and it suited him out there. I definitely went out there with the intention of winning it.”
Williams, meanwhile, made it a case of same again in the British Speed Derby, where he retained his crown, which he had targeted as his major aim for this year’s show. Williams’ time of 91.95 seconds on Casper De Muze was too much for runner-up Nuttall with Silver Lift and the rest of a high-class field.
Williams said: “The ground was definitely quicker this year — it was a different class to last year. This year, I just wanted to try to gain strides in places. Casper is unbelievably fast, and he deserves to win it.”
Image courtesy of George Gunn Photography