Hickstead is modifying its historic Derby Bank to make it more horse-friendly in time for this year’s DSF Derby. The obstacle hadn’t previously been changed for more than 30 years.

The Hickstead Derby Bank has been a part of the British Jumping Derby since the competition started in 1961. Hickstead owner, Douglas Bunn, wanted the Derby to be the ultimate test for horse and rider and the bank, together with the three elements of the Devils’ Dyke, is one of the course’s hardest obstacles.

The very first bank was built in 1961, using chalk with a casing of clay. However, it soon showed a tendency to slip, so the Bunns decided to replace it with a second bank, made of concrete and encased in clay, which was situated in a slightly different position within the arena. The second bank was built in 1969 and used for the first time in the 1970 competition.

The Bunns had been considering modifying the 1969 Bank for some time and their decision wasn’t linked to last year’s accident, when Geoff Luckett’s GG Barock broke an off-hindleg and had to be put to sleep.

“When it was built in the 1960s, many horses were educated in the hunting field and were no stranger to obstacles such as this. Today their preparation is much more specialised and we decided to keep up with progress and make the change,” explains Bunn.

This year’s changes, which have been supervised by Edward Bunn, see the bottom slope of the Bank move to 7ft 6in from the vertical against the 6ft of the past. This modifies the descent from 52 to 60 degrees.

The new bank will be used for the first time in the DSF Derby, which takes place on the last day of the British Jumping Derby Meeting on 21 August. Incidentally, the 2005 DSF Derby could crown John Whitaker as its all-time champion if the Yorkshire rider manages to land another victory. Whitaker, who jumped Buddy Bunn to victory last year, has also bagged the Derby in 2000 with Welham, in 1998 with Gammon and in 1983 with Ryan’s Son. Another win would bring his Hickstead tally to five in a feat that has never been achieved before.

Meanwhile, the Arena UK showground in Grantham, Lincolnshire is about to change hands after Nottinghamshire businessman Norman Oley and his daughter Lauren Humphries bought it from the Lanni family. The transition, however, is likely to be very smooth and won’t affect the events that are scheduled to take place at the venue throughout this and next year. Oley and Humphries will retain Sarah Watson, who will become Arena UK’s General Manager, and John Lanni will be around in the early stages of the hand-over. Matthew Lanni will continue to do his show jumping training at the centre.

Oley and Humphries have also bought a 400-acre farm adjacent to the showground, which they plan to turn into an outdoor leisure centre with two cross-country courses.