Veteran show jumper John Whitaker is aiming to become the first rider to ever record five victories in the annual DFS Derby. Now in its 44th year, the world-famous competition takes place on the last day of the British Jumping Derby Meeting (19 – 21 August) at the All England Jumping Course and will feature a whole host of top international show jumpers.
If Whitaker triumphs, he will be the first rider with five wins to his credit, surpassing the four consecutive wins by Ireland’s Eddie Macken and the great Boomerang. Whitaker has taken the Derby Trophy on four different horses: with Welham in 2000, in 1998 with Gammon and in 1983 on the legendary Ryan’s Son. He won last year’s DFS Derby on Buddy Bunn, owned by Hickstead owner Douglas Bunn, narrowly beating his then 18-year-old niece, Ellen. The only other rider still competing and with four wins – three of them consecutive – to his credit is John’s brother, Michael.
The British Jumping Derby was created by Douglas Bunn in 1961 as the “ultimate test” for horse and rider. The course always includes the infamous Derby Bank and the notorious Devil’s Dyke.
“The Bank demands courage, but the Devil’s Dyke calls for absolute precision,” says Douglas Bunn. The middle element is a rail over a water ditch and the first and third light rails with no ground line: “If you meet the first one exactly right, the others should follow” he explains.
The famous 10ft 6ins Derby Bank has been modified this year to ease the slope of the descent. The obstacle had remained unchanged for more than 30 years, but the bottom of the slope has now been advanced to 7ft 6ins from the vertical, instead of the traditional 6ft, to make it more “horse friendly”.
The Bunn family, who own Hickstead, had been considering modifying the 1969 Bank for some time and claim 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 down.
“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 Mr Bunn.
The bank is not the only feature to have been made more friendly for competitors. A 20% increase in the prize fund for Hickstead’s DFS Derby means that the winner will now take home £30,000.
The British Jumping Derby meeting opens its four-day run on 18 August and the DSF Derby will take place on 21 August. For more information visit www.hickstead.co.uk.
Programme of events
Thursday 18th August
The Hickstead Derby Tankard
The Hickstead Derby Salver
Friday 19th August
The Osborne Refrigerators Derby Trial
The Hickstead Derby Vase
Cobs, Riding Horses, Small Hunters
Saturday 20th August
The British Speed Derby
The Hickstead Derby Trophy
Hacks, Mountain & Moorlands
Sunday 21st August
The DFS Derby
The Hickstead Pony Masters
Osborne Refrigerators Celebrity Scurry
Ridden Hunters, Private Driving, Coster Turnouts