On Sunday 24 June, William Funnell joined an elite band of riders to have won the Hickstead Derby four times. But what is even more outstanding is that he did it on a third generation home-bred.
His winning ride Billy Buckingham is by William’s European gold medal-winning stallion Billy Congo — himself a product of the prolific breeding operation at the world famous Billy Stud, being by Vechta out of the five-star jumping mare Billy Autumn (x Animo Elite).
And the same week that Billy Congo’s son won the Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead, the now 17-year-old Congo was jumping into third place in a 1.35m class at the venue — with William’s wife Pippa at the helm.
Pippa produced Billy Congo in the stallion’s early career and the pair have been reunited recently to compete in some two-star showjumping classes.
“At 17, I don’t want him running round speed classes and he’s been such a good horse to us, winning around €750,000, so Pippa jumping him at two-star level is perfect,” William told H&H.
“He’s a lovely character, he loves the jumping and it’s nice for him to be out having fun — and actually it’s nice for breeders to see him out, too, especially with Pip riding him, who is probably a better fit. He’s a good height, but let’s put it this way — I’m worried if I don’t go on a diet I’m going to break him!
“It’s important to breed a nice horse, but so are the basics of the horse’s production — they need to be correctly trained and a lot of those basics are what Pip is so strong on,” William explains.
“Most of what I benefit from when I get on them later in life comes from Pip, going right back to [her original trainer] Ruth McMullen even. All those basics are so well instilled in all our horses and our riders and it stays with them for life.”
Billy Congo, already a prolific sire of jumpers and eventers, has also recently been taken on by the VDL Stud in the Netherlands.
“He’s getting quite a lot of mares from abroad now — it’s great he’s getting recognised as a top stallion because there are so few professional breeders in the UK,” William says.
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“Billy Congo will compete in the two-star grand prix at Knokke next week, then hopefully Pippa will do the Queen’s Cup [at the Royal International next month] with him.
“It was great to win the Hickstead Derby with a home-bred and Billy Congo has really proved himself as a sire now,” says William. “Hopefully he was watching Billy Buckingham’s round on the telly at home!”
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