A prize-giving FaceTime call and some divine intervention: the inside story of Shane Breen’s Hickstead Derby success

  • The spotlight fell on Shane Breen on Sunday (26 June) when he finally won the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby title with Team Z7’s stunning 16-year-old stallion Can Ya Makan, who produced the only clear round in the class.

    “Luckily, thankfully, it was my day today,” said Shane, 47, after lifting the coveted Boomerang trophy for the first time. “People kept saying ‘This is your year’ but I’d say, ‘It’s been my year for the past 15 years!’”

    But behind every career-defining victory is a hard-working team devoted to their horses and the path to glory is rarely straightforward. We caught up with Shane and connections of the winning stallion Can Ya Makan to hear the inside story of their Hickstead Derby success.

    Bought at auction as a two-year-old

    Can Ya Makan is a Holstein stallion by Canturo, out of a Fier Du Lui mare, and was bred by Gerald Lenaerts of Stud Farm Overis. As a two-year-old, he was bought by Dubai-based Team Z7’s founder Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who changed his name from Cantianos to Can Ya Makan, which means “once upon a time” in Arabic.

    He was produced through his early years largely by Miguel Bravo and Marion Hughes, with Shane’s fellow Hickstead Derby winner Mikey Pender enjoying a spell in the saddle before he was sent to Shane to ride in 2017. Shane’s former stable jockey Georgia Tame also enjoyed some great competition results on the stallion during her time with the Breen team.

    “Marion Hughes, Miguel Bravo and Mikey Pender had competed him up to five-star grand prix level before I took over the reins and I did some Global Champions Tour and GCL shows with him, and he was very good, placed in a lot of good classes,” says Shane.

    ‘We never thought he was a Derby horse’

    Shane and Can Ya Makan have accumulated some terrific wins in their five years together, including the CSI5* Manama Rose Show Stakes at Royal Windsor, the Negrita Cup at the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Keysoe’s CSI2* grand prix and the British speed classic at the Royal International Horse Show in 2018, but “it was never the plan to go and do Derbies with him” says Shane.

    The turning point came when they finished third in the 2017 speed Derby at Dublin Horse Show – a class he won the following year – and Shane then began to train Can Ya Makan over dykes and banks in preparation for a Derby.

    Can Ya Makan – one of the yard favourites

    According to Shane, Can Ya Makan is one of the easiest horses on the yard.

    “He’s a lot of blood, so work at home is just about keeping him fit – he goes out twice a day, he’ll go out on hacks and he’ll do a bit of flatwork, but because he’s so good at flatwork, it’s not hard work for him, it’s easy,” reveals Shane. “When I’m away, because he’s so nice to ride, it’s very easy for the lads to work him.”

    His groom Ellen Peters adds: “He’s got such a big personality and loves attention. If you go in the stable with him, he puts his ears back and if you don’t know him you’d think he was a bit dangerous but as soon as you give him a little scratch or a cuddle, he drops his neck and the ears go forward and he’ll say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Everyone loves him and we have a lot of stallions so, although we have to be careful with them obviously, they just get on with life and fit in.

    “He’s a really special horse – he’s beautiful and he knows it!”

    So close to winning the Hamburg Derby – twice

    “In 2019 I brought him to Hamburg and was double clear and finished second in the Derby – the last one in [German rider Nisse Luneburg] pipped me in the jump-off!” remembers Shane. “But he jumped amazing there.

    “This year in Hamburg he was jumping fantastic once again but just had a little slip at the double and didn’t quite take off; it fell apart a bit after that which was a real shame because a clear round would have won. He could have had two Derbies this year!”

    Shane Breen and Can Ya Makan coming down the Hickstead Derby bank to win in 2022

    Third time lucky in the Hickstead Derby

    Shane has had several brushes with victory in the Hickstead Derby over the years. He tied for third place with his future wife Chloe Bunn in 2005 and in 2019 he jumped one of three clears on Golden Hawk to finish third. Can Ya Makan, too, had previously completed with Shane, finishing on eight faults in 2019 and four faults in 2018 when the pair were placed third. The duo also won the Derby trial at Hickstead in 2018.

    “He just had the balustrade down in his first time in the Derby in 2018,” says Shane. “In 2019 it was just the dry ditch and the fence going into the dyke.

    “He was looking at the dry ditch in 2018 too, so I had to come at it with a lot of pace, then went six strides to the balustrade which then fell.”

    After a quiet year or two during the pandemic, during which the in-demand stallion was busy breeding, he came out at the start of 2022 jumping in the United Arab Emirates before finishing fifth in the Le Touquet Derby and taking in the Hamburg Derby en route to his winning tilt at Hickstead.

    “The focus wasn’t Friday’s Derby trial and he had the white gate down behind, he was just a bit unlucky,” says Shane. “Then Sunday was really, really enjoyable – he was just perfect.”

    A family affair – and some divine intervention

    Shane follows in the footsteps of his two-time Hickstead Derby winning brother Trevor Breen, who was on team duties for Ireland in Rotterdam over the Hickstead Derby weekend, but was one of the first people to ring to congratulate the new title-holder. Shane also credited some divine intervention after his lucky rub at the dry ditch.

    “I think my mother and Douglas Bunn were looking down, and held the pole for me,” he says.

    A FaceTime call from the Hickstead Derby prize-giving

    Groom Ellen Peters has been working for Shane for three years and one of the first shows she took Can Ya Makan to was Royal Windsor in 2019 where he won the speed class. She has been there for most of their great triumphs since – except the Hickstead Derby…

    “Unfortunately I wasn’t there on Derby day because I was at Carl Hanley’s in Germany with the horses heading to Monaco,” says Ellen. “I was sitting looking at it on the phone crying my eyes out.

    “I was delighted for the team though, because normally I get to be with Shane when he wins, so it was fantastic for them all to be there and see it.

    “When Canya came into the ring, he looked stunning, the shine was really coming off his coat and I thought ‘Could we be lucky here?’ My heart was in my mouth the whole way round the course.

    “When he went down the bank and jumped the vertical I thought ‘Oh God, I think he’s got this’ – that was the only one I was worried about, because anything can happen at the bank. He just flew round and the more the crowd clapped, the bigger he jumped. And then I cried – a lot. Then, when Dermott Lennon had the fence down, I cried even more!”

    Shane Breen and Can Ya Makan on the lap of honour for the Hickstead Derby

    Laura Arkle, manager of Team Z7, was with Shane and Can Ya Makan when she FaceTimed Ellen from the prize-giving ceremony.

    “Canya looked like he was loving every minute of it, saying ‘I should be here every week!’,” says Ellen.

    “Sunday was just unbelievable – we’re still on a high!” adds Laura.

    • Don’t miss the full Derby report in this week’s issue of H&H (in the shops Thursday, 30 June) and we go behind the stable door with Can Ya Makan in our “In the spotlight” series in next week’s issue, out Thursday, 7 July.

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