Nick Skelton’s Hickstead Derby memories: ‘Apollo knew the course, virtually – he was brilliant to ride round there’

  • Looking ahead to the 61st edition of the iconic Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby on Sunday 25 June, we’ve been speaking to some of the competition’s past winners to hear their stand-out memories.

    Here is what Nick Skelton, who won the Hickstead Derby in 1987 riding J Nick, and 1988 and 1989 on Apollo, had to say…

    First Hickstead Derby memory

    “Watching Stroller win in 1967 when I was 10,” says Nick. “In those days it was the big class in showjumping, a real spectacle and I’d never seen anything like the bank or the dyke.”

    First Hickstead Derby experience

    “When I was riding for Ted Edgar, we thought St James would win the Derby because he was careful and dead brave. We didn’t build any of the Derby fences at home, but I think we went to practise at David Broome’s and St James jumped the dyke there fine, but he didn’t take to it at all at Hickstead,” recalls Nick.

    “But there’s nothing like the dyke at Hickstead. The way Dougie Bunn and Pam Carruthers built the course is just brilliant – the dyke is angled in that corner and the horses jump away from the cars, making it a bit scary; it’s very clever. I don’t care what they say though, the course now is a lot easier than it was!”

    The times it all went right in the Hickstead Derby

    “I had to wait until 1987 when I won it on J Nick – he was a real handful, strong and wayward, but he jumped it very well. He jumped the dyke about a foot higher, he was very good, and I remember being interviewed by David Vine afterwards on the BBC,” says Nick.

    “Then Apollo was just brilliant to ride round there because he’d been round so many times, he knew the course, virtually, so it was all very easy to him. He was second there twice as well as his two wins.

    “People used to jump their best horses in it – even the likes of Deister won the Hickstead Derby, and Apollo won the Aachen grand prix in 1987 and 1988.”

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