On Sunday (23 June) 19-year-old Michael Pender from Ireland became the youngest winner of the Hickstead Derby at his first attempt over the famous fences.
But the most jaw-dropping aspect of Michael’s winning jump-off round is the absolute flyer his 12-year-old mount Hearton Du Bois Halleux takes to clear the water jump — as seen in this video — and the skill he displays in collecting the powerful gelding, who’d taken a real hold, back enough to clear the Derby rails.
“He’s not looking up at the water, he’s collecting his reins and he’s got to get straight and make sure he has control,” says CMH.TV commentator James Fisher, shortly before the pair launch towards the 15ft open water jump, taking off what looks to be several feet in front of the vast blue expanse.
The pair had racked up 20 faults in Friday’s Bunn Leisure Derby trial, where Michael says Hearton Du Bois Halleux spooked at the water jump.
“He had a bad distance and got a bit upset,” said Michael of the horse whose biggest successes to date have come in the puissance classes at Dublin, Liverpool and Bolesworth.
Against the clock, Michael crossed the line over 20 seconds slower than Shane Breen (Golden Hawk) and seven seconds adrift of Harriet Nuttall (A Touch Imperious) but crucially he was the only one of the trio to leave all the fences standing a second time. The teenager punched the air in delight.
“I knew my horse wasn’t going to be very fast in the jump-off so, like the first round, I just tried to jump every fence individually and try to be clear to put the pressure on Harriet. Luckily it paid off,” said Michael, who works for Marion Hughes’s HHS stud in Ireland.
“I had Brendon Doyle, Marion’s yard manager, Conor McMahon and David Simpson to help me — everybody was helping me, so I’d like to thank them all.
“I walked the course in the morning – it was big, very big. My horse started to get strong towards the end of the first round but luckily he stayed clear and he was jumping amazing today. Even in the warm-up he was unbelievable.”
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Commentator James Fisher sums up: “He showed real grit and determination all the way round, that horse was not easy to ride — Michael really had to work so hard after the water to anchor it back for the Derby rails. That was superb riding. He held his nerve all the way to the end.”
Don’t miss the full report from Michael’s historic win in the Hickstead Derby in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound, out Thursday 27 June.