On Sunday afternoon (24 June) this year’s field of 26 intrepid challengers will line up for the famous Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead.
So what does it take to win this prestigious event? Below we have sifted through the past 10 years of Derby winning statistics to find your “typical” victor in the modern era of the class’s illustrious history.
But how does this reflect on this year’s contenders? According to these statistics, we’ve revealed who we think the winner will be below — but are we correct? Tune in at 2.45pm on Sunday to find out!
First up, the statistics say we’re looking for a gelding — which rules out the stallion in this year’s start list, Un Soir D’Amour (Guy Williams) plus the handful of mares Usika (Gonzalo Busca Roca), Virginia (Joe Whitaker), Gloria Van Zuuthoeve (Matthew Sampson), Culmore Prospect (Joss Williams).
Age-wise, the trends say we next need to pick a slightly older horse aged between 13 and 16. Accordingly, we have to rule out the relative youngsters, 12-year-olds Andretti (Graham Gillespie), Cavalier Rusticana (Anthony Condon), Can Ya Makan (Shane Breen) and Gelvins Touch (Dermott Lennon), 10-year-olds Billy Buckingham (William Funnell), Quality Old Joker (Holly Smith), Notis Me (Richard Howley) and Braveheart (Harold Megahey), and the nine-year-old Kiss N Fly (Darryl Walker). We also have to strike through the wonderful evergreen quartet of 17-year-olds Calaero (Darren Wise), Doonaveeragh O One (Elizabeth Power) and Navalo De Poheton (Andrew Kocher), and the 20-year-old Carlow Cruiser (Steven Franks).
As British and Irish riders have ruled in this class since 1996, we strike a line through Brazilian contender Carlos Eduardo Mota Ribas (Wilexo) hoping to follow in the footsteps of the great two-time winner Nelson Pessoa.
One of the key stats is previous experience of the Hickstead Derby track and, of the seven pairs still on our list, we have to rule out Bodieve Toyboy (Andrew Williams), who has been round the Speed Derby and contested the Derby Trial, but never the Derby itself.
Willem De Lux (Sammie Jo Coffin) will be lining up for their fourth tilt at the Derby scoring their best result of 12 faults in last year’s competition. Dollanstown (Capt Geoff Curran) has completed twice with a former rider Michael Kelly but hasn’t seen the Derby fences since 2014.
Few can have a better Derby track record than Harriet Nuttall and A Touch Imperious — this will be their sixth attempt, having improved every year until most notably jumping clear in 2017 only to lose out in the jump-off to victors Nigel Coupe and Golvers Hill, who are back to defend their title. No horse since Mondriaan (William Funnell) in 2009 has succeeded in doing this, however. Another past winner to return is Glenavadra Brilliant, who won in 2016 with William Whitaker in the saddle but returns in 2018 under Jim Whitaker. Only three years ago Loughnatousa WB returned under a new rider Trevor Breen to regain the title he won in 2012 with Paul Beecher, so this albeit unusual stat could rule in this pair’s favour.
With Irish Sport Horses having such a good recent track record, we’re going to take out the KWPN Willem De Lux and the very interesting entry of the Holstein Catwalk IV (Robert Whitaker) from the remaining six pairs. And, at 20, James Whitaker would be one of the youngest ever winners of the Hickstead Derby, so despite his excellent skills in the saddle, that statistic rules him off the list.
So we have whittled down a field of 26 to a shortlist of three — two bays and a chestnut.
Seven years ago, Tina Fletcher became the first female rider to win the Hickstead Derby since 1973 but we have a sneaky feeling this trend for male dominance is being reversed — could Harriet Nuttall lift the famous Boomerang Trophy in 2018 with the hugely likeable A Touch Imperious? We have a sneaky feeling this could finally be their year…
H&H TOP TIP: Harriet Nuttall (A Touch Imperious)
BEST RUN FOR YOUR MONEY: Nigel Coupe (Golvers Hill)
DARK HORSE: Capt Geoff Curran (Dollanstown)
Don’t miss the full report from the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting in next week’s Horse & Hound, out Thursday 28 June.