Holly Smith may have faced the disappointment of jumping a clear round in the Hickstead Derby only to come second in the jump-off, but she proved her prowess on the racetrack.
Racing donkey carts, that is. This year, The Saturday evening entertainment at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby meeting involved riders pitted against one another in a duel of mules.
In a contest that opened with a race on foot to select the quickest donkey and trap, the riders than had to gallop their sometimes reluctant equids for the finish line.
It was the girls who dominated the competition, with a four-way final consisting of Holly, Harriet Nuttall and Ellen Whitaker. Just one of the boys made the cut — Australian showjumper James Arkins.
It was Holly who came out on top, receiving — and giving — a good dousing of champagne for her victory.
“Each year we put on some entertainment on the Saturday night and the riders have to try something different — we’ve had barrel racing, mounted games, polo and this time we thought we’d test them at donkey racing,” said Hickstead’s Lizzie Bunn.
“They weren’t particularly good at steering — next time we might have to get some barriers to hold them in.”
The equids were provided by Surrey-based Dashing Donkeys, run by Alexandra Fisher, which usually provides entertainment for hen parties, stag dos and for filming across the southeast.
“We have 23 donkeys but four are broken to drive in the sulkies — they know what to do. If you say ‘go’, they know that word, so you have to be careful on that front,” she said.
While many of the boys were quicker on foot and raced to snatch one of the faster donkeys — younger contenders Harry and Jimmy — the move often proved their downfall, although Speed Derby winner Matt Sampson’s downfall was more down to his rivals, as he hit the dirt during his heat.
“June and Polly are my old girls and they are more experienced whereas Harry and Jimmy are younger and feistier,” Alexandra explained. “The problem is that Harry has a tendency to go a certain way and you don’t have much choice about it — he was eliminated in a lot of the races for trying to cut the corners.
Watch a video of the UK's first ever shire horse race to promote the endanged breed
“It is set to be a very competitive affair as the jockeys are taking it pretty seriously in the quest…
The owner had idea their dam was carrying two foals until he spotted the pair in the field
“It was a close match in the final,” she added. “I think the girls had a bit more skill.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.
In this week’s magazine, out on 28 June, is a full report from the Hickstead Derby meeting, a six-page report from Royal Ascot, a feature on the much-discussed whip rules and, in this week’s ‘vet clinic’, find out how to spot the signs of sand colic.