After two years of knocking on the door, Nigel Coupe and Golvers Hill claimed the 2017 Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby.
“However you imagine it feels, it feels 100 times better,” said Nigel. “I used to come here jumping 12.2hhs and 13.2hhs and I’d stay to watch the Derby. You have dreams at that age and then get older and wiser and think it’s never going to happen.
“I went 10 years not having a horse good enough, but then ‘Ricky’ came along — he was one of those horses that found me really. It’s amazing to do something like this.”
Nigel and Sue Simmons’ 14-year-old Irish gelding upped his game from a four-fault performance in 2015 and eight-fault round in 2016 to produce one of two clears, leading to the first jump off since 2014.
They were joined by Harriet Nuttall and her super-consistent A Touch Imperious — who also have a strong form round this daunting 1.60m track having finished third, second and second in the past three years.
First to go in the jump off, Nigel successfully negotiated his second trip through the dyke, but the Ricardo Z x Clover Hill gelding got a little forward after the open water, catching the Derby rails behind.
Completing the remaining two obstacles clear, they set a target of 90.73sec.
Harriet’s huge and rangey “Henry” has not always been the fastest of horses, and she admitted to not “racing him too much at the start”.
But when they too caught the Derby rails behind, she had to up the pace to catch up.
Pushing on to the last with the full support of the crowd, she took a gamble but it didn’t pay off, and the 13-year-old son of Touchdown caught the final oxer behind, leaving them in second place with 91.06sec on the clock.
“It’s getting closer and closer [to winning]!” she said. “I’ve jumped a clear now. After that, how can you not come again? I’ll be back, the crowd and atmosphere and everything are amazing.”
This year’s speed derby winner sat on his winning ride just twice after a three year break prior to victory
We salute the winners of the Hickstead Derby and invite you to vote for your favourite
From V-signs to veterans to pint-sized pony victories, the Hickstead Derby hasn’t been short of drama over the decades. Enjoy
Three riders tied on four faults, including first-timer Holly Smith with her Bunn Leisure Derby Tankard winner Quality Old Joker, who just tipped the rails at the base of the bank.
Ireland’s Billy Twomey collected four-faults at the first part of the dyke for the third consecutive year with Diaghilev, while his countryman Dermott Lennon cleared the trappiest fences, but caught the gate at fence four with Gelvins Touch.
William Funnell’s Eindhoven derby victor Billy Buckingham impressed on his first trip round Hickstead, leaving all the fences standing but taking a step back on the bank and clocking a time fault to collect sixth place.
Five eight-fault finishers took their share of the £105,000 prize fund: Dermott Lennon and his first ride Vampire; Brazil’s Carlos Eduardo Mota RIbas (Wilexo); Steven Franks and Derby veteran Carlow Cruiser; Robert Whitaker (Catwalk IV) and Richard Howley (Chinook).
Elizabeth Power and Doonaveeragh O One — a previous winner of both the speed derby and eventers challenge — also finished on eight faults but added a time fault.
Don’t miss our full report from the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 June.