The time of your life, the horse of a lifetime: Hickstead legend cheered into happy retirement

  • A Touch Imperious has been retired aged 20 with fitting ceremony, cheered round one last lap of the Hickstead International Arena in which he had shone so many times.

    Harriet Biddick took the saddle off “Henry” in an emotional moment before this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby, the class he is most famous for.

    He and Harriet finished second in the Derby five times, and came third twice, winning nearly £117,000 just in this class.

    “He may not have won but he’s a Derby champion in our hearts,” said commentator John Stokes. “We wish him a long and happy retirement, and thank him and Harriet for the joy and excitement they’ve brought us in this most iconic competition.”

    Harriet trotted Henry twice round the ring, to thunderous applause from every stand. Shining and plaited, ears pricked, the big chestnut was then taken to the winner’s enclosure, where his saddle was replaced with a wreath hanging with apples and carrots. Harriet led him out of the ring as her fellow riders formed a guard of honour by the chute, and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life was played.

    Harriet said emotional though the decision was, it was the right one for Henry, whom she felt was not quite fit enough for one last try at the title.

    “He is 20 now, and he owes us nothing,” she said last week. “He’s got a fantastic record in the class, and I want to keep it that way.”

    A Touch Imperious was bred by Dominic and Leo Rice, of Premier Sports Horses, and Harriet’s father Rupert Nuttall bought him as a youngster. Harriet produced him all the way up, to success also including joint-winning the Hickstead Derby trial two years ago, and representing Britain on Nations Cup teams, and at the 2018 final.

    “It will be the end of an era for me,” Harriet said. “A really emotional day but he’s amazing. We’ve had a 15-year career and that’s a partnership to dream of. To [do what he’s done] and so consistently and well shows how talented and brave he is and I’m just lucky to be his rider.”

    The combination were eliminated at the bank on their first Derby attempt, 11 years ago, but Harriet put in some practice and “he never looked back”, she said. “He’s basically done all that on his own. He’s amazing.”

    Harriet said Henry would step back from the big shows and have a good holiday, then probably just do some hacking, and “enjoy life”.

    “He’s been my whole career,” she said. “It’s hard to not get emotional but I just don’t think I’ll get a horse like that in my future. I know he is my horse of a lifetime.”

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