Showjumper William Funnell is aiming for a fourth win in this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby (24 June) – and he hopes his ride is in with a good chance.
William finished in sixth place last year on Billy Buckingham, having cleared all the fences but notching up four faults for a backwards step at the top of the derby bank, as well as one time fault.
But he said he was “very pleased” with the 10-year-old’s first attempt at the class
“Having left all the fences up, it was technically a clear jumping round, and those don’t come around very often in the Derby,” he said.
“Now he’s been down the bank safely, I’d like to think it was a nice experience for him. Billy Buckingham is quite a sensitive horse, and when you’re at the top of the bank there’s a fine line between reassuring the horse and overdoing it. If you’re too strong and use too much leg, he might think there’s something to be wary of.”
William likened the homebred gelding to Cortaflex Mondriaan, with whom he won his three Derby titles; in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
“Mondriaan was a pure natural, and while Billy Buckingham hasn’t got the same experience he feels as much as a natural as Mondriaan, so I’d like to think he’ll have his chance too,” he said.
William has come close to winning on other occasions, finishing second in 1997 when Comex knocked down the small fence on top of the bank, and again in 2012 when he jumped clear on Dorada but was beaten in the jump-off by Paul Beecher.
“There are a lot of unlucky stories in the Derby,” he said.
“With 21 jumping efforts, it’s common to have just one fence down that costs you the win. I’d always wanted to win the class and to have lost on Comex because of knocking down the smallest fence on the course was really tough.
“Although it was disappointing to come so close with Dorada as well, it was a bit easier because I’d won the class three times by that stage.”
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Harvey Smith, Michael and John Whitaker and Eddie Macken have previously won the class four times; Eddie taking four consecutive titles from 1976 to 1979 on the legendary Boomerang.
“For me, the Derby is the most exciting class in showjumping in the UK,” said William. “For the public, it’s special, because the course stays the same every year, and everyone knows the history of the class.
“It’s always been my ‘local’ show and winning the Derby was always something I aspired to. It’s a big part of my season every year.”
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This week’s pony special, out 7 June, features Britain’s naughtiest ponies and how to find the dream smaller equine. We also look at the pros and cons of equine treadmills, talk to showing producer Aimee Devane and have reports from the H&H Festival of Eventing, Tattersalls Horse Trials, racing at Epsom and much more.