William Funnell’s thoughts on top of the Hickstead Derby bank and who’s going to win this year…


  • William Funnell shares his insight into what goes through riders’ heads as they tackle the Hickstead Derby, plus the horsepower challenges currently facing the British team

    I was very proud of my wife Pippa’s win at Bramham. When you’re younger, things happen and you expect them to happen again, so sometimes you don’t appreciate it when you do win. Speaking for both Pip and me, as you get older you tend to value those moments much more.

    For that reason, I will appreciate the Hickstead Derby, which takes place on Sunday (25 June), as well if it happens. With my history in the class it would be lovely to get the fifth one. I always build pressure on myself but I’m certainly feeling this one.

    Last year was Equine America Billy Diamo’s first time round and it’s always good to get that first one under your belt. Hopefully he’ll have grown from that and this year I’ve focused on doing the right things to produce him for Sunday.

    I hope I’m fit enough to ride two horses round – I’ve been cycling up plenty of hills in preparation – because I have a second ride on Dublon, a lovely big horse who jumped round last year with Adam Botham.

    The Derby is always a massive spectacle and I really look forward to it, but come Sunday morning you think “Here we go again, I’ve got to come down that bank”. I’m not the best with heights! When you’re at the top of it, you just have to think about the fence at the bottom and how nice it would be to lift the trophy, rather than how high up you are, especially on a horse like Diamo who is an 18hh giant.

    The main thing about jumping the Derby is to keep focused, get in a good rhythm and give yourself time because something unexpected always happens – you need to be ready to help out your horse if required, without taking over.

    I see so many people at the top of the bank holding on to the reins and not letting the horse’s head drop down over the edge. However, a horse can’t walk downhill without dropping his neck – even though it goes against every instinct to let him do so when you’re standing up there with a massive drop beneath you.

    If I were to pick, you’d have to put Shane Breen down as favourite to win again this year – I always said once he broke his duck, it won’t be long before he catches up with my four wins.

    A release from the pressure

    As a bit of a release from the pressure of the Derby, we will be showcasing our next batch of Billy Stud auction horses at Hickstead on Saturday (24 June) evening. It follows on from our first live auction, where everyone who came, whether or not they bought, enjoyed it and saw it as a nice way to view and buy young horses. This group of four- and five-year-olds is probably the nicest we’ve bred and they’ll go under the hammer next Tuesday (27 June).

    It’s taken a few years but there are a lot of auction horses now competing at the top level and five or six were sold overseas last time, which is also encouraging. People realise we are breeding good horses in the UK and British buyers don’t need to go to Europe, which with the problems of Brexit can only be a good thing.

    There is a lot of stress involved having had these horses since conception, so it’s nice to know they’re going to people who will do a good job with our product.

    Lack of strength and depth

    We’re approaching a run of important Nations Cup team competitions, yet again short on new combinations and horsepower, notably with an injured Explosion W. It’s great to see Tim Gredley back and he did a great job in St Gallen, so I’m sure he’ll get plenty more team opportunities. But we’re lacking strength and depth at a crucial time.

    ● What makes the Hickstead Derby so iconic? Let us know your favourite memories of the class at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 22 June, 2023

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