William Funnell: ‘My historic Hickstead Derby win was a massive team effort’


  • William Funnell reflects on his historic Derby win and looks ahead to Paris

    I am absolutely thrilled to have won my fifth Hickstead Derby and the whole day served as a reminder that there really is no other occasion in the sport quite like it.

    My father was a showjumping farmer from Kent and, as a young kid, we would always come up around harvest time and he would jump at Hickstead. Watching Eddie Macken winning with Boomerang for the fourth time and taking the trophy home was a lasting memory and the whole draw of the Derby started for me then.

    I first jumped in the class when I was 17 – riding a six-year-old who belonged to Cyril Light – and we completed the course. But my five wins have all come since 2006 – it took me a very long time to win it! I was the bridesmaid for so long, finishing second and third, so I definitely appreciate winning it all the more.

    It may have been my historic fifth win that everyone’s talking about, but I couldn’t have done it without Dublon, who has grown in stature into a very special Derby horse. It’s also been a massive team effort, so thanks to everyone who played a part – from Roland Stanley, who allowed us to train using his world class facilities, to the whole team at home, and it was lovely to share the moment with them, my dad and wife Pippa.

    Will I hang up my boots?

    The Hickstead Derby does feel like “my class” now and I did think maybe I should retire on Sunday while I was on top. But I still enjoy riding and you live for those days.

    It may be that Dublon gets sold on before next year and perhaps I won’t do another Hickstead. But if I’ve still got him and he’s fit and well, he would be very capable of winning another Derby, so why not go for a sixth? I’m not saying that I’m not retiring, but we’ll see.

    After the win, I received so many congratulatory messages – far more, I’d imagine, than if I’d won the Longines Global Champions Tour of London for example. Everyone can understand the difficulty of fences like the bank or the dyke, but how many can comprehend the technicality of a short distance to a double of verticals on sand?

    The two don’t even compare as a spectacle and Hickstead is a massive draw for new people to come and watch our sport. So we need to keep its prize money high enough to keep drawing top competitors as it would be a very sad minus for the sport if we lost the Hickstead Derby.

    Paris, here we come

    As soon as the celebrations died down on Sunday evening, I was back in my role with Team UAE. The deadline for Olympic showjumping team entries is this Monday (8 July).

    It’s been difficult enough for me to finalise my squad, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be the one choosing the British Olympic showjumping team this year as it’s been a particularly tough one.

    But it’s great to see Ben Maher, Scott Brash, Joe Stockdale and Harry Charles flying the flag for the Brits in Paris. It’s always going to be a close-run thing for the final team slots, so you have to feel for the other shortlisted riders, Tim Gredley and Robert Whitaker, who have also enjoyed great campaigns, but just missed out.

    I’m sure a lot of people have been thinking of Tim Stockdale over the past week – I imagine him smiling down with great pride at seeing his son Joe selected to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games. Joe and his brother Mark are wonderful lads and it’s given Pip and me enormous pleasure and pride to help Joe on his showjumping journey.

    He, Ben and Harry showed what great form they were in at the recent Longines League of Nations in Rotterdam, where Great Britain finished third, while Scott will instead make his final pre-Olympic appearance in Aachen this week, so it will be interesting to see his preparation there.

    It’s a massive job now to get the improvement we need to make sure that Team GB is in contention in Paris. Pre-training falls in line with what I’m doing with the UAE riders, so I can take time out to make sure there’s no stone left unturned for Joe and Cacharel so hopefully we can get them to Paris in absolute tip-top condition. It’s going to be very exciting.

    ● Read the full story behind William’s journey to a fifth Hickstead Derby win in the 18 July issue of H&H magazine

    ● Do you agree with William that good prize money is key to ensuring the future of the Hickstead Derby? Let us know by emailing hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 4 July

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