William Funnell on the Hickstead Derby: ‘People still love a spectacle’


  • William Funnell reflects on the draw of the Hickstead Derby and predicts some World Championship medals

    IT was great to see such big crowds turn out for last month’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting – they had 35–40,000 people over the week, which shows that people still love a spectacle. Even Saturday’s speed Derby figures were up.

    For the people who perhaps like to watch showjumping once a year, they go to watch the Derby rather than the same-old jumping round a sand ring. As a sport, we need to remember that.

    Hickstead was disappointing from a personal point of view because, having shared top spot in Friday’s Derby trial on Equine America Billy Diamo, I’d started convincing myself I had a real chance of winning the Derby on Sunday. He’d been jumping so well.

    But it was great to see Shane Breen finally win the class. He so deserved it, having been there or thereabouts so many times. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him go on and win it four or five times now, so I do feel as though I need to win one more myself, taking my tally to five, just to make it more difficult for him!

    Shane is a great Derby rider and both his horses, Can Ya Makan and Golden Hawk, were on top form, so I thought for a while he was going to have to jump-off against himself. It would have been nice to have been able to push him a bit harder, but next year…

    Top of the tree

    SIMILARLY, the great competition we saw in Aachen last week – with its big grass ring, good old-fashioned undulations and fences such as the double of ditches – set it apart from the rest of the showjumping circuit. The show is top of the tree. When there’s half a million Euros to the winner of the Rolex grand prix, you’re talking big money.

    Scott Brash had planned so much of this year around trying to win the big class with Hello Jefferson and he came close, finishing second to Gerrit Nieberg. But it shows how well that horse comes up with the goods when needed.

    He was beaten by a really great round and Scott did everything he could to win at the time. But that gallop the jump-off riders did from the penultimate to the last fence was just unbelievable. The distance between the two jumps was a normal 13-and-a-half strides and those riders were doing it in 10 strides – and jumping 1.70m at the end of it! It was great sport.

    Exciting times

    MY wife Pip and I had a busy week at the Dodson & Horrell Bolesworth International as it was a great opportunity to jump some of the younger horses.

    We’re looking forward to returning there for the young horse championships in August. They’ve worked hard on the ground and I thought the main ring was excellent this year.

    It was nice to see Louise Saywell win the grand prix as she’s always been a top rider.

    Robert Murphy, who was third in the grand prix, also continues to catch my eye. He seems to have come of age and he’s not far from being in the same ilk as Harry Charles and Joe Stockdale.

    Then, with a strong, young British team competing in the Nations Cup in Rotterdam recently – Harry Charles, Joe Stockdale, and Jack and Ellen Whitaker – it shows the future’s looking bright.

    Also, having Ben Maher and Explosion W back at top level and jumping clear rounds at Aachen bodes well for the upcoming showjumping World Championships. All being well, we’ll be setting out there with a team with a definite medal-winning chance, hopefully a gold one. We might even see a British world champion, too – both Scott and Ben have all the credentials. It could be exciting.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 July

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