William Whitaker is the only rider who left all fences standing to win today’s Equestrian.com Derby at Hickstead.
With the aptly-named Glenavadra Brilliant, he rode an assured clear in just over the optimum time of 180sec and collected one time fault. Having finished third with this horse in 2014 and second in 2015, he was obviously on a countdown to Derby victory, and today he duly delivered!
William, 26, is originally from Huddersfield but now lives in Belgium. He is the third member of the Whitaker show jumping dynasty to win the Derby: his uncles, John and Michael, have both won Hickstead’s most famous class four times, and now William’s name will join theirs on the Boomerang Trophy.
Three riders shared the runner-up spot, two of them (Harriet Nuttall and Billy Twomey) mirroring their 2015 results, and the third (Richard Howley) putting in a much better performance: he and his horse Chinook finished 21st last year. Both Billy and Richard are Irish riders, and Harriet is from the UK.
Richard and Chinook were the first pair out and got things off to a strong start with a four-fault round, just knocking fence one at the dreaded Devil’s Dyke. Yesterday’s British Speed Derby winner, Harriet Nuttall, came tantalisingly close to doing the Hickstead double with a super round on A Touch Imperious, only for the final fence to fall.
William, drawn 24th out of 34 starters, then came in and denied the four-faulters a chance to jump off – though with 10 still waiting in the wings there was a good chance of someone going clear. Billy Twomey, winner of Saturday’s Tom Hudson Derby Trophy with Thomas, was on target for a clear with Hamburg Derby winner Diaghilev, but again the Devil’s Dyke – the trickiest fence on the course – ended his Derby dream and cost him four faults.
William was delighted to finish top of the leaderboard, having been runner-up several times.
“It’s one of the classes I’ve always really wanted to win. My horse is always knocking on the door, having been second here as well as at several other derbies in Europe, so I’m pleased to finally get the win today,” he said.
Billy Twomey magnanimously described William’s performance as a ‘copybook round’, and indeed he looked every inch a Derby champion as he steered the 13-year-old Irish sporthorse around the long course. “He’s strong and scopey, and he’s got a lot of stamina. When he jumped the last fence he almost felt as if he could have done it again,” said William.
Earlier in the day, Alfie Bradstock won the Hickstead Under-25 Masters with Hello Disco Boy.
In the showing classes, it was Rebecca Court who claimed the RoR Tattersalls Thoroughbred Show Horse Championship with Beware Chalk Pit. The 12-year-old gelding was in training with Jonathan Geake and ran under Rules a total of 24 times, including two wins over fences.
Rebecca had never ridden in the International Arena at Hickstead before, but the pair looked perfectly at home. “His last race was in January last year and we started training a week after we got him,” she said. “He’s the easiest horse to ride, with a lovely temperament.”
Oliver Hood took the Alltech Supreme Hunter Championship with the nine-year old Potters Ace. The reserve championship went to Lord John (ridden by Justine Armstrong-Small), who is from the same yard, making it a one-two for the Hood team.
Esther Rostron won the Hickstead Ladies Side Saddle Classic with Penstrumbly Our Abram. She has owned the 16-year-old chestnut for five years. “He’s a bit like a moody chestnut mare – you have to keep him happy – but he’s my favourite horse on the yard. I try to keep his lifestyle varied, so he does a bit of show jumping and I’ll try some veteran classes with him next.”
Ian Smeeth won the Supreme Coloured Horse Ridden Championship on the five-year-old gelding, Esquire.
All-England Jumping Course Director Lizzie Bunn paid tribute to the entire team at Hickstead, for keeping the event running despite poor weather conditions.
“We’ve done our utmost to keep the show going, and the team here has worked all week and through the night in order to keep our car parks open and ensure our showground remained safe and operational,” she said.
Update to the Speed Derby results: last year’s winner Guy Williams finished runner-up but unfortunately, after a thorough investigation, was disqualified under FEI blood rules.
Hickstead’s next meeting is the Longines Royal International Horse Show, on 26-31 July.