Teenager Michael Pender Takes Al Shira AA Hickstead Derby

The Hickstead Derby Bank. See from the men in the image how high and intimidating it is?

The Al Shira.aa sponsored Hickstead Derby is one of the longest and toughest courses to ride in the world of showjumping. The course has not changed for decades with 16 jumps and 21 jumping efforts required. The time allowed of 180 seconds per round is not particularly generous as the course is just under 1200 meters. (that’s not far off a mile) with several

Two and a half acre Hickstead International Arena

fences at 1.80m, the highest allowed for Grand Prix competitions.  There are many features of the course, but the two which stand out more than the others is the 10 ft 6 inch high Bank which is not far off vertical for the horses to come down and the Devils Dyke. This is a set of three jumping efforts over very flimsy rails going into a hollow, and to add a little spice, there is a ditch to be jumped under the middle set of rails. The distance from one fence to another is awkward for the horse and perfect balance is required. This is such a difficult course that only 61 horses have jumped a clear in its whole history since 1961.

Unlike earlier in the week, the stands were full of the public, who came to watch and enthusiastically support the 26 combinations from 6 countries take their chance.

William Funnell on Billy Buckingham

William Funnell, winner on four previous occasions was one of the favourites this year with two of his home bred horses. Shane Breen and Graham Gillespie were also fancied as they had done so well Friday’s Derby Trial.

The trail blazer was from Portugal, Joao Charleworth riding Hartleymanor Venus. They started really well, negotiating the bank with apparent ease, but the wheels rather came off the wagon during the very next fence, the dreaded Devils Dyke and so it continued to the end of the round.

Shane Breen on Golden Hawk

Several others tried their luck including William Funnel on Billy Angelette, who also succumbed with five fences down. Elizabeth Power, riding for Ireland was next and she had a really nasty fall as her horse seemed to charge at the 1.80m hunting gate, knocked the gate almost into oblivion and Elizabeth fell off, taking a while to get back up. This is a sportwhen luck can change dramatically from one rider to the next, as Shane Breen on the first of his two rides came in and produced a perfect round to become the 62nd clear

Graham Gillespie on Andretti

round ever, riding Golden Hawk. The next round of note was Graham Gillespie, who rode one of the two clear rounds in the Derby Trial two days ago. Another very nearly faultless round, all the fences left standing by Andretti except for a very unlucky foot which was just in the water. Two riders later, the very young 19 year old Michael Pender from Ireland riding Hearton  du Bois Halleux rode a perfect round. He scored the second clear round in the class – so there would now be a jump off. It was not to be favourite William Funnell’s year as his second ride, Billy Buckingham took the first part of the Devils Dyke down, leaving William with 4 faults. Four from the end, Harriet Nuttall took her chance on her well known old favourite 15 year old gelding A Touch Imperious. This was the horse she was second on in 2017. This time she rode an imperious clear round, unusually providing the spectators three clear rounds to go forward to the jump off.

Harriet Nuttall on A Touch Imperious

The first to jump was Shane Breen. He had to jump clear and fast if he was to win. He certainly went fast in 80.46 seconds, but had two fences down. Next came the teenager, Michael Pender who aimed for a double clear and did not try to rush the time. He achieved this in a time of 101.77 seconds, thus into first place. Only Harriet Nuttall could deny him an historic victory. Harriet very nearly pulled off the win. She left all the jumps standing in 93.15 seconds, but sadly was adjudged to have had a foot in the water. Very unlucky. So near but so far. Yet again she had to put up with second spot for the fourth time in her career.

Michael Pender is the youngest winner of this iconic competition. He is also only the second person to win on his first attempt. The last time it was done was with Michael Whitaker riding Mon Santa forty years ago. It is the first time since 1993 that there have been so many clear rounds. He commented after his victory; “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but it’s what every rider dreams of that comes here, It means so much to win this – there’s so much history to the class, and so many good riders, and I’m just speechless. Getting up this morning, you don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I knew the horse wasn’t going to be very fast in the jump-off, so I knew I needed to try to go clear and put the pressure on Harriet. That’s what I did, and it paid off.”

Winner. Michael Pender. IRE)

Michael Pender took the £34,650 first prize with Harriet Nuttall in second with Shane Breen in third. All Hickstead Derby’s are different and unique in their own way, but this year’s renewal must really be considered a vintage one.

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