William Whitaker was the only rider who left all the fences standing to win today’s Equestrian.com Derby at Hickstead.
Riding the aptly-named Glenavadra Brilliant, William rode an assured clear to finish just over the optimum time to collect one time fault. Having finished third with this horse in 2014 and second in 2015, William was obviously on the countdown to a win in this class and today he duly delivered.
William, 26, who is originally from Huddersfield but now lives in Belgium, is now the third member of the Whitaker showjumping dynasty to win the Hickstead Derby. His uncles, John and Michael Whitaker, 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. First to go, Ireland’s Richard Howley got things off to a strong start with a four fault round, after his horse knocked the first part of the Devil’s Dyke. Yesterday’s British Speed Derby winner Harriet Nuttall came tantalisingly close to doing the double with a super round on A Touch Imperious, only for the very last 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 ten riders still to come there was still a good chance of someone going clear. Ireland’s Billy Twomey, winner of Saturday’s Tom Hudson Derby Trophy with Thomas, was on target for a clear round on Hamburg Derby winner Diaghilev, but again the Devil’s Dyke – known to be the trickiest fence on the course – ended his Derby dream and left him in second place.
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 several other derbies in Europe, so I’m pleased to finally get the win today,” said William.
Billy Twomey magnanimously described William’s performance in the Derby as a ‘copybook round’, and indeed Whitaker looked every inch a Derby champion as he steered the 13-year-old Irish Sports Horse round 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 today, but the pair looked perfectly at home there today. “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 also from the same yard, making it a one-two for the Hood producing 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 showjumping and I’ll try some veteran classes with him next.”
Ian Smeeth won the Ready Supp Supreme Coloured Horse Ridden Championship riding 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.
Hickstead’s next meeting is the Longines Royal International Horse Show, on 26-31 July.