In a battle of the sexes, Nigel Coupe triumphed in a head-to-head jump-off with Harriet Nuttall in the 2017 Al Shira’aa Derby.
Two of the 26 starters provided immaculate first round clears for a jump-off – Nigel producing the first clear on Golvers Hill to rapturous applause as he punched the air through the finish.
Nigel was naturally hoping another clear would not be found, but Harriet proved foot-perfect third from the end to go on the rangy A Touch Imperious and a jump-off was on the cards. But another clear was not to be in the jump-off, both riders hitting the same fence.
Nigel was first off with the Ricardo Z/Clover Hill 14-year-old, and the pair easily jumped through all three elements of the difficult Devil’s Dyke and cleared the water. But a rail of the Derby rustic rails after the water fell, however Nigel kept his cool to finish without further penalty.
“I got a little deep to the water and he ran off a bit to the rails – I woudn't say I was suicidal but I thought it was all over,” said Nigel.
Harriet could risk going for a steady clear and A Touch Imperious was jumping out of his skin, but with a forward-stride to the water she paid the penalty and ran out of room to get the big-striding Touchdown/Cavalier Royale 13-year-old back in time for the Derby rails and they hit the floor with a thud. Harriet immediately hit the gas to speed up and catch Nigel, but the final fence fell and they also finished 0.33 sec in arrears.
But while there was disappointment for Harriet, for Nigel and Golvers Hill it was a day of celebrations as the Lancashire-based rider finally had his name added to the iconic Boomerang Trophy. He also gets to take home and keep the new Al Shira’aa Trophy, which has been especially designed in celebration of the new title sponsorship of this famous showjumping class.
“He was second in 2015 and we had two silly fences down last year,” said Nigel, who recalled watching this iconic class in yesteryear with his heroes winning. “I watched this class as a kid with Michael Whitaker on Monsanta, John Whitaker with Welham and Nick Skelton on Apollo winning – to win this is amazing.
That winning feeling
“However you imagine it would be to win the Derby, it probably feels about 100 times better!” said Nigel. “It’s an amazing venue and the ground is second to none. I’d come down to Hickstead when I was on ponies, and then stay on to watch the Derby." Nigel paid tribute to Golvers Hill, Sue Simmons' Irish Sports Horse gelding who came to Hickstead on the back of a recent win in the Hamburg Derby Trial.
“If you haven’t got a horse capable you won’t be anywhere near winning. I’m forever indebted to him,” he added. “He likes being in the limelight. There are probably better, more talented horses out there but he just loves his job. It is without a doubt my biggest win.”
Holly Smith has made an amazing recovery from breaking her leg in a fall back in February, and at one time was told she wouldn’t be mobile again until August. She fought against the odds to get back to fitness with intensive therapy at Oaksey House, and gave a fabulous performance to only lower the rail after the bank to finish on four faults for equal third on another Irish-bred, the OBOS Quality nine-year-old Quality Old Joker.
"I'm thrilled with him, he’s only nine and we couldn’t have done any more,” she said. Last-to-go Dermott Lennon for Ireland had an early rustic gate down on Gelvins Touch (Touchdown/Diamond Lad), but it was their only penalty for equal third. Fellow Irishman Billy Twomey must be very disappointed to have the first element of the Devil’s Dyke down for the third year running on Terry Payne’s home-bred Vangelis S 14-year-old Diaghilev, and again it was their only mistake to also finish equal third.
William Funnell – three times winner of this class on Mondriaan – finished on five faults.. The pair left every fence standing, just a step back on the bank incurring four faults added to one time for sixth spot. But William must be ultra-pleased with his home-bred Billy Congo/Clover Hill nine-year-old Billy Buckingham at their first Hickstead Derby attempt. Five horses finished on eight faults, one on nine, two on 12, last year’s winner William Whitaker’s Glenavadra Brilliant returned on 16 this time, then there was 20 faults, 39 and 46 faults. Three were eliminated and five retired.
Jake Saywell topped the morning’s Hickstead under 25 masters on the scopey Havinia Van De Roshoeve. Eleven young riders tackled the 1.50m track with just two providing double clears, Jake guiding the Cicero/Lacantus 10-year-old Havinia into victory by more than four sec to net the £1,000 first prize.
“It’s a great feeling to win in the International Arena on Derby day. It’s just phenomenal - it’s those kicks and buzzes that you do it for. I’ve got a few years yet in this class so I hope to be back again next year,” said Jake, who used to be based at Hickstead.
“I spent a year training with Shane Breen here and left in September to set up my own yard,” added the Nottinghamshire-based rider, who is now aiming for the Young Rider European Championships.
Ronnie Jones eased the Lux Z 13-year-old Realt Na Carraig – a former ride of Ireland’s Sven Hadley – into second place.
Four faults in the second phase dropped other riders down the line, Jessie Drea and Javas Wild Child taking third with Alfie Bradstock’s Evert fourth, Alex Gill in fifth on Billy Cool and Alison Barton in sixth with Donata.
Farewell to Adventure De Kannan - and thanks for the memories
Adventure De Kannan took part in a special retirement ceremony just before today's Al Shira’aa Derby.
Together with Ireland's Trevor Breen, 'Addy' has won most of Hickstead’s biggest classes, including the British Speed Derby, the Eventing Grand Prix, the All England Grand Prix, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the British Jumping Derby. He continued to compete at the highest level despite an operation to remove his right eye in 2013.
Addy took centre stage in the International Arena for one last time, just before this year's Hickstead Derby - a class he won in 2014 and has been placed in many times. The horse was given a garland of apples and carrots, while his owner Karen Swann was also presented with a gift. Then Trevor unsaddled Addy and led him out of the arena where he made his name.
Photos © Jumping Around & courtesy Hickstead/Julian Portch