British-based American Julie Welles held off the British challenges to take victory in the Bunn Leisure Derby Tankard with relatively new ride Ambra on day one of the International classes at the Hickstead Derby meeting.
Eight of the 29 starters posted first round clears but only seven came forward as Harriet Nuttall decided to save A Touch Imperious for later in the week. And Julie came out on top with 1.63 sec to spare on the scopey Quintender/Grandeur 10-year-old mare.
Julie is based with Olympic riders Laura Kraut and Nick Skelton and splits her time between Florida and Warwickshire.
“We acquired the mare two months ago, so we haven’t had her very long," said Julie. "She’s a really competitive horse, as long as I ride her the right way, and she was great in there. She’s a bit of a hot mare, and a bit Thoroughbred-like – if I think ‘fast’, then she goes. Today in the jump-off was probably the smoothest, fastest round we’ve had together.”
William Fletcher guided Persimmon into second with Phillip Miller and Brendon Stud’s 10-year-old Warrior/Casantos stallion Noble Warrior – bred just five miles down the road – in third with the steadiest of the double clears. Four faults dropped Ellen Whitaker and Jack Van’t Katteheye from second to fourth and Guy Williams also made one mistake for fifth with Cicero II.
Holly Smith led a British top six in the opening Stoner Jewellers Vase, winning the 4* 1.45m speed from an early draw on Fruselli.
“I’ve had him for nearly two years now,” said Holly on the British-bred Zambesi/Karandasj nine-year-old. “He’s very economical and like a little bullock – he just charges around.”
Holly – who finished second in last year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby and will be having a crack at winning it this time with Quality Old Joker – is no stranger to this arena with several wins to her credit over the past few years.
Hickstead is so special and it’s the most beautiful venue and, in my opinion, run by the best people. The ground is always great, too, which is so important to the horses.”
Alice Watson was 0.98 sec in arrears for second on the 14-year-old Cevin Z daughter Billy Lemon with Matt Sampson and the eight-year-old Geneve R (Eldroado Van De Zeshoek/Berlin) in third. Sammie-Jo Coffin guided Bellamy II into fourth ahead of Harriet Nuttall in fifth aboard Night of Glory OL and Robert Whitaker claimed sixth with Jessie Drea’s Javas Wild Child.
Joss Williams raced to the top in the Astore & Sons speed Derby qualifier with the feisty, evergreen 19-year-old mare Culmore Prospect. Thirty-two tackled the Derby fences in ring two with Joss and the White Clover daughter flying into the top spot by an impressive 7.33 sec.
Ireland’s Jonathan Smyth took second on Charlton Clio and Brits filled the next five places. Sammie-Jo took third on Willem De Lux, Matt guided his 2017 and 2018 speed Derby winner Topflight True Carlo into fourth, Harriet was fifth on Silver Lift, Katie Pytches slotted Joli Fleur Van De Noordheuvel into sixth and Robert Whitaker was seventh on Major Delacour.
The first class to get underway in Hickstead’s iconic Longines International Arena couldn’t have gone to a more local rider – with Ireland’s Shane Breen claiming the top honours in the Astore & Sons 1.35m Open Championship.
Although Shane rides under the Irish flag, he has been based at Hickstead since 2007, and is married to Chloe, the daughter of Hickstead’s late founder, Douglas Bunn.
He might be able to hack to the prestigious venue, but he points out there isn’t much of a home advantage. “It’s interesting, because we’re here every day, walking the horses around the roads, though obviously, we’re not allowed in the rings.
“The horses are used to seeing this place, but when the shows start, they come in the gate and they see a whole different set-up. It’s a bit daunting, because it’s not what they’re used to. You have horses that you take to other major shows and they go into the main arena and rise to the occasion, and they know what they’re there for and act accordingly, but my horses come here and they’re like, ‘what’s happening?!’ They’re a bit shell-shocked.”
Shane got the better of 11 rivals to take the win on Quintella, the 11-year-old Polish Sports Horse mare claiming almost three sec over second-placed, just-married Bryony Crippen and Cacharel Z with Charles Lyyckx in third on Golia.
This result is a promising early effort in what is a new partnership between horse and rider, with Quintella joining Breen’s string earlier this spring after suffering a bit of a crisis of confidence.
“I’m hoping she’ll come back to being very competitive and jump the speed classes at five-star level,” he says. “We’re rebuilding a little bit, and it’s going the right way. She’s super careful, and very smart, and I think we’re starting to get that bond and connection, and that trust. As that grows, I think she’ll reach her full potential and we’ll hit those targets.”
Shane will be contesting a number of classes this week, including the showpiece Al Shira’aa Derby class, for which he’s considered a hot favourite to usurp reigning champion William Funnell’s claim to the title. As the home representative, does he feel the pressure to finally scoop the win?
“Pressure,” he says with a wry grin, “is for tyres. At the end of the day, when we go into the arena, we’re alone with our horses. We’ve done the homework, we’ve built the relationship, and all we can do is our best. If it happens, you’re elated – and if it doesn’t, you get back to work and you try again.”
Robert Whitaker had topped the first day's Astore & Son's 1.35m in a 50-strong two-phase with Strides Hatton's Treasure, outpacing second-placed Josh Hutchins on Billy Ring and Bryony in third on Cacharel Z.
Shane’s protegee Georgia Tame followed in the boss’s footsteps to take the top two in the first leg of the under 25 1.45m speed, winning on Z7 Canya Dance and taking second on Clintofino, half a sec separating the two. Ollie Fletcher made it a British top three with third on Hello Disckoboy DN.
Georgia came to this show on form after taking three wins at Bolesworth just days earlier – two with the eight-year-old Can Ya Makan mare Canya Dance.
Jake Saywell outpaced all to take the Annual grade C championship on Galaxcy, topping the 1.30m single-phase class with 0.89 sec in hand.
“He looks a real top one for the future – he’s careful, he’s scopey, and he goes in the big arenas and really relishes it,” said Jake, on the Cedric eight-year-old. “He’s an exciting one, and it’s all effortless for him – but he finds another gear in the ring, and he’s a real horse for the day. To win this type of class is very good for him.”
Jake, who was previously based at Hickstead with Shane Breen, shifted his competitive focus from rugby to showjumping in his mid-teens.
“It’s lovely to come back to Hickstead, and we make sure we never miss a show. To have a win is fantastic, especially in the main ring – any win is great, but to win in the main ring is why we do it,” he said.
William Rekert eased the seven-year-old Hot Bluebird (Plot Blue/Heartbreaker) into second with John Crippen’s Galant IV in third. Jay Halim rode Gentle into fourth ahead of Julie Welles on Misdemena in fifth and Sammie-Jo took sixth on Baccara.
William and the consistent Hot Bluebird claimed their own win in the Hickstead novice championship to achieve a long-term goal - winning a class in the Hickstead International arena.
"She's jumping really well, she was first and second yesterday and today," said Canterbury, Kent-based William, 19. "She likes this show and it's my favourite too, I've been coming here since I was really young."
William claimed almost two sec over France-based trainer Guy Williams with the ultra-scopey Chilli.
“I still train with Guy when he’s over here, and he’s brilliant,” said William, who was based with Guy for 12 months. “He was riding today as well, but when he could help me, he did. He went just before me, so I watched what he did, and his advice was not to rush. Luckily, I went a bit faster than him – and then in the next class, he said ‘don’t go so mad!’”
Ireland’s Mark Tracy took third on Beech Hill Tayla Blue with Paul Gaff in fourth on Grey Dawn Hildare, Jude Burgess was fifth aboard Dreams of Don and William Plunkett provided the steadiest of the double clears for sixth on Figaro XX.
Text and Photos © Jumping Around & courtesy Hickstead