History was made as Irish teenager Mikey Pender became the youngest ever winner of the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby in its 59 year history of this famous class – and it was only his first attempt around the Derby course.
Marion Mould (1967 winner) and Michael Whitaker (1980) were both 20 years old when they won the Hickstead Derby, with Marion just a few months younger when she took the title, but teenager Mikey is still three months shy of his 20th birthday.
Mikey also followed in Michael Whitaker’s footsteps by winning the Al Shira’aa Derby at his first attempt, something that hasn’t been achieved since Whitaker’s win on Mon Santa nearly 40 years ago.
It was a thrilling Derby with three riders jumping clear - the first time this has happened since 1993. Shane Breen was the first to come home penalty-free on Derby debutant Golden Hawk rather than his established Derby horse Can Ya Makan, who finished third last year. Fellow Irishman Mikey then ensured a jump-off by going clear with his Puissance specialist Hearton Du Bois Halleux, before Britain’s Harriet Nuttall added a third faultless round with her ultra-consistent A Touch Imperious.
Shane went first in the jump-off, setting off at a strong pace on the 14-year-old Vigo D’Arsouilles stallion in the hope of putting the pressure on his two rivals. But when the Derby rails and the first part of the double of gates came down, his chance of lifting that coveted Boomerang Trophy looked to be over.
Mikey then came in and delivered another clear, even though the Nonstop/Toulon 11-year-old Hearton took a flier at the water. Only Harriet could deny an Irish win, something she has come tantalisingly close to every year since 2014 having never been out of the top three. But a foot in the huge open water by the rangy Touchdown 15-year-old proved costly for the Somerset rider, who had to settle for runner-up spot for the fourth time.
Mikey picked up the £34,650 first prize as well as taking home the Al Shira’aa Trophy and having his name added to the Boomerang Trophy.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, but it’s what every rider dreams of that comes here,” said Michael. “He’s done a lot of puissances, but this is the first time I’ve done something like this with him. It means so much to win this - there’s so much history to the class, and so many good riders, I’m just speechless. Getting up this morning, you don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I knew Hearton 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.”
Harriet was frustrated to come so close and miss out, but she has had a superb week after winning the Science Supplements Speed Derby on Saturday.
“A Touch Imperious has felt on really good form here, and he jumped a fantastic clear – probably his best round here,” she said. “If all is well, we’ll be back next year - with the way he’s jumping, why would you not? It’s a privilege to come to this show, and to have horses like Silver Lift and A Touch Imperious to do these classes on and be successful.”
Shane – who now has two extremely good horses to aim towards next year’s Al Shira’aa Derby – gave credit to his fellow competitors. “I feel sorry for Harriet; she’s been fantastic for so many years, but I’m delighted for Mikey,” he added.
Last year’s winners William Funnell and Billy Buckingham had one fence down to finish fourth equal with Graham Gillespie and Andretti H, with seven riders sharing sixth place on eight faults.
Earlier in the day, Nicole Lockhead Anderson claimed the £1,000 first prize in the Kingman Equine seven and eight-year-old championship with Here I Am B.
Only four of the 16 starters accessed the jump-off with Nicole – who has easily switched from a top pony career into horses – forging ahead at a tremendous pace on the Nassau/Elton seven-year-old to win by 0.73 sec.
Ireland filled the next two places with Mikey Pender taking second on the eight-year-old HHS Calais and Trevor Breen guided the seven-year-old Donvier into third. William Funnell provided the steadiest of the double clears to take fourth on the seven-year-old Billy Spiral.
Text © Jumping Around/Photo © Nigel Goddard/Hickstead