The entries are in for next week’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, with several strong contenders who are more than capable of keeping reigning champion William Funnell off the top spot.
Having won the Al Shira’aa Derby 12 months ago, William is returning with Billy Buckingham in the hope of securing back-to-back wins. If he can manage it, he will set a new record as the first rider to win the Hickstead Derby five times.
Billy Buckingham has shown a real affinity for Hickstead’s most famous class, having also finished sixth on his Hickstead Derby debut, and the pair will start as likely favourites for this year’s renewal.
One of the biggest rivals to Funnell’s record aim will be Ireland’s Shane Breen, who is based at Hickstead. Having won the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial and finished third in the Al Shira’aa Derby last summer.
Shane seems to have found a real Derby star in Can Ya Makan. The pair furthered their credentials by finishing in the runner up spot in last month’s Hamburg’s Derby, and are certainly ones to watch at Hickstead.
There hasn’t been a female winner of the Hickstead Derby since 2011, but two lady riders have been getting increasingly close to winning. British team regular Holly Smith started her Hickstead Derby career with a third place in 2017, before going one better last year when she finished runner-up to William Funnell after a hard-fought jump-off. Her horse Quality Old Joker produced a perfect clear last summer, and could easily do the same next week.
Harriet Nuttall and her experienced Derby campaigner A Touch Imperious have finished second in the class three times and were third last summer. It’s surely only a matter of time before they finally take the title.
Another lady rider with a good chance is Irish event rider Esib Power, who has had a number of top 10 placings in the Derby with Doonaveeragh O One. Esib, the sister of Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Robbie Power, returns to Hickstead after a spell of good results in the showjumping arena.
James Whitaker is bidding to become the fourth member of his famous family to lift the Boomerang Trophy, following in the footsteps of his elder brother William and uncles John and Michael. He is riding Glenavadra Brilliant, the horse who gave William his victory back in 2016 before James took over the ride.
They finished fifth in this class last year, with just one fence down and a time fault, and further proved their affinity for Hickstead when winning the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in July.
Two other former winners are among the likely starters for Sunday afternoon’s showcase. Nigel Coupe returns with his 2017 champion Golvers Hill, another horse who arrives at Hickstead on the back of a strong performance in Hamburg.
It’s been nine years since Guy Williams secured his only Hickstead Derby win back in 2010, but if he qualifies for this year’s class he could be one to keep an eye on.
All the riders must qualify for the Al Shira’aa Derby in Friday’s Bunn Leisure Derby Trial, which often proves to be a useful indication of Derby form.
The other showcase class of this meeting is the Science Supplements Speed Derby, in which Britain’s Matthew Sampson will be aiming to become the first rider to win the class three times in a row since David Bowen and John Ledingham in the early 1990s.
More than 80 riders have entered the international classes at this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting. It’s one of the most international fields in years, with riders from Australia, France, Germany, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and the USA, as well as the usual strong contingents from Great Britain and Ireland.
The Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting runs from June 20-23 June. Tickets are on sale now from www.hickstead.co.uk.