Nigel Coupe has won the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby riding Golvers Hill, after a thrilling jump-off.
It’s not every year we see a clear in the Hickstead Derby, but this year there were two fault-free rounds. Nigel was 16th to go out of 26 starters, and the first rider to produce a clear. It looked like he had done enough to win the title until Harriet Nuttall came in, third from last.
Her Derby stalwart A Touch Imperious jumped a foot perfect round, much to the delight of the crowd – which meant there was a jump-off.
Nigel was first to jump, but his hopes of putting the pressure on Harriet with a clear round, were dashed when he had the Derby rails down after the water. If Harriet could jump clear again, she would be the winner.
The pair took a flyer to the water and then had trouble coming back in time for the rails, which meant they also had it down. Harriet had to kick on to beat Nigel’s time, which saw them have the final fence and meant Nigel finally got his hands on the iconic Boomerang Trophy.
“It’s amazing – however you imagine it would be to win the Derby, it probably feels about 100 times better!” said Nigel.
The 46-year rider from Lancashire paid tribute to Golvers Hill, Susan Simmons’ 14-year-old 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,” he said. “I’m forever indebted to him. He likes the limelight. There are probably better, more talented horses out there, but he just loves his job. It’s without a doubt my biggest win.”
This was the third consecutive year Harriet has placed second in the Derby, but she was delighted with A Touch Imperious’ performance as this is the first time he had jumped clear around the tough course.
There hasn’t been a female winner in the Hickstead Derby since 2011, when Tina Fletcher won on board Promised Land. So can Harriet finally take the title next year?
Another lady rider to look out for in 2018 is Holly Smith, who was joint third on four faults riding Quality Old Joker. Holly shared her place with Billy Twomey (Diaghilev) and former World Champion Dermott Lennon (Gelvins Touch).
Three-time Derby champion William Funnell produced one of the best rounds of the day on the talented nine-year-old homebred horse Billy Buckingham. The pair left every fence standing, but a slight back-step at the top of the Derby Bank and a time fault left them in sixth place with five faults.
Earlier in the week Harriet was also second in the British Speed Derby, a class she won at Hickstead last year. Once again she was riding Silver Lift and the pair very nearly made it a double, despite having a rail down on the bank.
However, Yorkshire rider Matthew Sampson set a blistering time of 92.73sec on Topflight True Carlo, which couldn’t be beaten. Harriet was just behind him on 90.75sec, while the 2014 and 2015 winners Guy Williams and Casper De Muze were third on 95.59sec.
It was an emotional win for Matthew who was swamped by riders all wanting to congratulate him on the biggest win of his career.
“I’ve been coming here to Hickstead since I was a little kid and watching it on television – this class is one that everyone wants to win,” he said. “Everything came together today, and he loves that arena.”
Matthew hadn’t sat on the horse in three years – and only picked up the ride the day before as the horse’s regular jockey couldn’t compete in the class.
The horse’s owner Christine Spanner said she was “speechless”.
“I’ve watched this class since I was a young child – I can’t thank Matt enough for what he’s done,” she said. “I’ve had the horse since he was five months old, and he’s 13 now. I still ride him every day, and competed him in showjumping, eventing, hunting, team chasing – you name it.”
You can watch highlights of both classes here on H&C on Sky 253 or online via H&C Play and Amazon Video. The British Speed Derby is on 5 July at 7.30pm followed by the Al Shira’aa Derby at 9pm.