What makes the Derby unique is the fact the course doesn’t alter year on year, and the jumps that this year’s competitors will face are almost identical to those that riders had to clear back in 1961, when the class was first held.
The famous fences such as the Devil’s Dyke, the double of ditches and the 10ft 6in Derby Bank remain as challenging, and recognisable, as ever – but not one of the obstacles are what you could describe as ‘straightforward’.
“The Derby is the Derby, there is no fence that is a let up,” says last year’s winning rider, William Whitaker, who claimed the title with the Irish Sports Horse, Glenavadra Brilliant.
“Some jumps may seem easier than others, but they can still fall down. You can’t lose your concentration from the first fence to the last.”
The Al Shira’aa Derby build-up begins with the Bunn Leisure Derby Tankard on Thursday, then riders must qualify for the main event during Friday’s Bunn Leisure Derby Trial. This class features several of Hickstead’s permanent obstacles and can often provide a useful indication of Derby form.
If the Derby is all about clearing maximum height fences with precision, Saturday afternoon’s British Speed Derby is about covering the ground and flying over jumps at speed. Like in the Al Shira’aa Derby, the Speed Derby course stays the same year-on-year, with fences including the Road Crossing, Irish bank and treble of single planks. The fastest time against the clock wins, with 4sec added for every jump that falls.
Showing is a major part of this show, with classes for cobs, riding horses, small hunters, mountain and moorlands, ridden hunters and coloured horses as well as the final of the Tattersalls/RoR Thoroughbred Show Series Championship. Other equestrian highlights include national showjumping from 1m upwards, scurry driving, carriage driving and the Celebrity Derby Challenge, held on Saturday night, when our leading showjumpers try their hands at a new sport.
The Hickstead Mini Challenge is where many of today’s top riders got their taste of competing at the All England Jumping Course, with adorable ponies and tiny jockeys popping round over the pint-size fences.
For those who want to ride on the hallowed Hickstead turf, competitor entries are open now and will close on Monday 15 May. Spectators can book tickets online now, with discounts applying to tickets purchased in advance of the show.
As well as getting the chance to watch top class equestrian sport, there is plenty on offer at Hickstead for all members of the family. The huge Charles Owen Shopping Village features hundreds of shops and stands selling tack, clothing, footwear, jewellery, gifts, outdoor furniture and more. There’s a funfair for children, a range of bars and eateries to suit everyone, and the option to bring a picnic and enjoy a fabulous summer’s day out in the West Sussex countryside.
Tickets for the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting are on sale now at www.hickstead.co.uk.