The 26-year-old was drawn 11th out of 30 riders in today’s feature class, but he set a blisteringly quick time of 92.73sec on Topflight True Carlo to put pressure on his later rivals.
Matthew then had a nervous wait right until the very end of the class, with the 2014 and 2015 winner Guy Williams (Casper De Muze) and last year’s Speed Derby victor Harriet Nuttall (Silver Lift) the last riders to go.
When Guy felt his dual champion horse tiring round the lengthy, twisty course he eased up a bit, finishing clear in 95.59sec. Only Harriet could stop Matthew from lifting the trophy, and she set off meaning business with the grey gelding Silver Lift. She ended up producing the quickest time of the day in 90.75sec, but a four-second penalty for knocking down a fence relegated her to second place.
It was a first major international win at Hickstead for Matthew, who picked up the ride on Topflight True Carlo at the last minute when the horse’s regular rider couldn’t compete in the class.
“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,” said Matthew, who previously rode the horse a few years back and came third in this class behind Guy and Harriet in 2014. “Everything came together today, and he loves that arena.”
The horse’s owner Christine Spanner added:
“I’m speechless. I’ve watched this class since I was a young child – I can’t thank Matt enough for what he’s done. 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.”
Guy Williams did have cause for celebration earlier on today when he won the Tom Hudson Derby Trophy with new ride Rouge De Ravel.
Guy has only had the ride on the 12-year-old stallion since April, but already they’ve picked up some superb results and Guy ranks him as “one of the best horses I’ve had”.
“He’s only ever jumped 1.35m and 1.40m classes so this was the biggest course he’s seen, but he’s brave, he’s competitive, he jumps the biggest things and just keeps winning. He doesn’t spook but he’s quite feisty which I think helps,” Guy added.
Guy plans to bring him back to Hickstead next month for the Longines King George V Gold Cup, the Grand Prix finale of the Longines Royal International Horse Show (25-30 July).
On Sunday, attention turns to the famous Al Shira’aa Derby, in which riders have to tackle the notoriously difficult course that includes the 10ft 6in slope of the Derby Bank, the Devil’s Dyke, the Open Ditch and one of the widest water jumps in the world.
Last year’s winners William Whitaker and Glenavadra Brilliant will start as favourites for this year’s Hickstead showcase, but he’ll face plenty of strong rivals. These include former winners Guy Williams, William Funnell, Michael Whitaker and Phillip Miller, plus Billy Twomey and Harriet Nuttall, who were both runners-up 12 months ago.
But nothing is guaranteed in the Hickstead Derby, and any one of the 35 starters could be lifting the Boomerang Trophy – and the brand new Al Shira’aa Trophy – on Sunday afternoon.
For results, click here.