Only three riders jumped clear in the first round of the Derby Trial course, which introduces many of Hickstead’s famous natural obstacles and decides the starting field for Sunday’s Al Shira’aa Derby, with the top 35 qualifying.
Reigning Derby champions William Whitaker and Glenavadra Brilliant were the first to go in the jump-off, setting a time of 70.25sec but knocking the final fence to end on four faults. Next in was Michael with his 15-year-old chestnut Viking, who jumped clear in a time of 71.50sec. The final rider into the International Arena was Joss Williams (Culmore Prospect), but eight faults ended their hopes and gave Michael, 57, the win.
Michael has won the Derby four times – the first time in 1980 when he was just 20, and then again three years in a row from 1991-1993 with the great Monsanta. He plans to ride Gentleman in the Al Shira’aa Derby, and now must decide whether to give his Nations Cup regular Viking a chance in the feature class as well.
“I’m in two minds about whether to do the Derby with him on Sunday,” he said, adding that he would need to discuss with the Performance Manager for Jumping, Di Lampard, in case the horse will be needed for British team duties. “He’s never been in the Derby before, but as he’s getting older he’s more rideable – he was a bit wild when he was younger.”
The top 35 riders in today’s Bunn Leisure Derby Trial have qualified for the Al Shira’aa Derby, and placings will pass down the line should any riders not declare for the Sunday showcase class.
A new class took place this afternoon, called the Bunn Leisure Derby Two-Phase. Riders had to jump clear round the first part of the course in order to progress to the second, timed phase.
Ireland’s Peter Moloney took the prize with a time of 37.69sec with Ghana, while another member of the Whitaker clan – William’s cousin and Michael’s nephew Joe – took runner-up spot with Diola.
The main focus of Saturday’s action at Hickstead is the British Speed Derby, in which riders must gallop at speed over some of the famous natural obstacles in the International Arena, including the Road Crossing and the Irish Bank.