Nigel, 46, first rode in this class in 1990 and has been knocking on the Derby door for a number of years, finishing second in 2015 and fifth in this class 12 months ago. Drawn 16th out of the 26 starters, Nigel was the first rider to produce a faultless round, and for a long time he remained the sole clear.
It wasn’t until the third last combination to go, Harriet Nuttall and A Touch Imperious, that another clear round was recorded and a jump-off guaranteed.
Both riders came back to tackle the shortened course, with first to go Nigel setting a strong pace. But his hopes of producing a clear and putting the pressure on Harriet were dashed when he had the Derby rails down after the open water.
Harriet could then risk going for a steady clear, but when the Derby rails caught her out as well she had to kick on – and unluckily the final fence also fell, leaving her on eight faults and in second place.
It’s a position Harriet, 27, has held for three consecutive years in the Hickstead Derby, and she was also second in yesterday’s British Speed Derby, a class she did win here 12 months ago.
But while there was disappointment for Harriet, for Nigel and Golvers Hill it was a day of celebrations as the Lancashire-based rider finally had his name added to the iconic Boomerang Trophy. He also gets to take home and keep the new Al Shira’aa Trophy, which has been especially designed in celebration of the new title sponsorship of this famous showjumping class.
“It’s amazing – however you imagine it would be to win the Derby, it probably feels about 100 times better!” said Nigel.
“It’s an amazing venue and the ground is second to none. I’d come down to Hickstead when I was on ponies, and then stay on to watch the Derby.”
Nigel 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. I’m forever indebted to him,” he added. “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.”
There hasn’t been a female winner of the Hickstead Derby since 2011 when Tina Fletcher won on board Promised Land. While Harriet Nuttall came tantalisingly close to becoming the sixth woman to take the title today, another lady rider marked herself as one to watch in future renditions of the class, with Leicestershire’s Holly Smith finishing third equal on Quality Old Joker, the winner of Thursday’s Bunn Leisure Derby Tankard.
Holly shared third spot on four faults with two Irish riders – Billy Twomey (Diaghilev), who like Harriet has finished second for the past two years; 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.
Tom O’Brien from title sponsors Al Shira’aa commented after the class:
“We’re delighted with how today has gone. Everyone rode amazingly. It’s a huge test for horse and rider, and to jump round clear means you’re one of the legends.”
Earlier on Sunday morning, 20-year-old Jake Saywell won the Hickstead Under 25 Masters riding the 10-year-old mare Havinia Van De Roshoeve.
“It’s a great feeling to win in the International Arena on Derby day. It’s just phenomenal – it’s those kicks and buzzes that you do it for. I’ve got a few years yet in this class so I hope to be back again next year,” said Jake, who used to be based at Hickstead.
“I spent a year training with Shane Breen here and left in September to set up my own yard,” added the Nottinghamshire-based rider, who is now aiming for the Young Rider European Championships.
Several showing classes reached their conclusion today in the International Arena, including the prestigious final of the Retraining of Racehorses/Tattersalls Thoroughbred Show Series Championship, which was won by Hampshire’s Southerly Roberts and the former Flat racehorse Imperial Ruby.
Today’s Al Shira’aa Derby marked the finale of the four-day Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, but in just over four weeks’ time the All England Jumping Course Hickstead will play host to the five-star Longines Royal International Horse Show.
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