Irish rider Michael Pender won the Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead on Sunday (23 June), becoming the youngest ever winner in the 59-year history of this famous showjumping class.
Marion Mould (1967 winner) and Michael Whitaker (1980) were both 20 years old when they won the Hickstead Derby, with Marion just a few months younger when she took the title, but teenager Michael is still three months shy of his 20th birthday.
Pender also followed in Michael Whitaker’s footsteps by winning the Al Shira’aa Derby at his first attempt, something that hasn’t been achieved since Whitaker’s win on Mon Santa nearly 40 years ago.
It was a thrilling renewal of the Al Shira’aa Derby, with three riders jumping clear – something that hasn’t happened since 1993. Pre-class favourite Shane Breen produced the first of the day’s clears but with his Derby debutant Golden Hawk rather than his established Derby horse Can Ya Makan, who was third last year.
Kildare-based Michael then ensured a jump-off by going clear with his Puissance specialist Hearton Du Bois Halleux, before Britain’s Harriet Nuttall added a third faultless round with her ultra-consistent A Touch Imperious.
Shane went first in the jump-off, setting off at a strong pace in the hope of putting the pressure on his two rivals. But when the Derby rails and the first part of the double of gates came down, his chance of lifting that coveted Boomerang Trophy looked to be over.
Michael then came in and delivered another clear, even though his horse took a flier at the water. Only Harriet could deny an Irish victory – and she has come tantalisingly close to winning every year since 2014, having never been out of the top three. But a foot in the huge Open Water proved costly for the Somerset rider, who had to settle for runner-up spot for the fourth time.
Michael picked up the £34,650 first prize as well as taking home the Al Shira’aa Trophy and having his name added to the Boomerang Trophy.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, but it’s what every rider dreams of that comes here,” said Michael. “He’s done a lot of puissances, but this is the first time I’ve done something like this class with him. It means so much to win this – there’s so much history to the class, and so many good riders, and I’m just speechless. Getting up this morning, you don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I knew the horse wasn’t going to be very fast in the jump-off, so I knew I needed to try to go clear and put the pressure on Harriet. That’s what I did, and it paid off.”
Harriet was frustrated to come so close and miss out, but she has had a superb week after winning the Science Supplements Speed Derby on Saturday with Silver Lift. “A Touch Imperious has felt on really good form here, and he jumped a fantastic clear – probably his best round here,” she said. “If all is well, we’ll be back next year – with the way he’s jumping, why would you not? It’s a privilege to come to this show, and to have horses like Silver Lift and A Touch Imperious to do these classes on and be successful with.”
Shane Breen – who now has two extremely good horses to aim towards next year’s Al Shira’aa Derby – gave credit to his fellow competitors. “I feel sorry for Harriet; she’s been fantastic for so many years, but I’m delighted for Mikey,” he added.
Last year’s winners William Funnell and Billy Buckingham had one fence down to finish fourth equal with Graham Gillespie and Andretti H, with seven riders sharing sixth place.
Earlier in the day, 17-year-old Nicole Lockhead Anderson enjoyed her first win in Hickstead’s Longines International Arena, riding Here I Am B to the top spot in the Kingsman Equine 7 & 8 Year Old Championship.
International showjumping returns to Hickstead next month with the Longines FEI Nations Cup of Great Britain at the Longines Royal International Horse Show (23-28 July). Tickets are on sale now.
Full results can be found here https://results.scgvisual.com/2019/hickstead/
Image credit: Michael Pender, 19, wins the Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead (c) Nigel Goddard