Any celebrations at the British Jumping Derby Meeting to mark Hickstead's 50th anniversary might well involve defending DFS Derby champion William Funnell.
William will be going all-out to record his fourth DFS Derby win, which would provide him with an exceptional entry into the record books, alongside the £40,000 first prize.
Only four riders have managed this over the last half-century — Eddie Macken, Michael Whitaker, Harvey Smith and John Whitaker — and only one of those, Eddie, has achieved it on the same horse each time.
William's winning Derby partner has always been Julie Slades's marvellous Cortaflex Mondriaan, so will he be able to follow in the famous footsteps of Eddie Macken and Boomerang? We will find out next Sunday.
So what is it about the British Jumping Derby, currently sponsored by furniture giant DFS, that makes it so hard to win, yet still attracts the very best riders and horses from all over the world
The late Douglas Bunn designed the Derby course as a true endurance test: 1,195m long to be ridden at 400mpm (metres per minute) inside 180sec. It has 16 obstacles, which call for 21 massive jumping efforts. And out of about 1800 attempts since 1961, only 50 horses have managed to complete it faultlessly.
The course has remained the same since its inception, with not one of the obstacles blameless when it comes to faults. Focus is always on the legendary Derby Bank, which at 10ft 6ins is the most formidable derby bank in the world. But while that is the one the crowds come to see, the one which causes most concern for the riders is the Devil's Dyke, three very light, upright rustic rails with an open ditch under the middle element and the last taken from rising ground.
Traditionally, the Derby class is always on the last day, this year Sunday 27 June, but until the Derby Trial on Friday (25 June) the Derby start list is mainly conjecture. William's opposition this year will, as always, be strong. It will almost certainly include Shane Breen, who last year finished equal eighth on two different horses. Shane, married to Douglas Bunn's daughter, Chloe, won the Hamburg Speed Derby last year and is on great form at the moment.
Ellen Whitaker and William Whitaker, niece and nephew to leading riders Michael and John Whitaker, are two more likely to toss their hats into the ring. Ben Maher, Derby winner in 2005, and Guy Williams are both known to have a hunger for the Derby title in this very special Hickstead year.
Trevor Breen (brother to Shane) currently holds the record for the fastest time in the Bunn Leisure Speed Derby and should be there to defend his title. Here again, Ellen Whitaker and Ben Maher will not make his defence simple, and it will be even more open if Guy Williams and Joe and William Whitaker decide to give it a try.
Visiting The Show
The British Jumping Derby Meeting runs from 24-27 June at the All England Jumping Course, Hickstead, West Sussex RH17 5NU. The venue is eight miles north of Brighton and 15 miles south of Gatwick on the A23. Tickets cost from £14 (adults), £10 (OAP), £7 (children) and £40 (family). Car parking is £6. For more details and to buy tickets visit www.hickstead.co.uk or tel: 01273 834315.
Photo Credit: William Funnell and Mondriaan