Tipperary rider Shane Breen, third last year, hopes to add his name to the illustrious list of Irish riders who have triumphed in the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby in West Sussex this afternoon.
Previous Irish winners of one of the most famous classes in British showjumping include Séamus Hayes (1961, ’64), Lt. John Ledingham (1984, ’94, ’95), Peter Charles (2001-’03), Paul Beecher (2012), Breen’s younger brother Trevor (2014, ’15), and the legendary Eddie Macken (1976-‘79) who won the Derby in four consecutive years with the brilliant Boomerang.
Co. Longford-born Macken, the first rider to achieve four wins in a row, all with Boomerang, took home the original trophy to keep after his 1979 success. A new trophy was then created, aptly named The Boomerang Trophy, depicting the Irish combination coming down the iconic 10ft 6in slope of the Derby Bank.
The Bunn Leisure Derby Trial, which Shane Breen won with Golden Hawk on Friday, acts as a qualifier for Sunday’s main event, where the Hickstead-based Irishman will also ride Can Ya Makan, runner-up in the Hamburg Derby in May, giving his two serious challengers for the class.
Speaking ahead of the climax of The Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting 2019, Breen, one of the favourites for today’s event, admitted:
“I think I have two great chances in Can Ya Makan and Golden Hawk, and I’m looking forward to it. Golden Hawk has never done a Derby, but he has all the ability. I think if I get it right, both of them could have a clear round. Of all the years I’ve done this class, this is definitely the biggest chance I’ve ever had, with these two horses. If I don’t win it this year or next year, I might have to give them to my brother!”
There will be a further seven Irish combinations in this afternoon’s competition, with both Ger O’Neill and Richard Howley having two mounts each, Keatingstown Z Wellie Two and Uncas S (O’Neill) and Notis Me and Chinook (Howley) respectively.
Others flying the Irish flag in the Longines Main Arena will be Gerard Clarke (Lupins Lux Z), Michael Pender (Hearton Du Bois Halleux), and Elizabeth Power, who has previous top-ten finishes with Doonaveeragh O One, will again ride the bay stallion as she bids to become the first female to claim the title since Britain’s Tina Fletcher with Promised Land in 2011.
The reigning champions William Funnell and Billy Buckingham will possibly pose the most serious challenge to the Irish participants as the Englishman hopes to set a new record in becoming the first rider to win The Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby five times. Funnell claimed a hat-trick of wins in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with the Mondriaan, and took a fourth victory in 2018 with Billy Buckingham.
Another former Derby winning rider who should be in the reckoning is 2010 champion Guy Williams who already won the Bunn Leisure Derby Two Phase with Rouge De Ravel earlier this week.
Among the other main names to consider are 2018 Science Supplements Speed Derby champion Matthew Sampson, Holly Smith and the Irish Sport Horse Quality Old Joker, Harriett Nuttall and A Touch Imperious (ISH), Nigel Coupe and the 2017 champion Golvers Hill and James Whitaker and Glenavadra Brilliant (Al Shira’aa Derby winner 2016) as he bids to become the fourth member of his family to lift the Boomerang Trophy, following in the footsteps of his elder brother William and uncles John and Michael.