This year’s Agria Derby Trial saw two riders share top prize, in a repeat of what happened on this day at last year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting
Twelve months ago it had been William Funnell (Billy Diamo) and Harriet Biddick (A Touch Imperious) who had shared the honours, while this year it was Britain’s Robert Whitaker and Brazil’s Carlos Ribas who opted not to jump-off against the clock but instead save their horses for Sunday’s Al Shira’aa Derby.
Drawn 16th to go, Robert was the first of the 33 starters to produce a clear round, riding the 14-year-old gelding Evert. As the remaining riders followed him into the International Arena, it seemed no one was going to match Robert’s clear until Carlos, the very last rider to go, netted a faultless round with last year’s British Speed Derby runner-up Trix.
Whitaker was quite happy to share the honours with Ribas. “My dad [John Whitaker] bred Trix, and Carlos bought him off us last year, so if it was anyone else, I wouldn’t be so happy!” he joked afterwards.
The Agria Derby Trial is similar to Sunday’s grand finale in that it’s longer than the usual showjumping course, with more jumping efforts – plus it includes some of Hickstead’s iconic permanent fences such as the less steep side of the Derby Bank. But none of these fences cause Robert’s ride Evert any concern. “He just gets a bit hot, so if you can keep him quiet, then he jumps very well. I’m not worried about any of the higher fences, I’m just trying to keep him relaxed and try and get him in a good spot in front of the fence, and he’ll do the work.”
Carlos’s ride Trix would have been a formidable opponent had they jumped off against the clock, having proved himself super speedy in last year’s Speed Derby. The nine-year-old gelding has now stepped up to jumping the bigger tracks, and he marked himself as a serious Derby horse when winning one of the Hamburg Derby qualifiers last month.
Having finished runner-up in both the Derby and the Speed Derby last year, Carlos was delighted to take the top spot in the Trial. “It’s such a good feeling. He knows this ring, and he loves it here – he’s already been around here as a seven-year-old, and last year, so he feels at home. He was awesome today. I rode the horse for the Whitakers for half a season, and I liked him so much that I ended up buying him myself – so thanks, Rob, for the good job! He has a lot of ingredients of a big jumper: he has a lot of scope, he’s careful, and he has a very big heart. He can be quite strong to ride sometimes because he wants to do so well, but we get on really well and I have a lot of fun on him.”
Both riders are now in with a good chance of lifting Sunday’s Al Shira’aa Derby. If Robert wins, he would become the fourth member of his famous family to win the Boomerang Trophy, while Carlos would become the second Brazilian to win after the legendary Nelson Pessoa, who won in 1963, 1965 and 1996.
“The Derby is a class that I have a lot of respect for,” said Carlos. “I want to be positive and confident, but I also don’t want to overwhelm myself expecting too much, because you never know – the luck has to be on your side. But I’m prepared; I’m fit; my horses are fit. I’ve done everything that I can, so I’m going to try to enjoy Sunday afternoon here.”
In the Agria Derby Two Phase, the 2019 Al Shira’aa Derby winner Mikey Pender took the top spot riding HHS Fortune. The pair finished less than 1sec quicker than Graham Gillespie and Veneno. “I’m just very lucky that my horse is so fast, and so when I do my job half decent, normally I’m there or thereabouts as she’s so fast. I’m very lucky to have the ride on her.”
The pair are formidable against the clock, and last year at Dublin Horse Show she was placed in several speed classes and won the Speed Derby. “She’s just an amazing horse; she’s such a fighter and she always tries her best,” added Mikey, who is now aiming to win Hickstead’s Speed Derby for the first time.
Photo credit Elli Birch/Boots and Hooves Photography | Press release Hickstead Press Office
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