William Funnell becomes the greatest Hickstead Derby rider of all time, with a record fifth win

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William Funnel in sella a Dublon

William Funnell riding Dublon (c) Hickstead

William Funnell became the first five-time winner of the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby at Hickstead today (Sunday 23 June), following a masterclass display of jumping with Dublon.

The Surrey-based showjumper had come close to beating the record 12 months ago when he produced clear rounds on both Dublon and Equine America Billy Diamo, only to miss out to David Simpson and Pjotr Van De Kruishoeve in a jump-off.

This year’s competition also ended up with a three-way jump-off after Funnell, William Whitaker (Flamboyant) and Brazil’s Carlos Ribas (Juan Van’t Arkelhof) all had a fence apiece for four faults, with no one jumping clear for the first time since 2014. Dublon had very nearly repeated his faultless round of last summer, only to knock the 1m rail on top of the Derby Bank – the smallest fence on the course.

First to go in the jump-off was Carlos, who completed the shortened jump-off round on 12 faults to leave the door open for the two Williams. Funnell came in next, and if the pressure of his record-breaking attempt was getting to him, he didn’t let it show in the slightest, producing a beautiful clear in 89.91sec.

The clear round laid down the gauntlet to Whitaker and Flamboyant, who already had two top 10 finishes in this class under their belts. They were up on the time, but when the middle of the Devil’s Dyke fell his hopes of a second Hickstead Derby title came to a halt. Funnell finally had that coveted fifth title, elevating him above four-time winners Eddie Macken, Harvey Smith, and John and Michael Whitaker.

There had been murmurs that a fifth win might lead to William retiring, as he has now scaled back his riding career to concentrate on his role as chef d’equipe for the UAE Olympic team. But if anything, today’s win has inspired him to keep going.

“Last year I thought if I’d won it, I’d have retired,” he admitted. “But today, with the enormity of the day, cantering into the ring, the challenge of the course, the Derby – it’s so special, and it’s why we do it. As a kid, this was something I dreamed of – and now, I’ve won it more times than Eddie Macken and Boomerang.”

As always, the Devil’s Dyke and the Bank caused a few problems for a lot of the Derby contenders – with the endlessly wet winter causing the turf on the Bank to cut up more than it has in decades – but the class ended in yet another classic battle. “These guys gave me a fight!” said William of his two jump-off rivals. “There’s always stories, and that’s what makes the Derby such a spectacle. We’re very lucky to have Al Shira’aa sponsor the show here. So many people wouldn’t come and watch a World Cup or a Global Champions Tour, but they’ll come and watch the thrills and spills of the Derby, and we need to make sure that we keep this in our sport going forward.”

The Bunn family – owners of the All England Jumping Course – had further reason to celebrate on the final day of the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, when Lucy Townley and the seven-year-old Billy Adorable clinched the win in the Doney Championship. “What a great success – I’m a winning owner-breeder,” joked Edward Bunn, who is the horse’s owner and Lucy’s Dad.

Edward had purchased the mare from the Billy Stud Auction three years ago. “I convinced him to buy her, and she’s just been a joy,” said Lucy, who also won the Walwyn Final at Windsor with another ride. “After that, I said that my next big goal was to win the Doney.”

Lucy describes Billy Adorable as “really good looking, with a great attitude – really forward-thinking, and really careful, with a lovely technique. She’s actually easier to ride in the jump off, because you can just allow her to go forward, and it’s the pace she wants to be at. She loves it; she’s amazing.”

The next fixture to take place at the All England Jumping Course is the five-star Agria Royal International Horse Show (23-28 July). Tickets are available here.

Full results here

Press release Hcikstead

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