We are so excited that Horse Scout Advocate William Funnell, has just claimed his fourth victory in the Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead for so many reasons. Not just because he has been a supporter of Horse Scout from the beginning but also because he was riding a British homebred horse. This was the 57th Derby which began in 1961, now sponsored by Al Shira’aa. This year it attracted a strong and very international field of riders but the Brits dominated.
Once again flying the flag for the Billy Stud, William was riding the 10-year-old Billy Buckingham by Billy Congo out of a Clover Hill mare. The impressive 18.2hh gelding was one of two to go clear in the first round of the imposing track. This resulted in a jump-off- almost unheard of in this competition, against Holly Smith and the equally massive Irish bred Quality Old Joker by OBOS Quality. Holly has produced the 11 year old since a youngster and perhaps surprisingly, the 18 hand chestnut is as good at speed classes as he is at Derby’s and Puissances.
The first to go in the jump-off, Billy Buckingham was clearing the fences with inches to spare. Until the pair fell foul of the water jump and a foot in the splash, meant they finished with four faults in a time of 89.62sec. This gave Holly a bit of breathing space, but she was caught out first by the black gate and then by the water as well, meaning she they had to settle for runner-up.
William is the fifth rider to have four wins in the Hickstead Derby, having previously clocked up a catalogue of victories in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with his legendary long-term partner, Cortaflex Mondriaan. He joins other greats like Harvey Smith, John and Michael Whitaker, and Ireland’s Eddie Macken, who have all had four wins, in what is still perceived as one of the hardest showjumping events to clock a clear round in, let alone win.
William rates Billy Buckingham as the perfect Derby campaigner and believes there will be more wins to come . “As long as I’m fit and the horse is fit you’d like to think you could go on and win it a fifth time. It’s nice to be in the record books with those guys, and to do it this year on a home-bred is special,” he said.
Billy Buckingham was previously ridden by Lucy Townley, the daughter of Hickstead Director Edward Bunn. William took over the ride in 2017 and was the star performer of the British team in the Nations Cup in Denmark last June. Just a few weeks later, the pair finished sixth on their Derby debut having hesitated at the top of the Bank and getting a time fault as well.
“We’ve done a bit of practice to make sure he’d come down the Bank. Last year I wondered if I’d wasted a clear round because they don’t come round here very often, so it’s nice to get another one and win it on a home-bred by Billy Congo.”
William was full of praise for the show at Hickstead, which has always been happy hunting ground for him. “I’d like to congratulate the Bunns on the work they’ve done in the arena, this is the best grass ring in the world with the best footing.”
It was a great event for both British riders but also the girls this year, with Holly in second and Harriet Nuttall in third on another great Irish bred horse, A Touch Imperious by Touchdown, This super consistent pair who have been together since “Henry” was just five years old, left all the poles up. Alas they were another pair to be caught out by the 15ft Open Water. Harriet shared third place with Shane Breen on the Canturo sired stallion, Can Ya Makan, who had one rail.
James Whitaker ended up in fifth place with one fence down and a time fault on Glenavadra Brilliant, the horse James’ elder brother William Whitaker rode to victory in 2016.