Beecher derby victory thwarts Funnell
Irishman Paul Beecher denied Will Funnell membership of arguably Hickstead's most exclusive showjumping club by winning the Carpetright Derby on Sunday.
Beecher, 29, did it the hard way, posting a clear round from the number one draw on Loughnatousa W B before repeating that feat to deny Funnell and Dorada jump-off glory. Beecher's £35,000 victory made him the first Irish Derby winner since 2003 and thwarted Funnell's bid for a fourth triumph in an event that is effectively showjumping's Grand National.
Funnell, husband of top event rider Pippa Funnell, won three times on Cortaflex Mondriaan, his Derby superstar that was formally retired in an emotional ceremony before last year's event. Had he completed a quartet, then Funnell would have taken his place alongside Eddie Macken, Harvey Smith, John Whitaker and Michael Whitaker in Hickstead's hall of fame.
But Beecher had clearly not read the script, as his jump-off time of 93.07 seconds set Funnell a demanding task which ended when he had the third fence down and then retired. Funnell collected £21,000 for his efforts, while six riders shared third place on four faults - Matthias Granzow, Steven Whitaker, Nick Motmans, Guy Williams, David O'Brien and Trevor Breen.
Whitaker, 2010 Derby champion Williams, O'Brien and Breen all saw their hopes sunk at the water jump, although the revered Derby Bank and Devils Dyke also claimed their familiar share of victims. Beecher, though, was not to be denied, displaying admirable skill and composure on his 13-year-old gelding.
"Being first to go didn't make that much difference, really," said Waterford-based Beecher. "You know the route and you know your plan, and I just took it as I saw it out there. He jumped fantastic in the Derby here last year, and he impressed in the Hamburg Derby last month, so I felt he was set up well for this weekend.
"He is a horse that can go quickly from being very switched off to very switched on, so I wasn't worried about the gap between our first round and the jump-off. Words are not strong enough to explain the feeling of winning the Hickstead Derby. Even to compete here is amazing, but to jump clear and win is unbelievable."
For Funnell, it was a case of so near yet so far on a horse previously ridden by Irishman Shane Breen that had won previous Hickstead classes including the speed derby and eventing grand prix.
"The horse's owner Liz Macey came to train with me - she bought him at the end of last season - and it was decided when I took the ride two months ago that we would aim to bring him here," Funnell said. "I felt I had a good draw - the horse had time to get its breath back before the jump-off - but I ran a little bit tight to fence number two.
"That meant he ended up being too close to the gate, and that was it. Unfortunately, the jump-off was very shortlived. I am very close friends with Shane - I am godfather to one of his little girls - and he has given me a lot of advice on this horse. All I had to think about today was jumping the jumps. It would be nice to have Dorada here next year for the Derby, but it is difficult for me to say as I don't own the horse."