6 links between Hickstead and the Grand National

The home of British Showjumping and the most famous race on earth have more in common than you might think, writes Victoria Spicer...

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What do Hickstead's shows and Aintree’s Grand National have in common? To start with, they’re iconic sporting events in the equestrian calendar. The Derby and the Grand National both feature consisting of famously challenging fences that people can name – think Becher’s Brook, The Chair, the Derby Bank, Devil’s Dyke and so on. But that’s not all they have in common - we take a look at this year’s contenders and the previous rolls of honour to find out that Hickstead and the Grand National are linked in many other ways….

1. Power to the people

Ireland’s Robbie Power, winner of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, shot to fame in Britain when he won the Grand National in 2007 on Silver Birch. A former showjumper, Robbie made the decision to switch from coloured poles for birch fences, but he has continued to compete occasionally at Hickstead during the ‘off season’ in National Hunt racing. His record here is pretty impressive. Not only did he win the Speed Derby in 2013 (pictured above), he also completed the Hickstead Derby in 2014 to finish in a very creditable 16th place. Not many people can claim to have ridden round the Derby and the Grand National!

2. V for victory

Harvey Smith is the best-known Derby winner of all, mostly thanks to that v-sign flicked at the judges’ box back in 1971. Harvey is one of an elite band of riders to claim the Derby title four times. His wife, Sue Smith, a National Hunt trainer, also has a Grand National title to her name – she trained the 2013 winner Auroras Encore. Incidentally, Harvey once got to ride round the Grand National course during a spot of BBC filming – he fell off.

3. Top team

Another husband and wife duo who came close to doing the Derby/Grand National double were Marion and David Mould. Marion (nee Coakes) won the Derby on the pony Stroller back in 1967, while her future husband David, a former champion jockey, came third in Aintree’s great race the following Spring. The pair tied the knot in 1969.

4. Show time

There may seem a world of difference from trotting round the International Arena on a show pony to galloping round over Aintree’s fearsome fences, but one rider who made the switch is Nick Scholfield. After starting out in the show ring and picking up wins at both the Hickstead Derby Meeting and the Longines Royal International Horse Show, Nick then moved to showjumping before becoming a National Hunt jockey. His best Grand National result to date is 10th. 

5. Father and son

Three-time Hickstead Derby winner Nick Skelton may have just announced he’s hanging up his riding boots, but his two sons are certainly carrying on the family tradition in equestrianism. Jockey Harry won the Irish Grand National in 2009 on Niche Market, with the pair going on to finish fifth in Aintree’s showcase two years later. Niche Market was trained by Paul Nicholls, and at that time his assistant was Nick’s elder son Dan Skelton, now a successful trainer in his own right. Dan was also working at Ditcheat when the Paul Nicholls-trained Neptune Collonges won the 2012 renewal of the Grand National. Will either of the Skelton boys be able to claim jump racing’s biggest prize in the future, just as their father’s name graces the Boomerang Trophy (and of course the Longines King George V Gold Cup)? We wouldn’t bet against it.

6. Master of Hickstead 

The story of Aldaniti and Bob Champion is one of the most lasting Grand National legends. Not only did Aldaniti recover from injury to win the race, jockey Bob famously overcame cancer to win the title in 1981. Aldaniti was of course trained by Josh Gifford, the father of Olympic event rider Tina Cook. Tina is a regular Hickstead competitor, taking part in the MS Amlin Eventers' Challenge as well as the national showjumping classes. The connections continue - Tina's mother Althea Gifford judged the RoR classes last year on Derby Day, while her godmother, Bridget Biddlecombe (who used to be married to jockey Terry Biddlecomb, who came second in the Grand National in 1972 with Gay Trip), works in the Hickstead office during the shows.

The Bunns and Giffords are close family friends, and in fact Josh trained racehorses for Douglas Bunn, the Master of Hickstead. And just to go full circle on the Hickstead/Aintree connection, Douglas's horse Manicou Bay was sixth in the Grand National under Bob Champion in 1975 when L’Escargot famously beat Red Rum. Finally, Frank Grunnill, Hickstead's Chief FEI Steward, famous for his bowler hat and array of bow ties, was one of the mounted police that led in Aldaniti. 

Tickets for the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting and the Longines Royal International Horse Show are on sale now.

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