William Whitaker: How to win the Derby

The 2016 Hickstead Derby winner William Whitaker shares his winning formula! 

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About William

Last summer William became the third member of his famous family to lift the Boomerang Trophy, after his uncles John and Michael. His win came on the chestnut Irish Sports Horse gelding, Glenavadra Brilliant. William is supported by Equitop Myoplast.

How to win the Al Shira'aa Derby

“First and foremost, find a horse capable of doing it! A Derby winner must have stamina, be bold and have scope and there are few of those around. It’s a unique class like that.

To prepare, you need to get your horse very fit. Last year I had a time fault – three minutes is a long time, and the Hickstead arena has far more gradients than you might think, so the long Derby course can take it out of a horse. Pace is important – it’s such a big arena, you can easily get a bit lost in it or drift on your turns, but taking 10 extra strides round a corner can make the difference between getting time penalties or not. You’ve got to keep your horse in a rhythm he’s comfortable with.

You also need to be sure your horse is confident jumping over natural obstacles – not just the obvious ones, like the Bank and the Devil’s Dyke, but also fences like the gate, the water and the double of ditches.

I’ll start watching videos of previous years a few weeks before the class, looking out for fences I rode well and areas I need to improve on. I like to come down early Sunday morning and walk round the course when it’s quiet. I like walking it, even though the course doesn’t change and you hardly need pace out any of the distances! But it helps you get into the right mindset.

Last year, I jumped Glenavadra Brilliant in the Derby Trial on the Friday, so on the Saturday I just took him out for a leg stretch. Sunday morning, I gave him about 20min work to loosen up, and then I prepare myself mentally! The Derby contenders parade before the class, but I have to ride a different horse because Glenavadra Brilliant is so sharp and sensitive, so I don’t want him going into the arena and losing all that nervous energy. Some horses benefit from the crowds and cheering though!”

Watch William in action at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting (22-25 June).

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