Leading ladies line up for the Al Shira’aa Derby

Will we see a female winner of this year's Hickstead Derby?

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Somerset-based Harriet Nuttall is among the leading contenders for this year’s Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead, having been runner up for the past two years. This year she will bid to become only the sixth woman to win the Hickstead Derby in the 57-year history of the class.

Harriet, 27, has produced two four-fault rounds to finish joint-second in the Derby in both 2015 and 2016, making her one of the strongest competitors for this year’s Al Shira’aa Derby.

She was unlucky not to win last year, when her rangy Irish gelding, A Touch Imperious, jumping clear until the very last fence. But while the crowd thought they were about to witness a historic clear, Harriet thought she’d already picked up faults earlier on course.

“I thought I had a foot in the water jump and had just finished on 4 faults, so I was just really happy to have had another good round. When I circled after the last fence, it was only then I realised I’d had it down,” she says. “The Derby is so difficult to win, you have to have so much luck on your side and everything has to be right on the day, and last year it just wasn’t my day.”

Riders who wish to compete in the Al Shira’aa Derby must qualify in the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial (Friday 23 June), with the top 35 combinations going through to Sunday’s showcase.

Other lady riders who are entered for the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting – and who could have a good chance in the Derby itself – include Esib Power, Ellen Whitaker and Jessie Drea.

Ireland’s Esib Power finished tenth in last year’s Hickstead Derby with Doonaveragh O One, with whom she went on to win the MS Amlin Eventers’ Challenge at the Longines Royal International Horse Show last July. Esib is an international event rider who has competed at four-star level, and she is undaunted by the demands of the Derby’s permanent obstacles such as the 10ft 6in Derby Bank. She is the daughter of former international showjumper Captain Con Power, and the sister of jockey Robert Power, the winner of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Ellen Whitaker, whose cousin William is the reigning Hickstead Derby champion, came very close to winning the class in 2004 with Locarno. In the end, she had to settle for second place behind her uncle John and his catch ride, Buddy Bunn. Ellen has two horses entered at the show, and could well be one to look out for in the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial.

Jessica Drea is one of Britain’s fastest rising stars. Having been travelling reserve for Great Britain and the FEI World Equestrian Games, she then took some time out of the sport to have her first child. She also has two horses entered at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, including the talented Mullaghdrin Touch the Stars.

The Hickstead Derby was first held in 1961, and a year later a woman lifted the trophy, with Pat Smyth winning on board Flanagan. The ever-popular Marian Coakes (later Mould) was the next female victor, winning in 1967 on board the diminutive Stroller and starting a hat-trick of female winners. She was followed in 1968 with Alison Westwood (later Dawes) and Anneli Drummond-Hay in 1969. Alison Dawes was back at the top of the line-up in 1973, but then there was a huge 38-year gap until Tina Fletcher and Promised Land’s win in 2011.

The participation of women in sport is something that Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan – the founder of title sponsors Al Shira’aa Stables – feels particularly passionate about. In particular, as Chairwoman of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy (FBMA) and President of the Abu Dhabi Ladies Club, both of which focus on Abu Dhabi’s standing as a regional sports hub and as development agent in women’s sports in the region and beyond, she encourages participation at all levels. 

Al Shira’aa is very involved in the FBMA International Show Jumping Cup, held annually in the UAE. The Academy has a mandate to advance Emirati women’s thinking, knowledge and learning in the realm of all sports, particularly equestrian. They encourage the involvement of the female local population in sports and sport related activities, and acknowledge the contribution sport makes to the health and well-being of current and future generations.

Showjumping, like the other Olympic equestrian discplines, is a sport where women and men compete on an equal footing, and it would be no big surprise were a lady rider to take this year’s Derby title.

Tickets for the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting (22-25 June) are on sale now at www.hickstead.co.uk.

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