Sampson dreaming of Derby double

Last year’s British Speed Derby champion Matt Sampson has just jumped right into contention for Hickstead’s Al Shira’aa Derby.

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Matt recently won the Hamburg Derby, the German equivalent to Hickstead’s most famous class, riding the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare Gloria van Zuuthoeve. The pair produced the only double clear to win ahead of Germany’s Gilbert Tillmann and eventing World Champion Sandra Auffarth, who finished in second and third respectively.

“Hamburg was the first time I’ve jumped in a Derby, so I had a bit of luck on my side,” said Matt. “It was a great warm-up for Hickstead and it would be great to do well again there in a few weeks’ time. Hickstead is a very different course to Hamburg and not many horses have done well at both, but winning the class has really upped our confidence.”

The 28-year-old Yorkshire rider will return here to Hickstead next month as the reigning British Speed Derby champion, having won the 2017 renewal on Topflight True Carlo.

The Speed Derby, which takes place on Saturday 23 June, is similar to the Derby in that it features a long course with an array of different jumping obstacles, including a number of permanent jumps. However, the fences are smaller than the Derby and the competitors must jump as quickly as possible while leaving the jumps standing, as each one knocked down adds 4sec to the riders’ time.

As well as defending his British Speed Derby title, Matt hopes he can repeat his Hamburg success in the Al Shira’aa Derby, which takes place on Sunday 24 June.

The last rider to win the Speed Derby and the Hickstead Derby in the same year was Olympic gold medallist Ben Maher, who did the double back in 2005 – an achievement he often credits for making his career. Meanwhile, no one has won the Hamburg and Hickstead Derbies in the same year since Ireland’s Eddie Macken, who won both classes in 1976 and 1978.

The Hamburg and Hickstead Derbies both have long and illustrious histories. The German version had been held every year since in 1920, and it inspired Hickstead founder Douglas Bunn to create a similar class in England. He wanted British riders to have the chance to tackle the type of obstacles they were facing at shows on the continent, and having seen film footage of the Hamburg Derby, he decided to visit the German showground in order to inspect the course.

He arrived during a snowstorm on New Year's Eve, and went round the showground measuring fences - much to the bemusement of the show's officials. The layer of snow on top of the Hamburg bank must have affected Douglas's measurements, as Hickstead's bank stands 6in taller than its German counterpart.

The first Hickstead Derby took place in 1961, featuring tricky fences such as the Devil’s Dyke, double of water ditches and the fearsome 10ft 6in Derby Bank, and the course has remained the same ever since. Some of the biggest names in showjumping have won the class, including David Broome, John Whitaker and Marion Mould, all three of whom also won the Hamburg Derby during their illustrious careers.

Now Matt Sampson will aim to replicate this difficult feat and join the list of showjumping greats who have won two of the most difficult Derbies in the world.

Tickets for the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting are on sale now.

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