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Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Spicer chats to the connections of Loughnatousa WB, a horse who holds a very special record in the Derby...

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The roll of honour of the Hickstead Derby is full of notable records. The oldest winner – Nelson Pessoa. The youngest winner, and the smallest horse – Marion Coakes (later Mould) and Stroller. The first mare to win – John Popely’s Bluebird. The most wins – Eddie Macken and the wonderful Boomerang, the only combination to ever win four times in a row.

Last year saw another Hickstead first, when Loughnatousa WB became the first horse to ever win the Derby under two different riders. The first of these victories came in 2012 with Paul Beecher, when they set a record of being the first pair to win having jumped a clear round from the first draw. His second came three years later, when WB once again jumped clear to give reigning Derby champion Trevor Breen a back-to-back win.

WB was bred in Ireland by Walter B Connors, a veterinary surgeon and renowned breeder whose initials give ‘WB’ his name. The chestnut was by Walter’s father Nicholas Connor’s stallion, Spring Elegance VII, and out of Early Biddy VII, a mare from the Beecher family's Loughnatousa Stud. Connors sent WB to the Beecher’s yard in Co Waterford when he was a three-year-old, where Paul immediately realised this was a horse with serious potential. “I always said when he was a young horse, he’d either make or break me,” he says. “He was a tricky horse as a youngster, but he always had the biggest heart. When he’s on your side he’ll take on the world for you.”

Paul produced him up the ranks, then at the age of 10 WB was sold to Patricia Brown and moved to England, to be stabled at Bernice Cuthbert's Aston Park Stud in Oxfordshire. There, his Derby connection continued, as he was competed by various top riders, including the future 2013 Derby winner Phillip Miller and Hickstead’s own Shane Breen. His first major success came at HOYS that year, when he and Phillip finished joint third in the Puissance. “That was the turning point for WB,” says Bernice. “Phillip was a key person in the evolution of the horse.”

With Phillip not competing in many top international shows at the time, Patricia and Bernice offered the ride to Paul Beecher, with the rider travelling back and forth from Ireland to compete the horse. In their first Hickstead Derby, Paul and WB finished in 13th place on 16 faults. But that year gave a clue to his future potential. Although he felt green, Paul remembers the horse suddenly taking hold of the bridle about half way round, and he felt his confidence grew as they progressed round the course. The following year, despite the early draw, Paul rode in feeling confident – and duly produced a beautiful clear round. Only William Funnell could join him in the jump-off, but when WB once again went clear while William’s ride Dorada picked up four faults at fence three, the title was theirs.

But the win was to be their last together, with Paul unable to keep commuting from Ireland for shows, with too many commitments to his own yard back home. The ride on WB went to Bernice’s then stable jockey, Michael Lonsdale, who won the HOYS Puissance with him a few months after the horse’s Derby victory. Michael made his debut in the Derby the following year, finishing on nine faults for a very respectable fifth place.

In second place that year was Trevor Breen and the one-eyed Adventure De Kannan. He’d come so close to winning on a number of occasion, and that year – with just one fence ending his Derby dream – his disappointment was palpable.

The following year he was determined to finally claim the Boomerang Trophy, and his chances were given a massive boost when he was offered the ride on Loughnatousa WB. With Michael Lonsdale moving to set up his own yard in Surrey, Bernice and Patricia had been looking for a new rider for WB. “Trevor is based twenty minutes down the road, and I knew he had a good Derby record, having been second and third. And he told me he was desperate to win,” says Bernice.

Trevor spoke to both of WB’s former riders before agreeing to try him. “Paul was delighted that I was going to be riding him – we’re really good friends and grew up competing against each other on ponies,” says Trevor.

Paul was quick to encourage Trevor to take the ride. “When Trevor rang me and told me he had been offered the opportunity, I told him to take it with both hands. I thought they would get on, though saying that Trevor is a very sympathetic and natural rider, who’d get on with any horse,” he says.

It took a couple of sessions for the new partnership to click, however. “Bernice brought him over to my yard and I had a sit on him,” recalls Trevor. “My first impressions were that he was nicely schooled on the flat, and he felt good, without showing his true ability. I jumped up to 1.20m, but he’s not a horse that jumps particularly well at home. He came back a week later, and this time we jumped up to 1.40m, and it soon became apparent the bigger the jumps, the more care and attention he puts in.”

Their first show together was the Hickstead Derby Meeting in 2014. They jumped clear with just one time fault in the 1.50m Bunn Leisure Derby Tankard, and were clear in the Friday’s Derby Trial, opting not to jump-off against the clock because they wanted to conserve all WB’s energy for the Derby itself. In the Derby on the Sunday, they finished on nine faults, with one fence down, a foot in the water and a time fault. They would eventually finish sixth, but Trevor remembers riding out of that ring that day with an overriding sense of disappointment. “WB has obviously been round the Derby several times and he’s won it, so I wasn’t just trying to make up the numbers, I was in there to win it,” he says. But any disappointment he felt in himself was short-lived, as he went on to win that year’s class with his other ride, Adventure De Kannan.

After their Derby debut, Trevor and WB’s partnership was able to develop. “I got to know him after that, and he’s a horse I really get on with,” he says. “I won an Area Trial and an International Stairway on him, and we came third in a two-star Grand Prix at the London leg of Longines Global Champions Tour, so we got some good results.”

Former winners have a very good record of repeating their wins in the Derby, so last summer Trevor returned to Hickstead in the enviable position of having two former winners for that year’s class. Adventure De Kannan, the reigning Derby champion with an unsurpassed record in Hickstead’s big classes; and Loughnatousa WB, the horse who Trevor had got to know much better since their Derby debut. Trevor had also been doing some homework ahead of that year’s event. “WB isn’t the strongest water jumper, and the Hickstead water jump is one of the hardest to jump in the world,” he says. “He’d faulted there on our first attempt so it became clear I had to ride him more positively there. I changed my spurs, and I knew I had to have more canter this time round, bearing in mind that time fault from the first attempt.”

The changes paid off – Trevor and WB produced the only clear in 2015 to take the title. His other ride, Adventure De Kannan, finished equal seventh, with 8 faults. “I thought I had a realistic chance of being in the jump-off against myself last year,” says Trevor. “Last year there was a strong field in the Derby, and I thought I had two of the strongest contenders myself. It’s a nice position to be in!”

There had been a time when Trevor had questioned if the Derby title would ever be his, having repeatedly come so close to winning. But even when he won it in 2014, he was equally determined to repeat his feat. “I was hungrier than ever last year.”

If he wins again, he can join the ranks of Nick Skelton, Michael Whitaker and Peter Charles, who all achieved three consecutive wins in the Derby. “It would be surreal,” says Trevor. “I grew up watching the Derby on the TV with my mouth open in awe. To not only be competing in it, but to have won it twice is amazing – and the possibility of having my name in the record book alongside people like them is just incredible.”

And it’s not just Trevor who could be clocking up a third win this summer – Loughnatousa could achieve the same feat. “It says a huge amount about WB that he’s done so well in the Derby under three different riders,” says Bernice Cuthbert. “From the day after last year’s Derby, this year’s Derby has been the focus. He’s definitely capable of winning, but for everything to go right in the run up and none of his toes to touch those poles on the day, you need a lot of luck.”

He’s a horse that needs careful preparations. “He’s a big, strong horse but in a way he’s quite fragile,” Bernice continues. “He’s sensitive to a number of things, sprays, certain feeds, like barley, maize and sugar, he’s badly affected by mites.” Looking at him, you’d never think it – he’s a huge, robust horse with plenty of character. “He has a huge personality. He is never malicious but he’s big and bossy!” she adds.

Last year WB had a badly bruised foot in the run up to the Derby, and it took so much care to get him fit and right in plenty of time for the class. “It was just a huge relief when he jumped clear because he’d missed a critical area in his preparations. We have to give credit to our farrier David East, who is a very important member of the team. WB’s feet have been really difficult and he’s done an amazing job.”

Trevor will ride the horse at home and do a few shows in the run up to this year’s Derby. He’ll remain stabled at Bernice’s yard, where she keeps the horse’s mind and body ticking over in between shows. “He does lots of polework and lunge jumping, and he goes to the gallops to keep him fit. Once they’re jumping big tracks, they don’t need to keep jumping big fences at home,” says Bernice.

Trevor agrees that it’s the best routine for the horse. “He’s a special horse, and he knows Bernice and her team so well and they know him. He loves his routine and that environment,” he says.

Loughnatousa WB’s owner Patricia Brown is hugely proud of what the horse has achieved at Hickstead. “WB could not have a less demanding or more caring owner than Patricia,” says Bernice. “Patricia’s only concern is for the welfare of her horses and that they do not get injured.  Whatever they need, they have and she has endless patience with waiting for them to be ready to do their best at whatever level they are capable of.”

This year, all being well, Trevor will once again return to Hickstead double handed with two former winners. “It’s another year, both horses are another year older, and they’re both doing less in their careers - so whether that turns out to be a good or bad thing we don’t know,” says Trevor. “They’ll do few shows before the Derby. They don’t need experience, they just need to be fit and match sharp. It’s all about getting them there fit and healthy to give them the best chance of winning.”

Addy is now 16, and WB is 17, so both are reaching the latter stages of their careers. But going back to those Hickstead records, older horses have a great track record in the Derby too – the oldest of all being John Whitaker’s 21-year-old Gammon, who won in 1998. So all being well, Trevor could have a few years yet with both horses to try to match Eddie Macken and Boomerang’s unsurpassed four consecutive wins. If he can win again this year, he’ll be one step closer to the most famous Hickstead record of all. “It’s a phenomenal record, set by an amazing horse and rider,” says Trevor. “But the one thing I’ve learned is never say never.”

This article first appeared in June 2016

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