Five of the best

Five riders share the record of having four wins in the Hickstead Derby. Victoria Goff takes a look through the archives to relive these legendary performances. 

017 EDDIE 2.jpg

You can’t name a much more illustrious group of riders than those who hold the record for four Hickstead Derby wins. In the six decades since the first Derby took place, only Harvey Smith, Eddie Macken, and brothers John and Michael Whitaker have amassed four wins in our most famous class – then last year, William Funnell joined this elite group of showjumping greats.

To win the Derby once is an achievement, to win twice or three times is remarkable, but to achieve four wins is surely a mark of eternal greatness. The first rider of this famous quintet to achieve this was Ireland’s Eddie Macken, and what was most impressive about his achievement was that he won four years in a row, and all with the same horse – the wonderful Boomerang.

Boomerang was not only a superb Derby horse, he also won countless Grands Prix and Nations Cups, and helped Macken to the top of the world rankings for three years running. Right from their first attempt at Hickstead’s most iconic class, Eddie knew he had a seriously talented horse. “The first year he jumped in the Derby he had one fence down, but I knew he was an exceptional Derby horse, and we set our sights on that class the following year with a big chance he could win it,” he said.

Sure enough, the pair came back in 1976 and jumped the only clear round to give them the title. Macken proved his dominance the following year by returning for another victory on Boomerang along with a second place with his other ride, Kerrygold (the former 1975 Derby winner when known as Pele and ridden by Paul Darragh).

In 1978, Eddie Macken equalled Harvey Smith’s then record of three Hickstead Derby wins. What was even more incredible about the feat was that it took place just a week after the World Championships, where Eddie and Boomerang just missed out on winning by a quarter of a time fault, having left every fence standing in the rider-swapping final four rounds. “The World Championships finished on a Sunday, and the following Sunday was the Hickstead Derby, so I wondered if I should jump him. But I’ll never forget, we took him into the warm-up ring and he felt absolutely amazing. That was the year I felt most confident about winning,” Macken recalls.

Their unbelievable run continued in 1979, when they also had the honour of being the first combination to win the Derby Trial and the Derby in the same year. “Before that fourth Derby there was a lot of pressure. Winning four times was something nobody else had achieved before, and I knew he could do it if I didn’t make a mistake and screw it up. But that year the ground was terrible, it was almost unjumpable. But Boomerang slogged round in the mud, and he gave an exceptional performance to win,” says Eddie. 

The year after their final Derby win, Boomerang broke a pedal bone and had to be retired. But he was unsettled in retirement and, with his foot deteriorating, the decision was made to put him down at the age of 17. He is buried at Rafeehan Stud in County Meath, and his grave is marked by four trees, representing his four wins at Wembley, four clear rounds in the final of the 1978 World Championships, four years in a row without a fence down in the Nations Cup at Dublin, and his legendary four wins in the Hickstead Derby.

One year after Macken’s fourth and final Derby win, a young Michael Whitaker had his first, riding Owen Gregory to victory in 1980. Owen Gregory had already been round the course with his owner’s daughter before Michael was given the ride – and 1980 was to be Whitaker’s first ever attempt at the class. “Owen Gregory was a good Derby horse, scopey, careful, and he wasn’t spooky. He just popped straight round it, I was very lucky to have a horse like that to ride,” says Michael, who was 20 years old and the second youngest ever winner after Marion Mould.

He then had an 11-year wait before winning the Derby again, this time with Mon Santa, and they went on to win three times in succession to equal the record. “He was an unbelievable horse, Mon Santa. He used to jump through the Devil’s Dyke every year and I don’t think he ever knocked it down. Jump him in a normal class and he felt like a normal horse, but jump in a class with a bit of atmosphere and he knew it, he always came up with the goods,” Michael says.

John Whitaker – who says that seeing Michael win the Derby was just as good as winning himself – didn’t have long to wait before he got to stand at the top of the Hickstead line-up. Three years after his younger brother’s win, John achieved the first of his four wins – unlike the other riders, all four of John’s wins were on different horses, with 21 years between the first and the most recent.

The first was with the legendary Ryan’s Son, one of the most popular showjumping horses of all time, who won the class once and finished runner-up a further four times. “We were very lucky to find Ryan’s Son, to find each other. He changed all our lives. He was a carthorse with a Thoroughbred engine. We suited each other. He wanted to do the job, he was careful, he didn’t have real top scope and power but he found a way of doing it. He was a very consistent horse in the Derby,” says John.

His next two wins came on veteran showjumpers Gammon and Welham – at 21 and 20 respectively, making them the oldest winners of all time. “I had jumped Gammon in the Derby in the past and done well but never won. When he was 17, I gave him to my daughter Louise to ride in Young Riders, and they won several medals together. The year he won, I had another horse in mind for the Derby but I had been practising over my Derby fences at home with her, and I remember saying to my wife Clare that I was struggling with the mare, and that realistically I didn’t think I had any chance. Straight away Clare suggested I took Gammon instead. I was unsure because he was 21, but I decided I’d do the Derby Trial and see how he felt. He just had two down, so I decided to put him in the Derby and he won it.”

Two years later, in the millennium year, John was back at the top of the leaderboard with Welham, who was 20 years old. Despite his veteran status, the pair came out on top of a three-way jump-off between Tim Stockdale on Wiston Bridget and the 1999 winners Rob Hoekstra and Lionel III. “Welham was the perfect Derby horse – he hunted and point-to-pointed as a young horse, and he loved those natural fences,” says John.

Whitaker’s most recent win came in 2004, riding Douglas Bunn’s homebred Buddy Bunn, a catch ride from the injured William Funnell. That year, the only other clear had been from his 18-year-old niece Ellen, but John was able to match it to create a jump-off. “He jumped the best clear round you’ve ever seen. I was delighted, but also really disappointed for Ellen,” he remembers.

It is fitting that John and Michael’s childhood hero Harvey Smith is among the famous five to have had four wins. Having been the first to set a record of three wins, which was then bettered by Eddie Macken, Harvey only had to wait until 1981 to catch up with a fourth title.

The first wins remain among the most iconic moments of the Derby history – and indeed the sport of showjumping, albeit in a controversial fashion! Harvey’s first win came in the 10th running of the Derby in 1970, riding Mattie Brown. It was part of a remarkable year for Smith, who won the Dublin Grand Prix and the King George V Gold Cup that same season. The following year, he was so confident of winning the Derby again that he didn’t bring the trophy back with him. “When I got to Hickstead, the first person I bumped into was Douglas Bunn, and the first thing he asked me was had I brought the trophy back. I said, oh no I’ve forgotten it, but it doesn’t matter because I’m going to win it again anyway.”

Douglas was unimpressed by this, and insisted the trophy be sent for. But true to his word, in the Derby Harvey set the standard with just one fence down, and had to jump-off against Steve Hadley. When he produced a fast clear to beat Steve, he rode through the finish, cantered a circle and flicked a v-sign towards Douglas in his Master’s Box. “That’s when Bunny and his cronies got the great salute,” says Harvey, whose transgression was caught by the BBC cameras.

A furore followed, with Harvey claiming he was making a ‘V for Victory sign’, but the organisers were having none of it – Harvey was disqualified and his first prize of £2,000 was removed. Eventually the matter was referred to the British Show Jumping Association, and the title and prizemoney were reinstated.

He won again in less controversial fashion in 1974, this time on Salvador. “He was a class showjumper, a little bit quirky, but all my horses were. But I remember he went down to Hickstead and annihilated them that day,” says Smith.

His final win came in 1981 on Sanyo Video, a horse normally ridden by son Robert who was on a month’s suspension. “The Hickstead Derby was the last class he ever won. It was the best ride I gave a horse round Hickstead. I picked him up and carried him the whole way round, he was 18 or 19 by then but he kept trying. He was a trier.”

With William Funnell now joining the ranks of the four-timers, we must now wait to see if anyone will break the record. Eddie and Harvey’s competitive careers are long over, but the Whitakers are still competing at the highest of levels, and are perfectly capable of coming back to Hickstead and winning it again.

“When I look back over all the Nations Cups and Grands Prix I’ve won, winning the Derby is the most important one,” says John. “When you win the Derby once, it gives you that hunger to do it again, and winning a fourth time was just as good as the first time.”

Michael Whitaker, who won the Derby Trial in 2017, is hoping to have another crack at the Al Shira’aa Derby. “It would be nice to win it five times, if I found the right horse I would definitely go for it. But I think Will Funnell is favourite to break the record, he’s got a real Derby horse in Billy Buckingham.”

Five great riders, four remarkable wins apiece. Their stories are part of the fabric of showjumping, and if any rider can go one better with a record-breaking fifth victory, it will be one of the most impressive achievements of all.

This article was first published in June 2019

Harriet Nuttall Q&A

Showjumper Harriet Nuttall has an extraordinary record at Hickstead, having won the Science Supplements Speed Derby twice, the Science Supplements BHS Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the Science Supplements All England Grand Prix - plus finishing runner-up three times in the Al Shira'aa Derby. Alex Irwin caught up with her to find out more about what makes her tick. 

Read more

Holly Smith Q&A

Alex Irwin caught up with Hickstead star Holly Smith at the Science Supplements All England Jumping Championships 

Read more

The unstoppable Irish

Victoria Goff looks back at Ireland's stunning win in the 2018 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Great Britain, and goes back into the history books to remember the other memorable Irish wins at Hickstead 

Read more

William’s fabulous four

William Funnell joined the elite band of four-time winners of the Hickstead Derby last summer. Victoria Goff spoke to him about what it means to join the likes of Harvey Smith, Eddie Macken and brothers John and Michael Whitaker. 

Read more

Top Speed

We take a look back over the history of the British Speed Derby. 

By Victoria Goff

Read more

Five of the best

Five riders share the record of having four wins in the Hickstead Derby. Victoria Goff takes a look through the archives to relive these legendary performances. 

Read more

Coming of age

A few days before his 21st birthday, James Whitaker scored his first major Hickstead win. Victoria Goff caught up with him ahead of the 2019 Longines Royal International Horse Show. 

Read more

A Platinum President

The BHS President Martin Clunes is a regular visitor to Hickstead. Victoria Goff finds out more about his role at the British Horse Society, and why he loves coming to our shows 

Read more

10 magical showing moments

We take a look back over some of the standout showing moments from the 2017 season 

Read more

Miss Consistent

Harriet Nuttall proved she's no Hickstead bridesmaid, when adding yet another major title to her CV last summer. Victoria Goff caught up with the reigning Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner 

Read more

Perfect Timing

Paul Tapner talks to Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Goff about his first win in the MS Amlin Eventers' Challenge

Read more

Fiesta Time

Brazil had an extraordinary run of form at last year's Longines Royal International Horse Show. Victoria Goff finds out more. 

Read more

Worth the wait

Victoria Goff describes the wait Nigel Coupe had before he finally become the Al Shira'aa Derby Champion in 2017. 

Read more

Doing it for Ella

Hickstead's press officer Victoria Goff caught up with Matthew Sampson, the winner of the Bunn Leisure Speed Derby 

Read more

Race against time

Victoria Goff takes a look back at some of the famous Hickstead Derby jump-offs that have taken place over the years. 

Read more

A New Era

Victoria Goff finds out more about Al Shira'aa, the title sponsors of the Hickstead Derby 

Read more

Q&A with Georgie Strang

Next week sees one of the UK’s largest horse shows open their gates for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Great Britain at the BHS Royal International Horse Show. We caught up with one of the MS Amlin Eventers' Challenge competitors, Georgie Strang, and found out how she’s feeling about returning to Hickstead for her second shot at the title…

Read more

12 moments we loved at this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting

The Al Shira’aa Derby drew our June fixture to a close, and what a way to round off four fabulous sunny days of showjumping and showing. We take a look back at some of the best moments of this year’s show.

Read more

#RoadToHickstead contenders reveal...

We ask some of our leading Al Shira'aa Derby contenders some killer questions.

Read more

Harriet and Nigel go head-to-head

Two of the main Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby contenders, Harriet Nuttall and Nigel Coupe, discuss this year's challenge.

Read more

Hickstead Q&A - Hamad Ali Al Kirbi

UAE rider Hamad Ali Al Kirbi made his Hickstead debut last summer when he competed at the Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby Meeting. We caught up with him ahead of this year's show. 

Read more

Can you spot our Mystery Guests?

We're very busy preparing the International Arena ahead of this year's Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby Meeting CSI4*, and with spring being somewhat late to arrive this year we've had to ask some special guests to join our Ground Crew! 

Read more

Billy the King

Ireland's Billy Twomey enjoyed an amazing run of success at the 2016 BHS Royal International Horse Show, including a win in the Longines BHS King George V Gold Cup. Victoria Goff spoke to him about his golden run.

Read more

A home from home

Hickstead is very familiar stomping ground for David Simpson, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner in 2016. Victoria Goff spoke to him about winning on 'home territory'. 

Read more

The One to Watch

In the run up to the 2017 Longines Royal International Horse Show, Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Goff caught up with Amlin Plus Eventers' Challenge winner Esib Power.  

Read more

The nation's favourites

Earlier this year, we asked you to vote for your favourite Derby-winning horses. Victoria Spicer counts down your top 10. 

Read more

An unforgettable Adventure

Adventure De Kannan is one of the most successful Hickstead horses of recent times. Victoria Goff looks back at the remarkable career of the one-eyed wonder horse

Read more

William Whitaker: How to win the Derby

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

Read more

William Whitaker: Advice for Hickstead newcomers

If you haven't ridden at the All England Jumping Course before, reigning Hickstead Derby champion William Whitaker shares his insights into competing here.

Read more

William Whitaker: The perfect warm-up

The current Hickstead Derby champion William Whitaker explains how to nail your warm-up routine, both at home and at competitions. 

Read more

William Whitaker: Winning a jump-off

Want to nail those jump-off rounds? Hickstead Derby 2016 champion William Whitaker shares his advice, and suggests two training exercises to improve your performance against the clock. 

Read more

William Whitaker's training secrets

In the run up to this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, reigning Derby champion William Whitaker shares his showjumping training insights.

Words by Victoria Spicer, photos by Daisy Honeybunn

Read more

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...

Read more

A winning debut

Chloe Winchester, winner of the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 2015, chats to Victoria Spicer about her winning debut at Hickstead

Read more

Elizabeth the first

Last year Elizabeth 'Beezie' Madden became the first woman ever to win the Longines King George V Gold Cup. In 2015, she did it again. Hickstead's Press Officer Victoria Spicer caught up with America's first lady of showjumping. 

Read more

12 moments we loved at this year's Derby meeting

There was rain, there was mud, but much more importantly there was some brilliant competition at this year's Hickstead Derby Meeting. We choose our top 12 moments from this year's show. 

Read more

Back on top

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

Read more

Three in a row

Journalist Andrew Baldock takes a look back over the Hickstead archives at the three riders who have won the Derby three times in succession - and finds out which other riders came close...

Read more

A cool guy

Victoria Spicer chats to Guy Williams, the winner of the 2015 British Speed Derby, about setting records and why Hickstead will always be special to him

Read more

Eight great Derby rivalries

There have been some amazing clashes in the 56 years of the Hickstead Derby. Pippa Cuckson takes a look at some of the great rivalries over the years...

Read more

Breen’s Derby dream comes true

Hickstead's Press Officer Victoria Spicer chats to the 2014 winner of the Derby, Trevor Breen. 

Read more

Five Minutes with Fran Callan

Continuing our new Five Minutes With... series, we caught up with Fran Callan, the head travelling groom for Trevor Breen. As part of her job, she looks after Hickstead megastar and reigning Derby winner Adventure De Kannan...

Read more

Miller's tale

Victoria Spicer meets Phillip Miller, winner of the 2013 Hickstead Derby, to talk about his rise from riding school lessons to Hickstead champion. 

Read more

A lesson with Derby winner Phillip Miller

When we ran an exclusive Hickstead Derby Community competition to win a lesson with the 2013 Derby winner Phillip Miller, we had a great response. In the end, we selected 25-year-old Jodine Brooks from Kent and her seven-year-old Dutch gelding, Camorasun.

Read more

15 facts about the Derby course

From poles that 'twang', resident newts and motorway fences turned into showjumps, Victoria Spicer investigates 15 things that you might not know about the most famous course in British showjumping...

Read more

Five minutes with Phillip Miller

Her latest victim in the 'Five Minutes With Series…', Daisy sits down with natural born comedian and Hickstead Derby superstar, 2013 winner Phillip Miller…

Read more

Five minutes with Bob Ellis

Daisy Bunn is back in the interviewer's chair this week with Hickstead's very own Bob The Buider, world renowned, Olympic course builder Bob Ellis...

Read more

10 iconic Derby moments

Last seen disappearing into our dusky archives, Hickstead Press Officer and journalist Victoria Spicer has put together a review of 10 of our most iconic Derby moments over the years, specially for our HDC members. 

Read more

Five Minutes with Steve Wilde

Continuing our new Five Minutes With... interview series, Hickstead Director Daisy Bunn sits down with Hickstead's 'golden tonsils', commentator and Director of Ceremonies Steve Wilde...

Read more

Five minutes with Daisy Bunn

As part of a new series, exclusively for our HDC members, Hickstead Director Daisy Bunn is going to catch key members of the Hickstead team for mini 5 minute interviews, to give our members a unique, behind-the-scenes take on everything Hickstead. Who better to start with than Daisy herself!

Read more

The best of the best

Equestrian journalist Charlotte Ricca-Smith asks Hickstead Derby winners to name the performance - apart from their own! - that impressed them most. 

Read more

A Hickstead first

In 2013, Paul Beecher became the first person to produce a clear round having been drawn first to go in the Hickstead Derby, then go on to win the class. Victoria Spicer spoke to him about his achievement.

Read more

A National treasure

Harvey Smith is the only man to have won both the Hickstead Derby and trained a Grand National winner. Victoria Spicer reflects on his remarkable achievement.

Read more

Olympic heroes

Did you know that three out of the four showjumping gold medallists from London 2012 are past winners of the Hickstead Derby? Victoria Spicer catches up with them to find out what those wins meant.

Read more



THE ALL ENGLAND JUMPING COURSE HICKSTEAD HASSOCKS WEST SUSSEX BN6 9NS Tel: +44 1273 834315 Fax: +44 1273 834452 View our Privacy Policy.

Our website uses cookies

Find out more about how these are used in our privacy policy.