sport

Hickstead Derby funding worry

One of British showjumping's most famous and celebrated events - the Hickstead Derby - is facing an uncertain future.

This year's Derby, scheduled to take place on June 23, is currently without a title sponsor after Carpetright ended its association three months ago.

The 120,000 prize fund needs to be maintained in order to attract a sufficiently high-quality field of horses and riders, but no sponsor has yet been forthcoming.

The Derby was first held in 1961 and its previous winners read like a showjumping who's who.

David Broome, Harvey Smith, Eddie Macken, Paul Shockemohle, John Whitaker and recent British Olympic gold medallists Nick Skelton, Ben Maher and Peter Charles all feature on the roll of honour.

Challenges like the Derby Bank and Devils Dyke are among the most daunting in world showjumping, with the competition always attracting a capacity crowd at the popular West Sussex venue.

Skelton, a three-time Derby champion, admitted he was shocked to hear about the current situation.

"As I was fortunate enough to have been on the gold medal-winning British team last year in London, and since seen the popularity of our sport rise since that great day, it has come as a great shock to hear that Hickstead currently faces a lack of funding," he said.

"To lose the Hickstead Derby, which I have been fortunate enough to win three times, would be catastrophic."

Hickstead director Edward Bunn told Press Association Sport that prize money levels were under threat without a title sponsor.

"Having lost the Derby's previous title sponsor, Carpetright, in October, time was always tight to find a replacement," he said.

"Now, with just six weeks left before we need to start producing programmes and promotional material, a new sponsor still hasn't been found.

"We would like to be able to maintain the prize fund of 120,000 to attract a high-quality field of horses and riders. But with no title sponsor the level of prize money is under threat, and this may have a knock-on effect on the entries and future of the class.

"The Bunn family has always supported British showjumping - my father Douglas Bunn founded the All England Jumping Course (Hickstead) and invested vast sums into the sport over the years.

"Without a sponsor for this year's Hickstead Derby, the family may have to cover the cost ourselves to ensure the continuance of this historic competition, which has been part of the showjumping calendar for 53 years.

"But to maintain the current level of prize money would be unfeasible and unsustainable for us in the long term."