Ahead of the Hickstead Derby, we caught up with Steven Franks to find out about his history with the prestigious event, how he prepares and who he thinks the favourites are to win it this year. But before we hear from him, let’s find out a little more about him.
Steven is one of the country’s most respected riders, having learnt his trade during a 6 year spell as stable jockey to William Funnell. Steven qualified Cevin Z for three finals at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in 2003 and was 4th in the prestigious Foxhunter final. He was also placed in many international Grand Prix’s with Mondriaan, who went on to win three Hickstead Derbys. Steven and his wife Karen have enjoyed many successes, highlights include producing multiple Hickstead Derby winners, being placed in every national final at HOYS, representing GB at the World Breeding Championships and having several horses selected onto the Equine Pathway. Steven and Karen now produce and breed top class showjumpers from their base in Surrey. Steven will be riding the 19 year old Carlow Cruiser again in this year’s Hickstead Derby.
Now let’s hear from the man himself;
Q1: When did you first ride in the Derby and on what horse?
I first rode in the Derby in 2004 on Skip Two Ramiro when he was an 8 year old for Brendon Stud and was previously ridden by Guy Williams.
Q2: Why was that horse capable/chosen to jump in the Derby?
He was a very special Derby horse as he was very scopey, brave and clever. If a horse is too careful it would struggle round the Derby course as they have to be bold and brave and be able to think for themselves.
Q3: What qualities/experience makes a Derby horse and what is so special about Carlow Cruiser who you will be riding again this year?
Carlow is incredibly scopey, very brave and super intelligent. He loves all the different fences as it gets him really thinking and paying attention. He loves to think for himself. He really enjoys the big ring and the great atmosphere. It is also very important that the horses think on their feet as this course can be so tricky so the horse needs to be super switched on to be able to make quick decisions. There is one question after another so a nervous horse could easily lose it.
Q4: How do you specifically prepare for this class?
As this course is so much longer than any other Grand Prix course (180 seconds rather than 80 seconds) fitness is the key to success. We are based in the Surrey Hills which is ideal for fittening work. We keep Carlow’s routine very varied and he also goes on the water treadmill every 4 days. I work him a lot outside in the field as I believe the horse covers more ground on grass and it makes them work harder. I actually do not jump a lot of full courses at home but I do a lot of grid work and gymnastic work over jumps. This will be our 3rd Derby together, but Carlow has done it with two previous riders so it will actually be his 7th time around so he is very experienced. The time leading up to the Derby he has been at 3 shows in France over the past 4 weeks and now has 2 and half weeks of easier work at home to get ready for the big day.
Q5: What is it actually like to ride the course?
It is such a great course and the Derby Day is very special. Everyone is almost waiting for that one class. It is not like any other show as you are competing with the course rather than the other competitors.
Q6: What is the Atmosphere like at the show?
The atmosphere is fantastic and almost everyone stops to just watch the Derby as it is such a special event. It is also great to have the crowd right behind you at the bank.
Q7: What is it like to come down the Derby bank?
It is so important to have a smart horse for this huge bank and it is vital to focus on your next fence which is a big upright as you need to get the two strides off the bank ready for the fence. When you are on top of the bank your heart is in your mouth but you have to stay focused. I have been very lucky as I have ridden experienced Derby horses. I believe the more times the rider has been down the bank the better in order to help the horse out if anything does go wrong such as a stumble to make sure you set them up ready for the next fence. It is very important to keep the balance and think ahead.
Q9: What are your hopes for this year?
I have been second with Carlow in 2015 and this will be his third time in the Derby. So I believe he is one of the best Derby horses not to have won the Derby yet. It would be absolutely amazing to win it and I believe we are in with a good shot. He is very capable of a double clear and has all the qualities needed. As Carlow is now 19 it might be his last Derby so it would be a dream to come first but we will just have to see on the day.
Q10: Who is the favourite this year?
There are so many fantastic riders again in this year’s Derby but from my perspective I believe William Whitaker is in again with a good shot. So is Billy Twomey and also Harriet Nuttall. It is so interesting as everyone knows what lies ahead of them there are no surprises regarding the course but it can really go one way or another.
Q11: If you could ride any Derby horse past or present which would it be and why?
I believe the best Derby horse is Mondriaan who I rode in the Derby Trial. He is just amazing and the big ring at Hickstead was his ring and he absolutely loved it. He was so brave around the course and even if he got worried he just jumped higher. He is such a bold horse but felt blood as well. He is just made for the Derby.
Steven will be competing in the Hickstead Derby on Sunday 25th June 2017 and everyone at Team SPILLERS will be cheering him and Carlow Cruiser on. We also wish good luck to all the other SPILLERS fed horses competing!