If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try (17 times) again.

Such is the lesson Shane Breen rode away with in the Al Shira’aa Derby at Hickstead, UK, Sunday. The Irish rider finally lifted the Boomerang Trophy—on his 17th attempt—after delivering the sole clear round on Can Ya Makan.

Breen has been knocking at the door of the title. He was third in 2018 with Can Ya Makan and again in 2019 with Golden Hawk. After the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Breen brought both mounts forward for the notoriously challenging course in 2022.

“I never normally feel pressure but I was actually getting a bit anxious, because everyone kept saying ‘It’s your year!’ and I’d say, ‘It’s been my year for the last fifteen years’,” said Breen. “I’ve been saying to people that when I’m 80 I’ll come down with a zimmer frame [read: walker] and just have one old horse to jump around the Derby with, but I won’t have to do that now, thank God!” 

First hosted in 1961, the Hickstead Derby is a marathon 1,195-metre course featuring 21 jumping efforts, an 10’6″ bank, devil’s dyke, open water and fences up to 1.60m. In 62 years, only 65 riders have managed to find a clear path around iconic Douglas Bunn-designed course. Breen being the latest.

But 2022 wasn’t just his year to win, it was Breen’s to dominate.

Twenty-one starters came forward for the 60th edition of the Al Shira’aa Derby with all but two completing the challenging course. Breen delivered the only clear on Can Ya Makan and a four-fault performance aboard Golden Hawk, giving him a one-two finish with his two rides.

“If you’d asked me this morning which horse would have gone better, I couldn’t have told you,” he said. “Golden Hawk has been an amazing horse for me, and I’d have loved for either of them to have won. But it was Can Ya Makan’s day, and again, he’s been an amazing horse for me in my career.

“When I jumped over the last with Can Ya Makan, something inside of me got quite emotional. Thankfully, it was my day today. I live here and walk around that showground every day, so it’s nice to know that I had my moment in that arena.”

Shane Breen & Can Ya Makan – Al Shira’aa Derby 2022 from Hickstead on Vimeo.

Tying for second place were former World Champion Dermott Lennon with Gelvins Touch, Brazil’s Carlos Eduardo Mota Ribas aboard Jella Van’t Kathof, and Harriet Biddick and A Touch Imperious.

If 17 years sounds like a long wait, it’s a decade shorter than Britain’s Nigel Coupe 2017 win with Golvers Hill, which was 27 years in the making.

Moral of the story: Persistence pays.

Feature image: ©Elli Birch/Boots and Hooves Photography