Brilliant Irish do the trick

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The Independent Online
CAPTAIN John Ledingham is the man to watch today in the pounds 120,000 Silk Cut Derby here. Ledingham is riding with the cool confidence of a champion and, if it is possible, even cooler and more confident than at the same time last year when he won both the Silk Cut Speed Derby on Castlepollard and the Derby itself with Kilbaha.

Here he is on course for a remarkable repeat. Yesterday, Castlepollard was going for a third successive victory in the Speed Derby. In a seeded draw the slowest went first, with Castlepollard last of all. But Ledingham looked to have won it already on his earlier horse Garraun, drawn 20 of the 30 starters.

They set a brilliantly fast time with a beautiful example of accurate jumping at speed to finish in 94.55 seconds. This enlivened the contest, marred until then by some very moderate performances. Another Irishman, Francis Connors, drawn 26, took up the challenge with typical verve. He was up on time at the final fence, only to flick off a pole, adding five seconds to his 93.13, the fastest time recorded in the history of this class.

Like Ledingham, Connors has a fluent style that is a pleasure to watch, maintaining a rhythm and balance which belies their speed. Of the four British riders who followed, Annette Miller in her uniquely airborne style and John Renwick, a prolific winner of speed classes, made valiant efforts but without reward.

When Castlepollard entered this famous arena a picture of fitness and well-being, many thought Ledingham might settle for second place having set himself such a tough target. Starting precariously they tapped several rails, but with the trickiest obstacles behind them they sped up and left everything standing to record a brilliant 93.88, the winning time.

Remarkably, Ledingham only got the ride back on Castlepollard a week ago. The horse has been loaned to the Cork rider Tom Freyne all summer for the national circuit, with the proviso that he returns to Ledingham for this Hickstead meeting. He hopes to repeat the same pattern next year: "If I'm still around."

Both Castlepollard and Kilbaha were bought on the same day and the latter is in good form says his rider for today's challenge. "It takes a very special horse, brave yet careful and very obedient. But it'll be extra tough for them in this heat. From fence three, the massive poles over the double ditches, there's no let-up and fitness will be a vital factor."

Irish horses will not be lacking. The holder sees John Whitaker as his main danger on Everest Gammon, a derby veteran, or Everest Welham. "Gammon has the experience here and the scope but his age could tell against him, although John has him in superb condition." He also rates the chances of William Funnell on Comex, Geoff Glazzard with Hello Oscar and Gerry Mullins on Millstreet Ruby.

In the Silk Cut Trophy none could match the superbly smooth second clear jumped by John Whitaker on Everest Roddy's Revenge.