Equestrianism: Gammon tastes victory

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The Independent Online
A MAGNIFICENT re-run of the 1995 British Jumping Derby saw the placings of two great horses reversed yesterday, when John Whitaker, on 21-year- old Virtual Village Gammon, defeated Ireland's captain, John Ledingham, on 15-year-old Kilbaha. The victor was awarded a Peugeot car worth pounds 20,000 and a cheque for pounds 10,000.

It was not until last Wednesday that Whitaker considered giving Gammon (in recent years ridden by his daughter, Louise) another shot at winning this annual classic in which he had been second on three occasions. The horse was declared for the contest despite being far too headstrong when collecting 18.25 faults in the Derby Trial on Friday.

"I hadn't wanted to overwork him because of his age and he was a bit too fresh in the trial," Whitaker said. Yesterday, however, Gammon settled down to the job in hand by jumping a wonderful clear round. Only Ledingham could match it with Kilbaha, who maintained a lovely rhythm as he cruised smoothly round the marathon 16-fence course.

As in 1995, Gammon was first of the two into the jump-off and he again had one error, this time going into the infamous Devil's Dyke. His time, however, was faster than three years ago and Ledingham knew that he would have to push on after Kilbaha surprisingly lowered the easy first fence.

"Both his front feet slipped on take-off coming into the first, he was lucky not to tip up," Ledingham said. He would nevertheless have beaten Whitaker (and won for the third time with Kilbaha and the fourth time overall) had he not taken a pull coming into the last. The Irishman's horse over-reacted to the pull and was beaten by just one second.

Geoff Glazzard, whose single error in the first round came at the Derby Rails, finished in third place, ahead of Rob Hoekstra on Lionel, who added a quarter time fault to his four faults coming out of the Devil's Dyke. Whereas the seasoned horses knew exactly what was needed as they made the almost perpendicular descent from the 10ft 6ins Derby bank, Whitaker's second mount, Heyman, was clearly surprised when he viewed it for the first time. The nine-year-old took one step back, which counted as three faults for a refusal, and then hit the rails that followed. He nevertheless finished equal fifth with Ireland's Peter Charles on Traxdata T'Aime.

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