Equestrianism: Hoekstra is clearly the best

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The Independent Online
ROB HOEKSTRA rode Lionel to victory with the only clear round in the Peugeot Derby at Hickstead, and in doing so fulfilled a 20-year- long ambition.

Hoekstra, who looked dazed by his good fortune - it had been a dicey round, with several poles rattled - had trained the 12-year-old American ex-racehorse for this moment. A fourth placing last year, with just four- and-a-half faults, had made the goal seem possible, although Hoekstra revealed afterwards that his horse had had a chequered career in America, Ireland and Spain, adding: "He's a complicated horse, very sensitive."

It was the fourth attempt at this prize for the Dutchman from Tunbridge Wells who now represents Britain, while Michael Whitaker, who finished joint equal second with Virtual Village Ashley after a single mistake, was riding his 19th Derby. "It's the most difficult to win of all the Derbys," Whitaker said afterwards. "The horse must be both brave and careful - a rare combination."

First to jump, the Irishman Edward Doyle, rode a blinder on the comparatively inexperienced Ears To You. The horse looked as if it needed ultra- cautious riding, and Doyle took things carefully. Their only mistake came going into the Devil's Dyke, the most daunting of the 16 obstacles, and this was good enough to share second place with Whitaker and the impressive young Swedish rider Malin Baryard on Hennes & Mauritz Corrmint.

Baryard had worked hard to prepare for the almost vertical 10ft 6in drop of the famous Derby Bank. "Last year he jumped off the top," she said, and was thrilled with her ride this time.

No doubt she will return, since specialist horses have a big advantage at Hickstead over a course whose layout remains unchanged since 1961.

Only the dimensions, both of height and width, have increased, and these proved beyond the scope of most of the 28 starters yesterday.