Just two of the 37 horses jumped clear rounds. The American Katie Monahan Prudent, who rode one of the most polished rounds seen in this great contest, was the first to conquer the course on her grey mare Partly Cloudy. Ledingham's faultless performance ensured the big crowd of a jump-off.
They were still hoping that Michael Whitaker and Everest Monsanta, bidding for their fourth successive victory, would make it a three- cornered fight. But that was not to be.
Monsanta's hind feet slipped on the steep descent from the 10ft 6in Derby Bank and he stopped at the rails which followed. Unsettled by that experience, the 20-year- old gelding, who was jumping in his final contest before retiring, had two fences down to finish in sixth place.
Prudent, making her Hickstead Derby debut, was first to go in the deciding round but had three fences down and had to be content with finishing runner-up, just as she did in the Hamburg Derby a week earlier.
Ledingham's second clear was good news for the Irish Ministry of Defence who will collect the rewards: the first prize of pounds 35,000 (which is the biggest in Europe) and a further pounds 5,000 for winning with two clear rounds. Irish army riders will share a small bonus, based on prize-money won, at the end of the year.
Ledingham, who also won Sunday's British Speed Derby with Castlepollard, is quite content with that arrangement. 'The Ministry has been a fantastic sponsor. They buy the horses and pay all the expenses. You couldn't ask for more generous backing,' he said.
As always, the three parts of the Devil's Dyke proved the most influential fence on the course. William Funnell made one of his two errors with Comex there, but was, nevertheless, the best British rider in joint fourth place.
SILK CUT DERBY (Hickstead): 1 Kilbaha (Capt J Ledingham, Ire) clear in jump-off, 101.67sec; 2 Partly Cloudy (K Monahan Prudent, US) 12 in jump-off, 86.19sec; 3 Almox Come On (R Schneider, Ger) 4 4= Diamond Exchange (J Chesney, Ire), Comex (W Funnell, GB) 8 ; 6 Everest Monsanta (M Whitaker, GB) 11.Reuse content