Equestrianism: Whitaker goes slow for third success

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL WHITAKER gained his third consecutive victory - and his fourth overall - when he won yesterday's vintage Silk Cut Derby in glorious sunshine and on going that was just about perfect. He collected the first prize of pounds 35,000, plus a bonus of pounds 5,000, unclaimed since 1987, for winning with two clear rounds.

Three horses went clear over the marathon course of 16 fences, which had only produced 31 faultless performances in the previous 31 years. Chris Chadwick, aged 22 and jumping here for the first time, opened the jump-off with a flourish. He was clear on Mr Midnight until taking a short turn into the double, the penultimate fence, where he dislodged a rail on the second element.

Herve Godignon followed for France. Having hit the gate, the third jump-off fence, he went clear through the Devil's Dyke on the stallion Prince d'Incoville and managed a quick salute to the crowds before galloping on. His time was fast and Whitaker decided it was pointless trying to chase him.

'I watched Herve and I knew it would be really difficult for Monsanta to go that fast,' he said. 'So I took a chance and went for a slow clear, knowing that I would either be first or third.'

The big crowd watched in mounting tension as Monsanta jumped a foot-perfect round and there was a tumult of cheers as the old horse flew over the last for his third victory. Whitaker admitted that the pounds 5,000 bonus had crossed his mind during the jump-off. 'But I was thinking of winning more than anything else,' he said. 'It was fantastic for the horse to win three years running.'

Monsanta, now a sprightly 19-year-old, may be back to attempt a fourth time next year. 'He doesn't feel old at the moment,' Whitaker said. 'If he does lose his scope or begins to find it difficult, I'll retire him straight away.'

Chadwick had equal reason to feel jubilant after finishing third in the first big derby that he and his 16-year-old thoroughbred horse have contested. Mr Midnight is owned by the rider's father, Alan, who has been confined to a wheelchair since breaking his neck 21 years ago.

Chadwick flies home to join his parents in Sydney next Saturday, but the horse stays in England. If all goes well he will compete in next year's World Equestrian Games.

Five riders - four of them from Ireland - shared fourth place after a single error over yesterday's opening course. John Whitaker on Everest Gammon, whose only mistake came at the first of three elements in the Devil's Dyke, lined up with the Irishmen.

Gerry Mullins so nearly gave Ireland a place in the jump-off. His mare Pallas Grean had her nose on the ground after coming down the 10ft 6in Derby Bank and she had no chance of clearing the white rails close to the base. Pallas Grean then went on to jump her heart out in clearing the rest of the fences.

SILK CUT DERBY (Hickstead): 1 Everest Monsanta (M Whitaker, GB) clear, 102.13sec; 2 Prince d'Incoville (H Gogignon, Fr) 4 faults, 83.42; 3 Mr Midnight (C Chadwick, Aus) 4, 90.08; 4=Impulse (P Charles, Irl), Everest Gammon (J Whitaker, GB), Pallas Grean (G Mullins, Irl), Heather Blaze (R Splaine, Irl) and Cullohill Castle (F Connors, Irl) 4 faults in first round.