Equestrianism: Whitaker prepares for Touchdown

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The Independent Online
Michael Whitaker intends to ride two borrowed horses, Touchdown and Gammon, over the daunting course for the Silk Cut Derby here on Sunday - but he will have little time to get acquainted with either.

Yesterday, Whitaker had his first competitive ride on James Kernan's Touchdown, who went well when finishing second to Belgium's Stanny van Paesschen on Mulga Bill for the Silk Cut Tankard. "He's agile and very honest," Whitaker said of the stallion afterwards, having decided to ride the 14-year-old on Sunday unless he has "a disaster" in today's Derby Trial.

Touchdown was lent to Whitaker at the beginning of the week by Kernan, who has broken both a collarbone and a shoulder in separate falls this summer. Gammon was offered to him yesterday when his sister-in-law, Claire Whitaker (the wife of John) suggested he might like to ride the 18-year- old here.

The horse has a fine record in the Silk Cut Derby, finishing second with John Whitaker last year, and was also equal second in 1992 and equal fourth in 1993. Gammon was brought to Hickstead as a mount for John's 16-year- old daughter, Louise, in a young rider's class.

Today will see Van Paesschen's first ride in the Hickstead Derby, but Mulga Bill, who looks none the worse for his recent Olympic efforts, is already familiar with the course, having completed it twice with his former rider, Charlie Moffat.

Yesterday's final contest for the Silk Cut Salver resulted in a rare tie, with Guy Goosen on Carat and Nick Skelton on Sublime finishing clear in the identical time of 40.72sec. Skelton had helped Goosen prepare for this meeting. "His place is only about 10 minutes away from me and I go over occasionally, maybe I helped him a bit too much this time," Skelton said with a grin.