EQUESTRIANISM: Whitaker undecided

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The Independent Online
JOHN WHITAKER has yet to decide whether he will face the hazards, which include a precipitous descent from the 10-foot six-inch bank, by riding in the British Jumping Derby on Sunday at Hickstead, where the winner will collect a Peugeot car worth pounds 20,000 and a cash prize of pounds 10,000.

Since Diamond Cliff is being saved for Rotterdam next week, Whitaker's only possible mount is Virtual Village Heyman. The nine-year-old went so well in Aachen last week (just 0.25 of a time fault in two rounds of the Nations Cup and one error in two rounds of the Grand Prix) that he must be assured of a place for the World Equestrian Games in Rome in October.

"Heyman's never jumped in a derby before, but he's very brave and I think he could go well," Whitaker said. He plans to ride the horse in today's Derby Tankard (which incorporates the last of four British International Team Trials) and tomorrow's Derby Trial before making his decision.

Robert Smith, winner of this year's King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead on Senator Mighty Blue (and therefore qualified for the Derby) has already made his decision. The big grey horse, who has won two derbies this year - at La Baule in May and at the Wales and West Show last weekend, will compete in Sunday's big contest.

Four or five years ago, Smith would have been happy to sell Mighty Blue for a mere pounds 7,000. But there were no takers for the horse, so he show- jumped the grey himself and has since won more than pounds 150,000 with him.

Smith knows that he will "need a lot of luck" if he is to win the plum prize with Mighty Blue on Sunday. "It's a long way round and he may get wound up, especially after the bank," he said of the 14-year-old horse, who is less headstrong than he was but is still hard to restrain.

Captain John Ledingham will be aiming for his fourth triumph - and his third with the wonderfully honest and consistent Kilbaha - on Sunday. But fellow Irishman Robert Splaine will be watching the Derby on television from a hospital bed. Splaine, who won the King's Cup at Hickstead two years ago, damaged his back when a horse reared over and fell on him last weekend and is now expecting to stay in Cork University Hospital for a month.

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