Equestrianism: Uncle triumphs in Whitaker family affair

The Whitaker family left an indelible mark on this year's DFS Derby, with John Whitaker defeating his 16-year-old niece, Ellen, in a two-horse jump-off here yesterday, as the British Jumping Derby meeting reached its climax. Two Whitakers - John and his 21-year-old son, Robert - were among the three who shared third place with a single error in the opening round.

The Whitaker family left an indelible mark on this year's DFS Derby, with John Whitaker defeating his 16-year-old niece, Ellen, in a two-horse jump-off here yesterday, as the British Jumping Derby meeting reached its climax. Two Whitakers - John and his 21-year-old son, Robert - were among the three who shared third place with a single error in the opening round.

Ellen Whitaker, who had to wait until this year before she was old enough to contest the Derby, brought the competition alive when she completed a superb clear round on the eight-year-old AK Lacarno. She would have won had her uncle, the second last to jump, not conjured a clear round from his chance ride, Buddy Bunn.

When Locarno lowered the third fence from home in the timed jump-off, Ellen knew that she had left the door open for John. But it was no easy route to victory. When he glanced at the clock as he approached the final obstacle, John knew that his time would be slower and a mistake at the last would have allowed his niece to become the youngest winner of this annual classic. "You have to do your best, but it was a shame for Ellen to get beaten," he said after Buddy Bunn had given him his fourth victory.

The winning horse, bred and owned by Douglas Bunn, who designed the Sussex showground in the grounds of his Hickstead home, was born just 80 yards away from the international arena.

Buddy Bunn had been due to be ridden by William Funnell until he was forced to conclude that his groin injury, sustained last Monday at the Surrey County Show, would not permit him to ride effectively. The horse looked worryingly strong when John Whitaker rode him here on Saturday. "He wasn't used to having so little weight on his back after William," Whitaker said with a grin. After a change of bit and some relaxed work yesterday morning, he looked far more at home in the major class of the meeting.

There was one fatality when Geoff Luckett's 16-year-old mount, GG Barock, landed awkwardly down the 10ft 6in Derby Bank and broke his off-hind leg.

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