Whitaker stays 'steady' to win Derby jump-off

The wonderful 20-year-old Virtual Village Welham gave John Whitaker his third emotional victory in the British Jumping Derby yesterday, after completing two foot-perfect clear rounds. The 45-year-old rider and Keeley Durham's venerable horse received a standing ovation as they completed the winning jump-off round.

The wonderful 20-year-old Virtual Village Welham gave John Whitaker his third emotional victory in the British Jumping Derby yesterday, after completing two foot-perfect clear rounds. The 45-year-old rider and Keeley Durham's venerable horse received a standing ovation as they completed the winning jump-off round.

For the first time since 1993, there were three clear rounds over the marathon course of 16 fences. Tim Stockdale, who achieved the first of them on the chunky half-Shire horse, Traxdata Wiston Bridget, was clear again when opening the three-horse jump-off.

Stockdale had been told that nobody had jumped a double clear and failed to win the Derby, but this time was to prove the exception. After last year's victors - Rob Hoekstra and Lionel II - had one error in a faster time, Whitaker and Welham jumped the winning round.

Whitaker was aware that the crowds were urging him on. "As I came into the last I heard someone in the stands shouting 'steady, steady'," he said. The plea was, however, unnecessary. Whitaker, who was 9.06sec faster than Stockdale, had already taken a quick glance at the clock and he knew he had time to slow down for the last to get it right.

In a non-vintage year, riders could have expected to win with a clear opening round and Whitaker felt sorry for Stockdale and Hoekstra, who had both been faultless only to be defeated in the timed jump-off.

Welham's classic performance had partially eclipsed a marvellous effort from Stockdale's mount Wiston Bridget, who came down the bank as readily and neatly as any, as well as clearing all the fences. Stockdale put this down to training at home, where he had his own bank and dyke built. Despite defeat, he expressed delight with the mare's performance.

Whitaker's last victories were achieved in 1983 on 15-year-old Ryan's Son and 1998 on 21-year-old Gammon. "I think today was the best one of all," he said. "It's been the main goal all year for Welham and he's really fit. He didn't have much time to recover from the first round, but I think he was even better in the jump-off. This will definitely be his last Derby and it may be his last season."

Fourth place went to Ireland's Billy Twomey, whose only first-round error on Hilton, came at the last element of the influential Devil's Dyke where just six of the 29 starters left all three parts intact. Another Irishman, Cameron Hanley, was well fancied to win on Ballaseyr Twilight until the brave horse went down the 10ft 6in Derby Bank without a moment's hesitation, only to crumple on landing.

Paul Schockemohle, one of the Hickstead directors, received a phone call here yesterday to say that his great partner, Deister, had died in the morning at the age of 29. The horse won the Hickstead Derby twice and the European Championship three times.

TRAXDATA DERBY MEETING (Hickstead). Peugeot Derby: 1 Virtual Village Welham (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 86.56sec; 2 Traxdata Bridget (T Stockdale, GB) clear, 95.62; 3 Lionel II (R Hoekstra, GB) 4 faults, 92.93. Saturday: Traxdata Speed Derby: 1 Sublime (B Twomey, Irl) 102.09sec; 2 Harlem (G Williams, GB) 102.17; 3 Flip (I Kerr, Irl) 106.01. Hasseroder Trophy: 1 Traxdata Glenwood Springs (T Stockdale, GB) clear, 45.74sec; 2 Shearwater Gambit (D McPherson, SA) 8 faults, 51.82; 3 Lillebrore (H Luther, Ger) 12 faults, 48.72.

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