Ledingham finds an edge

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reports from Hickstead

Captain John Ledingham gained his second consecutive victory, and his third overall, when he rode Kilbaha to two clear rounds here in yesterday's Silk Cut Derby. Watched by some 17,000 people, Ledingham brought this absorbing contest to its climax when he defeated the home favourite, John Whitaker on Everest Gammon, in the two-horse jump-off.

Michael Whitaker had won the Grand Prix in Rotterdam with Twostep by the time his elder brother came into the jump-off to attempt a victory on this side of the Channel. But a mistake at the double oxer, where Gammon rolled off the far pole, left the door open for Ledingham and the horse he rode to victory last year.

The Irishman went for a fast time. "You need to have insurance, it meant that I would still have a chance of winning if we had a fence down," he said. But Kilbaha, still blowing a bit as the result of his earlier clear round, had no need of insurance. Whitaker saw the writing on the wall after Kilbaha had jumped no more than three of the jump-off fences. The horse was faultless and faster, adding pounds 45,000 to the coffers of the Ministry for Defence - pounds 40,000 for winning and a pounds 5,000 bonus for achieving it with two clear rounds. "I expect I'll get a little bonus myself," Ledingham said.

Kilbaha had one bit of luck in the first round, at the initial part of the Devil's Dyke. "My horse gave that a good tap," Ledingham said, with nice understatement.

Gammon, now 17, was foot-perfect in that round and the first to go clear over the 16-fence course. Whitaker looked all set to have a second horse through to the jump-off, until Welham took off a long way back at the final obstacle and had the back rail down.

Whitaker, who has now been runner-up (either outright or jointly) five times, had his only victory in this annual classic 12 years ago. But he has been marellously consistent, with his latest second place and an equal third on Welham to add to his tally yesterday. The third place was shared with Britain's Geoff Luckett on Vantage and another Irish army rider, Comdt Gerry Mullins on Millstreet Ruby, who both made their only errors at the infamous Devil's Dyke.

Both David Bowen and his daughter, Sarah, were among those who finished on eight faults to share sixth place. Sarah, riding Yorkshire Gent, was clear until hitting the 14th fence and she also had a mistake at the last.

There were two falls at the water, the 11th obstacle. Countryman, formerly partnered by David Broome, landed short there with his Japanese rider, Taizo Sugitani, and crumpled on landing. Quel Plantero did the same with Belgium's Francois Mathy.

But there were also some marvellous rounds, notably the opening clears from Gammon and Kilbaha, with brave horses and brilliant riders jumping in complete harmony. Kibaha will be back to attempt his hat-trick next year. Meanwhile, Ledingham will be riding the 12- year-old in Calgary and as part of the Irish team contesting next month's European Show Jumping Championships at St Gallen in Switzerland.