'He's a tough horse but he was getting tired,' Whitaker said, after Monsanta's one mistake at the open ditch, fence 13. 'Conditions have never been as bad here; horses were going six to nine inches into the ground.'
Whitaker had survived one near-miss when Monsanta slipped as he came down the 10ft 6in Derby Bank and looked certain to hit the white rails which followed at fence nine. But the venerable horse knows the course well. 'He knew what was coming, and got himself out of trouble,' the rider said.
Having won last year with a clear round, Monsanta was the only horse to finish on four faults in yesterday's deep going. Whitaker's elder brother, John, shared second place on Henderson Gammon with Brazil's Nelson Pessoa on Loro Piana Vivaldi and Joe Turi on Vital. All three joint runners-up, who finished on eight faults, are former winners of the Derby.
As usual, the big Derby Bank provided most of the drama. Tina Cassan, last year's runner-up, nearly fell straight down it when Treffer stopped at the summit, but the horse fortunately made a quick turn and she fell on to the top of the bank instead of hurtling to the ground below.
Nick Skelton had the nastiest fall, when Everest Limited Edition stumbled and came down as he landed over the water. The horse trod on Skelton's back as he struggled to regain his balance and the rider was on the ground for a couple of minutes before he rose painfully to his feet and walked out of the arena. 'I'm a bit shaken up, it feels as though I've been hit by a freight train,' Skelton said.
Limited Edition had cleared the most difficult fences (the rails at the foot of the bank and the three parts of the Devil's Dyke) before he fell. Only three other horses were clear through the Dyke - Monsanta, Vital and Diamond Exchange, the mount of Ireland's 22- year-old Jessica Chesney, who was riding in her first Silk Cut Derby and was first to tackle the long course yesterday.
Chesney had said that she was longing to have a crack at the Derby fences and she attacked them in the same spirit, finishing in equal fifth place with just three errors.
SILK CUT DERBY (Hickstead, Sussex): 1 Henderson Monsanta (M Whitaker, GB) 4 faults; 2= Henderson Gammon (J Whitaker, GB), Loro Piana Vivaldi (N Pessoa, Br) and Vital (J Turi, GB) 8 faults; 5= Diamond Exchange (J Chesney, Ire), Xtra (B Dye, GB) and Kruger (P Charles, Ire) 12 faults; 8 Home Run (J Turi, GB) 20 faults.
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