John Popely and the game 12-year-old grey mare, Sight and Sound Bluebird, pulled off the greatest triumph of their career when winning yesterday's Peugeot Championship for the British Jumping Derby.
Having jumped round with just a single error at the exit rails from the Devil's Dyke (the 10th of 16 fences), Popely had a wait of almost two hours before he knew that he would be able to bank the top prize of pounds 24,000.
In the interim some of the better fancied horses failed to better his score - or to equal it and so force a jump-off. William Funnell, whose preparations had been interrupted when Comex was found to have a corn, was the runner-up. His horse tapped a rail off the small fence on the summit of the bank and then he had a refusal at the 13th fence.
Peter Charles, the European champion for Ireland, looked a serious threat to Popely but his partner T'Aime, who had never been down a bank before, descended the 10ft 6in precipice too quickly and inevitably hit the fence close to its base.
A jump-off still seemed likely until T'Aime clipped a rail off the final fence. Charles thus finished on eight faults to share third place with Capt John Ledingham on Kilbaha and Tim Stockdale on Interview. Last year's victors - the gallant 61-year-old Brazilian, Nelson Pessoa on Loro Piana Vivaldi - dropped right out of the running with 19.5 faults.
When Popely began riding at the late age of 15, it was his dream to jump in the Hickstead Derby. That wish was first fulfilled six years ago, when he considered it a great privilege to complete the course on eight faults with Capone. The victory he achieved yesterday with Bluebird was then beyond his wildest dreams.
Results, Digest, page 23