Veterans unite for Derby triumph

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Nelson Pessoa made a marvellous comeback nine months after his heart attack when winning yesterday's Silk Cut Derby at 60 years of age. The Brazilian's mount, Loro Piana Vivaldi, is also in the veteran bracket but he was nevertheless the only horse to complete the marathon course of 16 fences with a single error.

The mistake came at the first of three parts of the notorious Devil's Dyke, the 10th fence on the course. Pessoa had been pessimistic about this obstacle because Vivaldi has had it down before, but in all other respects the oldest and most experienced rider in the contest was full of confidence, which proved well founded.

"It was a privilege to ride Vivaldi, he was so easy and so nice," Pessoa said. "He is a 19-year-old horse now but he is beautiful, he gave me a really good feeling today."

Pessoa was warming up in preparation for a jump-off if it were needed when he heard that the pounds 40,000 first prize was in safe keeping. Six riders shared second place on eight faults - among them Captain John Ledingham, who was aiming for a third successive victory on Kilbaha. The horse was clear until hitting the Derby Rails at fence 12 and then had the 14th down as well. Kilbaha was one of only five horses, out of a field of 34, to clear the dreaded Devil's Dyke.

But this was Pessoa's day, if not his month. He was chef d'equipe of the Brazilian team (which included his 23-year-old son Rodrigo) when they won their first Olympic medals by finishing third in Atlanta.

The Brazilian veteran has won about 24 derbies, including three at Hickstead where he triumphed in 1963 and 1965, collecting a mere pounds 200 for each of those wins. The possibility of a third (and far more remunerative) victory here had seemed unlikely on 3 November last year when Pessoa suffered his heart attack. Now fully recovered, he is thinking of competing at the Sydney Olympics with one of the good young horses at his home in Brussels.

n Whitaker's elder brother, John, failed to gain the massive pounds 390,000 bonus, which had lured him to Valkensvaard in the Netherlands, when Grannusch had a single error in the first round of the Pulsar Grand Prix. The contest was won by Britain's Robert Smith, riding Tees Hanauer, who now has the chance to chase a similar bonus at the next two shows in the series.

Results, Digest, page 21