Phillip Miller: ‘I used to say I’d never jump round the Hickstead Derby’

Having won the Hickstead Derby in 2013 on the grey Caritiar Z, Phillip Miller will be blogging about his preparations for this year’s Equestrian.com Hickstead Derby Meeting (26-29 June)

Phillip Miller riding Caritiar Z

I used to say I’d never jump round the Hickstead Derby. I’d loved watching it on television when I was growing up, but I had no intention of jumping in it myself. But about 5 years ago, people started saying I should take Carter (Caritiar Z) into the Derby and I finally decided to have a go.

I remember walking the course during the Speed Derby and that was the first time I’d ever been up the Derby bank. Suzanne Dando from Sky Sports wanted to interview me as a Derby first-timer at the edge of the bank. I looked down, and I remember saying to her:  “That’s ridiculous!”

But it didn’t cause any problems. On our first attempt we finished 9th, with the first part of the Devil’s Dyke down plus 2 time faults. Carter paused at the top of the bank and had a good look down — that’s probably why we got time faults — but then he just sussed out what to do and crept slowly down it. He figured it out himself, and I just had to trust him.

Coming back last year, I’d known he was capable of jumping a good round but I never expected to win it. I’d been practising — we’d gone down to Guy Williams’ yard, as he’s got a few Derby fences, and Bernice Cuthbert, who produces the 2012 winner Loughnatousa WB, has got a really good Derby course at her yard that I jumped a few times. Then I’d do silly little things, like when I was out hacking, if there was a bank at the side of the road, I’d ride off it.

Carter is a very different horse at Hickstead. He’s more relaxed, and he loves everyone looking at him. Last year I rode him on the morning of the Derby and he worked really well. And when I was warming-up for the class later that day he was definitely with me.

All the fences in the Derby course are challenging, but when I was still clear after the Bank and the Devil’s Dyke, the adrenalin started to kick in. You can’t relax at that point, but the excitement does start to build. You have to concentrate on not making a mistake — that’s the worst thing.

After the water and the open ditch, I realised I only had a few fences to go — the double of gates and the final oxer. But I didn’t want to get time faults like I had the year before so I remember riding on to the last and thinking, aim straight for a post, set him up and go for it.

When we went clear, the crowd was unbelievable. I did swear while jumping the last which was caught by the television cameras —  that’s terrible, I know, but I was too excited.

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