Matthew Sampson overturned the form book to win the British Speed Derby at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting on catch ride Topflight True Carlo.
Three-time winners Guy Williams and Casper De Muze and last year’s victors Harriet Nuttall and Silver Lift were both hot favourites to retake the title, but a scorching early round from Matt and Christine Spanner’s 13-year-old gelding left them trailing in his wake.
A “change in circumstances” meant Matt learned just yesterday (Friday) that he would be taking over the ride on the British warmblood from Christy Kemp.
He previously rode the horse, who is produced at home by his owner, for around eight months three years ago. They had one prior attempt at the speed derby in 2014, when they finished third to Guy and Harriet.
“I got back on him yesterday [for the first time in three years] and I just walked him out this morning as he’s better when he’s fresh,” said Matt. “I put the bit in that I used to ride him in and everything came together.
“I just tried to go as fast as I could but with Guy and Harriet at the end of the class, it’s never over. I just thought I needed to try and everything came off for today.”
Matt added that winning the speed derby was a life-long ambition.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid and watching it on TV. This class is thrilling, it’s the one everyone wants to win growing up.”
Matt set an insurmountable target when he jumped clear from 11th draw in 92.73sec, undercutting the early lead set by Liam O’Meara and Curraghgraigue Jack Take Flight by a dramatic 4sec.
Just Paddy O’Donnell and his second ride Hey There Delilah looked like they might come within touch, when they galloped round in a staggering 88.71 sec but added 12 for tipping the first part of the double, the gate and the final oxer.
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With Guy and Harriet jumping in the closing two slots, Matt had a nervous wait, but Casper De Muze — who set the course record of 91.95sec in 2015 — was not quite up to match fitness.
“At the end he felt tired and normally he’s pulling my arms out,” said Guy, who left all the fences standing, but stopped the clock in 95.59sec.
In closing draw, Harriet Nuttall zipped round with well-rehearsed economy on her father Rupert’s little grey Silver Lift, galloping through the finish in 90.75sec but adding a 4sec penalty for catching the innocuous yellow and red oxer at fence 11.
“He did such a good round, he was quick and I was happy but I think he was just a bit unlucky,” she said.
Don’t miss our full report covering all the action from the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, on sale Thursday 29 June.