Matt Sampson proved last year’s Hickstead speed derby win on catch ride Top Flight True Carlo was no fluke as he made it a double, securing the win with more than 2sec to spare at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting.
Paul Crago and Dawn Cooley’s 16-year-old gelding Valentino IX had set an early lead. Jumping ninth of 31 contenders, they set the bar at 98.97sec, having added a 4sec penalty for catching the troublesome gate before the Irish bank.
There were some strong contenders in the field, but each fell by the wayside leaving Paul out in front right up to the wire.
“I’d gone back to the lorry and started packing up and told them to ring me if I was placed,” confessed Paul, who has jumped the son of Andiamo in this class on five occasions, but produced his fastest round by 6sec. “It was left to my mum [Judy Crago] and Dawn [Cooley, the horse’s owner] to sit there watching them all.”
Brazilian rider Carlos Eduardo Moto Ribas were the next to break the 100sec barrier, producing a 99.69 sec round when he caught the middle element of the treble of planks with the Dutch gelding Brilexo.
The 2016 victors Harriet Nuttall and Silver Lift, who have a brilliant track record in this class, added an unexpected 12 sec in penalties, also falling foul of the gate, the Al Shira’aa fence and the first rail of the road crossing to finish with 103.91sec.
Course record holders Guy Williams and Casper De Muze were similarly off the target. The prolifically successful chestnut had four down, breaking the beam in 91.99sec [0.04 off their record time] but adding 16.
With the class running in reverse order of qualifying time — and last year’s winner jumping last — the competition always intensifies as the final few come forward to jump.
Joe Clayton has been producing competitive rounds throughout the show and set off to a blistering start here with 11-year-old Carolus K DHI, only for the gelding to duck out of descending the bank and briefly disappear down the wrong side.
As the class entered the final three, Matt’s girlfriend Chloe Winchester looked on-point with the naturally quick ex-eventer Sportsfield Our Clare but the 11-year-old mare went on to clip the red and yellow fence near the bank, also adding the gate and the first of the Hickstead planks.
Last year, Irishman Paddy O’Donnell’s grey mare Hey There Delilah had scorched round in an incredible 88.71 sec but had three rails, this time they had the gate and the miffle plank to slip into third place in 99.48sec.
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Just Matt and Top Flight True Carlo stood between Paul and victory, but the chestnut gelding looked to be in his element as he ate up the first three-quarters of the track ahead on the clock.
It was a year when no one in contention produced a clear and Matt was no exception, also clipping the hard-to-see gate — that is jumped towards the crowd — with Christine Spanner’s British Warmblood.
Despite adding 4sec, they crossed the line with a total of 96.58sec to the rapturous approval of the crowd.
“I just thought I’d do a similar round to last year,” said Matt. “There were quite a lot of experienced horses having fences today and mine did as well — maybe because it was hot and it was taking energy away from them.
“[Even with one down] I thought I wasn’t too far off if I could just keep going. I tried to speed up and the faster you go, the more he tries so it paid off.”
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