Ellen Whitaker and Henri De Herne reclaimed the Bunn Leisure Speed Derby title they last won in 2007 with a smooth, problem free round and one of only six combinations not to hit a fence.
“I thought I would be beaten because I was so early to go,” said Ellen, who was third of the 27 starters. “I was convinced [Irish riders] Shane Breen or Damien Griffin [the eventual runner up] would catch me.”
Soaring temperatures made the already tough course even harder, but overnight watering of the Hickstead turf has resulted in excellent going, which has received widespread praise from competitors.
“It was hard work out there in that heat,” said Ellen.
Herni De Herne, who has competed in this class on six previous occasions and is owned by Ellen’s father Steven, jumped the entire course with ease, not even pausing before his descent off the Derby bank.
“He knows his way round the course now,” said Ellen. “That can be both good and bad though. Two years ago he ran straight off the other side of the bank [rather than the side he was supposed to go down].”
Another 13 riders faulted, adding 4sec for each fence down to their finishing times, before Damien Griffin and his mother Margaret’s Lysseygan Clover Diamond completed without error. He was slightly behind Ellen’s time, blaming a few corrections he had to make on the course.
“I got a bad shot to the fourth fence, so then had to take a stride out to the wall,” he said. “Then my horse got a bit strong galloping to the gate, so I had to really take a hold of him.”
He finished 1sec slower with the 15-year-old gelding, with whom he has won 22 puissances, eight of which were bareback.
“This is the only international show I come to out of Ireland,” said Damien, 26. “And a couple of years ago I was second to Ellen in a 1.50m class here.”
Earlier in the day, Ellen’s uncle Michael Whitaker took his second class of the meeting with GIG Amai, the Falcon Feeds Derby trophy. However, this time he had to share with Belgium’s Guido Hornesch (Concorde) who had taken the lead earlier in the jump-off.
Don’t miss H&H’s live interactive written commentary service from tomorrow’s Hickstead DFS Derby on Horseandhound.co.uk, starting at 2.15pm