Amid emotional scenes at Hickstead, the “old maestro” John Whitaker beat his 18-year-old niece Ellen Whitaker to win the DFS Derby.
This was one of the best classes seen here for many years and every member of the huge crowd must have felt privileged to see two sublime riding performances.
First Ellen, who was riding in her first Derby, jumped a fantastic clear on the eight-year-old stallion AK Lacarno. Then John matched her on a horse he had sat on for the first time the day before, Hickstead owner Douglas Bunn’s Buddy Bunn.
Another young rider, Ben Maher, then produced a fantastic clear on Alfredo, only to pick up one time-fault after going just over the time allowance.
Perhaps a draw would have been the fairest result, but the relatives had to jump off. Ellen had the unenviable task of going first and Lacarno ran on to the Derby rails after the water and collected four faults. She was fast the rest of the way though, to leave put her uncle under pressure.
There is no better rider in that situation and, although John did not go slowly, he took care round the long jump-off. An immaculate clear put him into the record books with a fourth Derby win.
“This was a long shot that paid off. When William Funnell phoned me, explained that he couldn’t ride because of his injury and asked me to take over, I certainly wasn’t expecting it. But full credit to the horse, he was really good. Ellen was really fantastic too and I felt sorry that she had to lose.”
Ellen was not too disappointed though, saying: “If I had to get beaten there’s no one I would rather it was by than my Uncle John.”
The only sad note was struck when early-drawn Geoff Luckett’s ride, GG Barock, broke an off-hind leg when landing off the bank and had to be put down. This was only the second fatal accident in the long history of the Derby.
The Whitakers almost scored a family double when pony rider William finished runner-up in the earlier Pony Masters on A Touch Of Rust. But he had to give best to last year’s European individual silver medallists, Hannah Paul and Mister Amontilado.
- Don’t miss the full Hickstead report in the next issue of Horse & Hound (10 June).