Younger riders battle it out at Hickstead

  • The speed Derby was a hard-fought affair and went right to the wire. Joe Whitaker, 17, set a fantastic standard with a clear on Hotline, but he was then overtaken by his elder sister Ellen, 19, with the little French-bred Henri De Here. The class looked over until Ben Maher set off in overdrive on Mercurius, who hurdled the Irish Bank en route to knocking nearly 2sec off Ellen’s time.

    Last-drawn Guy Williams and Be Precise have won this class twice in the past three years. And this was so nearly another occasion. The pair was a mile ahead until lowering a plank behind at the penultimate combination and, despite Guy taking a pull, the chestnut mare also pushed out a pole at the final oxer. Their time was more than 3sec quicker than Ben’s, but the 8sec penalty dropped them to third.

    This was Ben Maher’s best win to date on the Dutch-bred chestnut he bought from Lisa Ashe three years ago — and came as a bit of the surprise to the Hertfordshire-based 22-year-old.

    “Mercurius went on to the Bank in ring two on the first day and reversed straight off it again, so I wasn’t sure how he’d cope in the International Arena,” said Ben.

    Ellen Whitaker went one place better in the Bunn Leisure Trophy. She won from first draw of the nine-horse jump-off after taking every chance on AK Kanselier, who was scoring his second major win of the show. William Funnell was second on Cortaflex Tibor, with Michael Jones producing two great rounds on Tinkerbell for third.

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