William Whitaker achieved one of his career aims after producing a memorable performance on the aptly-named Glenavadra Brilliant to win the Equestrian.com Hickstead Derby.
Yorkshireman Whitaker, 26, joined an illustrious list of former Derby champions — his uncles John and Michael, plus the likes of Eddie Macken, Harvey Smith, Nick Skelton, Nelson Pessoa and Paul Schockemohle — in conquering the challenging Derby track.
One time fault collected for being just over the 180-second limit could not deflect from a superb jumping display, which came 12 months after Whitaker finished second behind Irishman Trevor Breen in the same class.
Harriet Nuttall, who 24 hours earlier won the Speed Derby, came closest to threatening Whitaker, but she had the final fence down aboard A Touch Imperious and had to settle for equal second alongside Irish pair Richard Howley, who set a strong standard after being drawn first to go on Chinook, and Billy Twomey with the ultra-consistent Diaghilev.
Whitaker said: “I’m obviously delighted. It’s one of the classes I’ve always really, really wanted to win.
“I’m pleased with my horse. He has always knocked on the door, being second in numerous other derbies around Europe, so to finally get the win today I’m really, really pleased.
“The more times you ride the course the better it is because the more experience you get. I’m really pleased for the horse because he deserved to win one. He’s obviously not fazed by natural jumps. He’s strong and scopey and he’s got a lot of stamina. When he jumped the last fence he almost felt as if he could have done it again.
“I had a lot of faith in him. Every time he’s jumped the Derby and had a fault, there’s been a reason for it — it’s not laziness. Last year, I was just too quick off the bank, and the same in Hamburg, so I made sure I took my time a bit more.
“I always hoped he’d win a derby. I knew I was slow quite early on, but for a big horse he’s quite hot, so I was having to take my time on the corners to slow him down, whereas at the end when he settled into the course I could let him go on a bit.”
Nuttall, meanwhile, added: “My horse felt amazing. The last fence was a bit gutting, but there’s not much more we could have done. It was just a tired fault, one of those things. I love Hickstead anyway, all my horses go well here, and with the amount of rain we had, it rode perfect.”
Howley said: “The only thing really different about going first is the fresh grass on the bank. The ground was absolutely perfect — even Devil’s Dyke held up fantastic.
And Twomey added: “He (Diaghilev) jumped fantastic in Hamburg, and was second here last year. I feel a bit disappointed with the four faults, but he jumped amazing. William jumped a copybook round, and he deserved to win. It’s my fifth time coming second in this class, so I need to get my act together next year!”
There was no hat-trick for Breen, whose 2014 and 2015 winners Adventure De Kannan and Loughnatousa WB were both among the field of more than 30 combinations, with three consecutive Derby victories remaining the exclusive feat of just four riders — Eddie Macken, Nick Skelton, Michael Whitaker and Peter Charles.