IRISHMAN Trevor Breen claimed a thrilling victory in the Equestrian.com Hickstead Derby yesterday as defending champion Phillip Miller was agonisingly denied a second successive triumph.
Huddersfield’s William Whitaker also went close as he finished just one penalty behind and a superb joint third on Glenavadra Brilliant.
Breen and his experienced campaigner Adventure De Kannan – the 14-year-old bay gelding had an eye removed last year due to a long-standing condition – prevailed by just two hundredths of a second following a thrilling jump-off head-to-head.
Both Breen and Miller, riding last year’s Derby winner Caritiar Z, repeated their first-round performances of four faults in the jump-off, but Breen clocked 85.17 seconds, compared with Miller’s 85.19.
Although it was the first Derby since 2009 not to produce a clear round, there was no lack of excitement.
And 35-year-old Breen, who is based in Beaconsfield, had just enough in the tank to land the winner’s purse of £38,000, with Miller’s hopes of becoming only the eighth rider since 1961 to retain the Derby crown falling just short.
Despite the horse’s eye condition, Adventure De Kannan bounced back superbly to win two classes at the South of England Show last June following surgery.
At the time, Breen said: “I hoped he would be able to carry on jumping, but I did not think he would come back so quickly. I think he is better than ever, to be honest.”
And there was no disguising Breen’s joy in front of a capacity Hickstead crowd, as he punched the air in delight following a dramatic finale that went right to the wire.
There was a three-way tie for third between South African Jade Hooke and the British pair of Harriet Nuttall and Whitaker, while Breen also claimed sixth spot on his other ride, 2012 Derby winner Loughnatousa WB.
“I can’t explain how much this means,” added Breen.
“That horse loves adversity. To come through it all and go out and do that today, he is a true warrior of a horse. No matter whatever you ask him to do, he just gives everything.
“Everyone was behind me today, all my family are here, so it is a very emotional occasion.”
Of the 35 starters, 13 combinations either retired or were eliminated, with 2010 Derby champion Guy Williams failing to finish on both his horses and three-time Derby winner William Funnell collecting 20 faults on Billy Onslow.
And there was no fairytale for 2007 Grand National-winning jockey Robert Power, whose hopes of achieving a spectacular double on his Derby debut floundered when he posted 20 faults aboard Doonaveeragh O One.
Doncaster’s James Hughes was also eliminated on Peiter VI, alongside fellow Yorkshireman, Huddersfield’s Joe Clayton on Ingliston Twister.
But Whitaker was in fine form on Glenavadra Brilliant and his efforts scooped him a third share of the £11,884 third prize.
Whitaker and Glenavadra Brilliant were also fourth in Friday’s Bunn Leisure Derby Trial in which the top 35 finishers qualified for Sunday’s Derby.
Hughes was a fine tenth on Peiter VI.
Guy Williams, Derby winner in 2010 and a major challenger this weekend, took the feature class on Saturday.
Riding Casper De Muze, Kent-based Williams – a member of Great Britain’s European Championship bronze medal team in Madrid three years ago – landed the Bunn Leisure Speed Derby 10 years after he last won it.
A time of 96.36 seconds saw Williams secure a £7,000 winner’s purse, while Harriet Nuttall matched her second place in Friday’s Derby Trial with another runners-up spot, this time aboard Silver Lift, and another British combination – Matthew Sampson and Topflight True Carlo – took third.
And there was Irish success in the Tom Hudson Derby Trophy, with Daniel Coyle and Zuidam clocking the quickest jump-off time of 46.07 seconds.
Jay Halim and Goodman for Fun II finished second, while Irish Olympian Billy Twomey was third on Royale Du Rouet.