Long wait ends as Fletcher jumps clear round

Tina Fletcher achieved a lifelong ambition by ending Hickstead’s 38-year wait for a female winner of the Carpetright Derby.

Fletcher and Promised Land produced a performance to match the glorious Sussex sunshine after last year’s heartache, when they were beaten by Guy Williams and Skip Two Ramiro in a two-horse jump-off.

This time around, Berkshire-based Nations Cup rider Fletcher produced the only clear round of 26 starters.

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She is the fifth woman to clinch Hickstead’s iconic Derby crown – British showjumping’s equivalent of the Grand National – but the first since Alison Dawes and Mr Banbury in 1973.

Fletcher, drawn 24th to go, easily conquered huge obstacles like the Derby Bank and Devils Dyke and ended the victory hopes of five riders tied on four faults just when a jump-off looked likely.

Defending champion Williams, who collected four faults on Skip Two Ramiro, finished equal second with Richi Rich III, alongside Ronnie Healy (Carlow Cruiser), David O’Brien (Mo Chroi), Shane Breen (Mullaghdrin Gold Rain) and Michael Whitaker (Animation II).

Healy provided the day’s hard luck story, leaving all the fences up but gaining four faults from the judges for disobedience when Carlow Cruiser reared in prolonged fashion approaching fence six. But it was 46-year-old Fletcher’s day on a horse owned by her former international showjumper husband Graham, recording only the 53rd clear round since the event began in 1961.

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“I am delighted and surprised,” said Fletcher, who was also runner-up 20 years ago when four-time champion Michael Whitaker guided Mon Santa to the title.

“I thought after last year I would never get the chance to win it, but the horse jumped fabulously. It’s all down to him.

“Ever since I was a child I’ve always watched the Hickstead Derby. For me it was the biggest event of the year and I had always wanted to win it.”

The 16-year-old Promised Land is known as sometimes being a difficult horse to ride, and Fletcher revealed she initially had some reservations about him.

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“Graham bought him when he was a five- or six-year-old,” she added.

“I said to Graham why was he keeping him because the horse was such a lunatic, so credit to Graham because he did all the groundwork on him.

“If you can settle him early, he will be into it. You have to have an unbelievably great horse to win the Derby, you have to know 100 per cent that it is going to go.”

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