International showjumper Joe Whitaker was on cloud nine after coming from last to first to make a winning debut as a National Hunt jockey in a dramatic race at Newcastle.
The Whitaker family is well known for its showjumping prowess, and 32-year-old Joe won bronze at the 2006 Junior European Championship as well as claiming victory as part of the Great Britain team in the five-star Nations Cup.
Whitaker has been riding out at the yard of Grand National-winning trainer Sue Smith since last summer – and was having his first ride under Rules aboard Tjade Collier’s Ladronne in the second division of the Equine Products Amateur Riders’ Handicap Hurdle at Gosforth Park.
Despite his inexperience, Whitaker was as cool as a cucumber – settling the 15-8 favourite at the rear of the field for much of the two-mile-six-furlong journey.
He started to make inroads on the leaders in the home straight – and while he looked like having to settle for minor honours at best after jumping the final flight, Ladronne charged up the run-in to get up and claim victory by a neck from Taras Day.
A clearly emotional Whitaker told Sky Sports Racing: “To be honest, I felt like I was still very strong and I could feel him on the bridle. I knew he had it, and I just thought I’d wait until the very last second and then give it some!
“Fair play to Tjade as well. His instructions were 150 per cent correct – he’s a serious trainer in the making.
“I was just focusing on riding smoothly and getting into a rhythm and relaxing.
“I enjoyed every second of it – and I guarantee we’ll be doing it again!”
It was also a first winner for fledgling trainer Collier, whose fine riding career including a Midlands Grand National success on Himalayan Trail and multiple wins aboard Smith’s subsequent Aintree hero Auroras Encore.
“It’s a relief – I’m so excited,” said Collier.
“I knew Joe was riding out for Sue and Harvey (Smith), and we’ve got loads of youngsters. I said to him ‘if you can give me a hand for a couple of weeks, I’ll give you a nice ride’.
“What a peach of a ride it was!”