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People and Places

Waiting at the winning post
Waiting at the winning post

The Kiplingcotes Derby

By Chris Arundel.
The Kiplingcotes Derby is unlike any horse race you may have seen on the TV. In the first place there is no racecourse, in the usual sense of the word.

Kiplingcotes Derby Facts

The Kiplingcotes Derby is reputed to be England's oldest flat race and was first run in 1519.

Traditionally it takes place on the third Thursday in March each year.

It's run over four miles of farm lanes and tracks on the Yorkshire Wolds.

The race starts near the village of Etton and finishes at Londsbrough Wold Farm north of Market Weighton.

The rules state that if the race isn't run one year, it should never be run again.

The race takes place over farm tracks and lanes across the rolling hills north of Market Weighton.

The winning post at the Kiplingcotes Derby
The winning post: The Kiplingcotes Derby

No one knows, until the morning of the race, how many riders will take part. I made my way to the finishing post at about 11am to see the runners checked in. There were ten of them - quite a good turnout. Around the same time the spectators began to amble up the hill to the finishing post.

All sorts of people come to see the race. Some are friends of the riders, there are people from local hunts, but many of them are visitors who have heard about this unique race and simply come along to see what all the fuss is about.

Chris Pitt travels up each year from the West Midlands and has been meticulously recording the results since 1993. In 2005 the race took place under leaden skies - the weather can be atrocious and in 1947 just one horse was lead round the course, after heavy snows made the normal race impossible.

The Kiplingcotes Derby course
The Kiplingcotes Derby course

After the weigh-in the runners trot down to the start near Etton. "They're running" one man, with a mobile phone clamped to his ear, informs the spectators who have gathered by this time near the finishing post. The crowd waits.... and waits. The riders have to cross the main Driffield to Market Weighton just before the final straight so the police stop the traffic.

Then, suddenly, the riders loom into view and the crowds scatter as the runners charge up towards the winning  post. This year's victor was "Wolfie" ridden by 18-year-old Harriet Bethel from Arnold near Skirlaugh. He was a race novice and a descendent of one of the races original founders. Second was Robert Howarth from Etton, and third was ten times race winner Ken Holmes. "The going was too heavy for my horse," said Mr. Holmes, "but I'll be back next year."

A jubilant Harriet Bethel was awarded her silver trophy and her share of the entry money and the crowd, well satisfied, disperse in search of a cup of warming tea.

last updated: 31/03/05
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