A rider has come to the rescue of England’s oldest horse race – for the second time.
Today’s Kiplingcotes Derby, which reputedly started in 1519, has been abandoned due to dangerous conditions – caused mainly by off-roaders.
However to keep the tradition going Stephen Crawford, a former race winner, who walked the course when racing was also cancelled during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, will be setting out today.
Trustee Guy Stephenson said a crowd of around 50 people had gathered to watch the historic event, which takes place over four miles of farm tracks and fields.
Mr Crawford was officially weighed in and all the usual traditions observed before starting the race at Etton.
Mr Stephenson said: “There’s that many ruts full of water from the last week or so that you can’t see where it is good going. It is too dangerous for horses to be riding and falling in these ruts.
“He’ll probably be able to gallop a couple of miles and walk the rest of it.
“There’s another lad who will ride up with him – John Thirsk (four time winner 2008 – 2012) – but he’s not an entry, he’s just accompanying him.
“There’s probably 50 or so people. Everyone is huddled and wet through and miserable – but the people from the pub at Dunnington have brought us some hot punch.”
This year’s race would be the 500th running, but the organisers have gone for what they consider works best as symmetry by giving next year’s race the 500 tag.
When he finishes Mr Crawford will be handed The Kiplingcotes Plate and the £50, which usually goes to the winner.
It is only the third time in living history that the race has had to be abandoned – the other time was famously during the terrible winter in 1947 when Mr Stephenson’s uncle Fred walked and rode the course through four-foot snowdrifts.
Off-roaders have been blamed for churning up the course. Mr Stephenson said: “They are the biggest problem as they go down the grass sides where the horses ride and cut it up. They’ve also been leading timber out which hasn’t helped.”
The race has been described as the Brigadoon of racing “because there is no-one here, then everybody’s here and at 1pm it will be deserted again and it will go back in the mists of time till next year.”
One of the quirks of the Kiplingcotes Derby is that some of the horses are ex-racehorses, but run under different names.
As well as thoroughbred racehorses you can see hunters, eventers, show horses, ponies and even Clydesdales.
Nobody knows until the riders actually appear on the morning of the race who is actually going to take part – making it a tricky job for the race’s only bookie Chris Johnson.
The course starts at a post on the outskirts of Etton, climbing steadily to go over Goodmanham Wold, before downhill towards Enthorpe Woods, over an old railway bridge, and then a lull before a hard climb to the finish.