While the rest of the racing world is watching Cheltenham tomorrow, I’ll be at Kiplingcotes for the Derby. It’s my favourite occasion.
The Kiplingcotes Derby is Britain’s oldest horse race. Always held on the third Thursday in March and originally called the Kiplingcotes Plate, it’s much older than the Derby itself. First run in 1519, it takes place in the East Yorkshire Wolds, near Market Weighton.
The four-mile course incorporates grass verge, ploughed field and muddy track. Furthermore, it includes two country lanes and a disused railway bridge. Finally, the runners cross the A614 Market Weighton to Driffield road and finish down a strip of grass to the winning post.
Nobody knows how many runners will take part until the morning of the race. All riders are weighed on a set of 1940s coal miner’s scales. The minimum weight is ten stone, which must be carried on the rider’s body. Therefore, those who weigh less than ten stone put lead weights down their boots or in a body belt.
The runners range from proper racehorses to hunters, eventers, Clydesdales and ponies. Last year’s winner, Mr P, better known as Mad Professor, won races over jumps for John Cornwall.
The clerk of the course reads the rules which include “any rider that striketh another rider shall win no prize”. The horses then walk to the start.
There is no commentary. Instead, the crowd waits, waits some more and waits a bit longer. Eventually, someone shouts “Here they come!”, as the leaders approach the last road crossing.
Facilities for the public have improved in recent years and now include a toilet, burger stand and, importantly, a bookmaker
Traditionally, the rider of winner receives £50. However, the rider of the second horse gets £4 of the £4.25 entry fee. Consequently, if there are more than 12 runners, the runner-up gets more money than the winner!