England’s oldest horse race hits 500th milestone

While most of the horseracing world may have its sights set on the Cheltenham Festival in March 2019, a four-mile countryside course in the picturesque Yorkshire Wolds will provide the testing course for the country’s oldest horse race, the Kiplingcotes Derby.

Henry VIII was the King of England when the first Kiplingcotes Derby took place and ever since then, the countryside around the East Yorkshire village of Market Weighton has proudly hosted this ancient tradition with the 500th race set to run in 2019, on Thursday 21 March.

Last year’s event had to be called off because the conditions were too dangerous, but one lone rider, walked, trotted and rode his own horse around the course to ensure that the 499thDerby actually ran – keeping this unusual tradition alive and setting up the race for its historic milestone in 2019.

In fact, the race has only been cancelled twice before, once during the harsh winter of 1947 and in 2001 because of the foot and mouth outbreak, and on both occasions a local led a horse around the course. The ancient rules for the Derby – drawn up in 1618 – mean that if the race is not run one year, it must never be run again.

Among other quirks is that any horse can enter and that no-one knows how many horses and riders will enter the race until the morning of the Derby itself – while the second placed rider usually receives more prize money than the winner!  (The incentive to win the race is a first prize of £50, with the second horse home receiving a prize made up of the sum of all the entrance fees on the day).

It traditionally takes place on the third Thursday in March, starting at an old stone post on the grass verge in the parish of Etton, not far from the old Kiplingcotes railway station near Market Weighton, before covering a distance of four miles over farm lanes and tracks, and finishing at Londesborough Wold Farm.

Market Weighton – or Wicstun as it was referred to in the Domesday Book – is one of the many attractive villages and market towns in The Yorkshire Wolds. The town’s other major claim to fame is “The Yorkshire Giant” William Bradley, born on February 10th, 1787.  The fourth son of a family of thirteen, by the age of 20 he was an amazing seven feet and nine inches tall, and weighed 27 stones.  A plaque erected on the wall of William Bradley’s former house, today shows the size of the shoes – measuring fifteen inches in length and five and three-quarter inches in width – he wore.

Further tourist information can be found at www.vhey.co.uk.