The oldest horse race in England is coming up on the rails towards its 500th appearance on the nation’s annual sport calendar.
Henry VIII was the King of England when the first ever Kiplingcotes Derby took place over a four-mile-long countryside course in 1519, and the 499th race in its history will be held on Thursday March 15th in 2018.
It has taken place in the village of Market Weighton every year since its inception thanks, in part, to one local farmer who – during the harsh winter of 1947 when no-one was daring enough to race – took it upon himself to lead a horse around the course to ensure the historic race’s unbeaten record would remain intact.
According to official records, Chester Racecourse – “The Roodee” – is the oldest racecourse still in use in England, with the first recorded race being staged there on February 9th 1539. The first ever Kiplingcotes Derby took place in The Yorkshire Wolds a full 20 years before that, but it was not until 1669 that it became an “endowed race” – thus ensuring its future.
Still one of the quirkiest sporting events in Britain, 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.
The unpredictable weather at this time of the year, and the nature of the course, still make it a challenge for everyone taking part.
One major quirk of the ancient rules of the race – drawn up in 1618 – means that 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 – of £4.25 each!). Similarly, no-one knows how many horses and riders will enter the race until the morning of the Derby itself.
Market Weighton – or Wicstun as it was referred to in the Domesday Book – is now one of the many attractive villages and market towns in The Yorkshire Wolds made famous by the paintings of David Hockney.
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.