Kiplingcotes Derby, East YorkshireThe Kiplingcotes Derby is the oldest flat race run in England, dating back to 1519 according to local legend, and certainly endowed in 1669. It is a genuine sporting event, run over a set course with its own particular entry rules – 10 stone minimum weight plus saddle, no age restrictions on horses, entrants to declare at the finishing post by 11am, the race to be run before 2pm. But it is a sporting event with – obviously – history behind it, and more than a whiff of eccentricity. The winner receives £50 in prize money, but if there are enough entrants the second placed rider who takes all those fees in prize money does better than the winner – this was the case with the 2008 running.
The course for the Kiplingcotes, a small settlement near Market Weighton in East Yorkshire, runs through back lanes and along farm tracks, and at one point requires the main road between Driffield and Market Weighton to be closed by the police to allow the runners and riders to cross. The finishing post is just that, looking like a footpath signpost on Londesborough Wold Farm. The starting post is no more remarkable - a small stone marker on a verge in the hamlet of Etton. But it would be harsh to complain, the clerk of the course is paid the less than royal sum of five shillings (25p) to oversee and maintain the race route.
With an entry fee of £4.25 per horse the event perhaps does not classify as elite, but the four miles takes some riding, and given the race is traditionally run on the third Thursday in March the weather can be a major factor – never more so than in 1947, when the worst winter in living memory smothered the country in ice and snow. One brave farmer led his horse round the course at the appointed time, however. The conditions were too dangerous for riding, but the course had to be covered or a clause in the 1669 endowment would mean this historic event could never be run again. In 2001 during the foot and mouth crisis a sole rider completed the course for the same reason, to ensure its continuity. Let’s hope the true sportsmen and women of East Yorkshire (and beyond) can keep that link with 1519 unbroken.
More British Folk Customs?