For centuries, horses have thundered across this four-mile course. These aren’t your typical racehorses, and it isn’t your typical racetrack. All horses—Thoroughbred or not—are qualified to run in what’s considered England’s oldest horse race.
Said to have first been run in 1519, and written in records dating from the early 17th century, the Kiplingcotes Derby welcomes horses and riders of all ages and backgrounds. The oldest recorded rider was 74 years old.
The derby takes place on the third Thursday in March. The participants turn up on the day, pay the entry fee, and then they’re good to go. There is only one bookmaker, who doesn’t get advance notice of runners and must fix his odds on the day of the race.
You’ll see sleek, well-muscled sport horses galloping alongside draft horses and other stocky breeds. Some riders sport colorful silks, while others wear their everyday riding attire. Locals line the course, cheering on the contestants as they whiz past.
The derby is a point-to-point flat race and takes place on rough and, in some places, steep and muddy farm tracks. The finishing is post placed on the grass verge of a public highway, which forms the final straight.
Strangely, it’s actually more lucrative to finish second best than to win. The winner gets £50 (and to keep the trophy until the next race), and the second place rider gets the remainder of the entry fees. Because of the number of horses that enter the race, this runner up prize often comes to much more than the first place reward. But still, there are many who are eager to win. It’s said that retired racehorses are sometimes entered under false names.
Tradition has it that if the race is canceled one year, it will never run again. In the few recorded instances when the race has been canceled in its long history, steps are taken to ensure the tradition is maintained. In 2018, the course was deemed too dangerous to run due to waterlogging, so two horses were ridden slowly, and at times lead by hand, across the track so future races could still occur.
Know Before You Go
Since 2013, parking restrictions have been imposed close to the finishing post on race days, so be prepared for a long walk from the nearest legal parking lot or take the shuttle bus from nearby Market Weighton.