Derby Day
In the year that the Kiplingcotes Derby, believed to be England’s, if not the world’s, oldest horse race, celebrates its 500th anniversary, we take a look at its history…
In 1519, Henry VIII had been on the throne for just a decade of his 38-year reign, and was still married to wife number one of six, Catherine of Aragon.

Leonardo da Vinci died that year; Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan crossed the Atlantic and navigated the straits at the southernmost point of Chile that were subsequently named after him.

And in East Yorkshire, a couple of squires had an argument over whose horse was the better, and decided to settle it with a race.

The Kiplingcotes Derby was born – and what would those 16th-century squires think if someone had told them that the race they cooked up would one day celebrate its 500th anniversary in a world that would be completely unrecognisable to them?

An arduous four-mile roadside course starting on the outskirts of South Dalton, it ends at Londesborough Wold near Kiplingcotes.

Still following the original rules written up in 1519, any horse can enter (previous entrants have ranged from ponies to retired racehorses competing under false names), but riders must weigh in at 10 stones, excluding saddle (or carry weights to make it up). Age, though, is no barrier – previous jockies have been in their 70s.

No one knows until the horses arrive on the day who’ll be entering, making it hard to take a punt – the course bookie, a recent innovation, has to make some tough last minute decisions!

In a twist delightful to anyone who loves the eccentricity of the British, the second-placed rider is likely to win more than the first – the winner gets a fixed prize of £50, the runner-up takes the entrance fees, which often amount to more. The winner, however, also gets to keep a rather magnificent trophy for a year.

Tradition has it that if a year goes by without the race being run, it ends – so on the odd occasion when something goes wrong (at the end of the legendary winter of 1947, it was halted by snow drifts; in 2001, by the foot-and-mouth crisis; last year, by a waterlogged course), a horse and rider walk the course to keep it alive.

The race always takes place on the third Thursday in March – in 2019 that was 21 March, when it was won by Tracey Corrigan on her horse Frog, who beat a record field of 36 competitors to lift the trophy for the fourth time.

The rules of the Kiplingcotes Derby (written in 1519)

Every man that is a Founder he is to put Twenty Shillings in Gold for his stake when he hath a horse, gelding or mare that runs for the prize, and every other person Four Pounds in Gold, and if any person that is a founder put in a horse that is not his own, he must put in Four Pounds in Gold for his stake or be adjudged not to run for the prize.

Every horse, gelding or mare that runneth for the prize shall be led out between twelve and one of the clock, and shall run the course before two of the clock in the afternoon.

Every horse, etc, that runneth for the Prize shall start bridled and saddled and shall run with rider weighing 10 st., fourteen pounds to the stone, according to ancient custom.

Every horse, etc., that runneth for the Prize shall have their Judge or Trier, and put their stakes into the clerk's hand at or before eleven of the clock, who will be at the weighing post ready to receive it, and set down the name of the owner of every horse, etc., his horse's name and colour, and his rider's name and Judge's name, and to take a record from the Judge every horse's place at the end of the course.

Whosoever doth stop or stay any of the running horses that rideth for this Prize, if he be either the owner of a horse that runs or his servant will be adjudged to hinder the horse, his horse shall win no prize.

Every rider that layeth hold of any of the other riders or striketh any of them shall win no prize.

Every rider that wanteth any more than one pound of his weight after he has run shall win no prize.

That the horse that runneth first by the Weighing Post set up at the end of the course observing the articles shall win the rize, and the second horse etc., shall have the stakes, only so muck yearly detained and taken out of the stakes as shall finish, support, repair and maintain the Rubbing Houses at the end of the course, and what be deemed necessary to be done about the said course in maintaining the weights, posts and levelling ground, etc., and any two or more of the Founders are authorised to direct and appoint yearly how much of the stakes shall be detained or taken out for the uses aforesaid.

George Plaxton, of Londesburgh, is declared to be clerk and to keep the weights, and is to receive fifteen shillings from him that winneth the Prize, that is ten shillings for keeping the weights and five shillings which he is to employ for mending the course every year, and likewise to receive twelve pence for every Trier's name that he enters in his book, and he is to appoint a man to start the horses, to whom the Master of the winning horse is to pay two shillings and sixpence, and he is to take care that there be not any horse, etc., do start within a quarter of a mile of the running horses, and the said Trustees or the major part of them is hereby declared from time to time to nominate and appoint who shall be their clerk at their will and pleasure.

All the Posts on the course to be left on the right hand, otherwise he shall win no Prize.

Every man that is a Founder and his heir's male are herby declared to be Founders to this course for ever, and that the eldest son of every Founder shall have the privilege of putting in a horse as a Founder during his father's life, and that the names of every Founder be fairly written on parchment to remain constantly with the clerk, and likewise on the same parchment to be set down in whose custody the writing or security shall remain which is taken for any part of the sums of money so contributed.

The master of those horses that run wherein there shall happen any difference, shall each of them name one Founder to determine this difference, and if they cannot agree, those two Founders are to name an Umpire.

Any of the riders being required by any of the Triers or Judges shall be weighed after the course, and in case of refusal or want of weight according to the Articles shall be adjudged the last horse.

That is any horse, etc., be brought to run under the name of a Founder and that there be any suspicion by any person that such a Founder is not really the owner of such horse etc. and that the said suspicion be declared to the clerk of the course, he is directed to acquaint the Judge or Trier of such horse etc., and such Founder, if he be on the course. is forthwith upon notice to repair to the said clerk, and engage to the Trier upon his honour that such horse etc., is really his own without any manner of equivocation, fraudulence, or deceit; or if such Founder be not upon the course himself, then some Gentlemen on his behalf is to clear the doubt in the same manner as aforesaid, and if there be no such clearing of the aforesaid doubt, then such Founder is either to put in Four Pounds towards the increase of the stakes or else to be adjudged not to be in a capacity to win the Plate, but shall be adjudged the last horse.

PUBLISHED :November 2019
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