What’s the oldest horse race run in Britain?

The Kiplingcotes Derby is reputedly the oldest and arguably the ‘wackiest’ horse race run in Britain. As the name suggests, the race has been run, on the third Thursday in March, on a four-mile course from Etton to Londesborough Wold Farm, near Kiplingcotes, a hamlet in the East Riding of Yorkshire, every year – with a few notable exceptions – since 1519. The course is virtually straight, but precipitous in part and easily waterlogged; country lanes, roadside verges and farmland all form part of the four-mile journey.

The traditional rules of the Kiplingcotes Derby state that if the race is not run once it can never be run again. So, in the event of cancellation – as happened in 1947, because of snow, 2001, because of foot-and-mouth disease, 2018, because of damage to the course and 2020, because of coronavirus –

a lone jockey ‘walks’ the course to ensure the survival of the race.

Horses and riders of any age or ability can enter, subject to payment of an entry fee and a minimum weight requirement of 10st 0lb, without tack; they simply need to assemble at the winning post by 11.00am on the morning of the race, for the formal reading of the rules. Paradoxically, also riders weigh in at the winning post before making their way to the start and racing back in the opposite direction. According to the rules, the winner receives fixed prize money of £50, but the runner-up receives 80% of the remainder of the entry fees on the day; at £5 per person, at the last count, it is not difficult to see how the winner often comes off second-best in terms of prize money.