Once highlights of the racing calendar as staging posts to the classics and seasons feature races these two Epsom Spring Meeting handicaps no longer attract the quality of horse that they once did. Now they appear to be not much more than valuable handicaps in which no trainer would ever dream of running a Camelot, Mars, Dawn ApproachToronado or horse with classic potential. But back in the 19th century Derby and Guineas winners swelled the ranks of these contests.

The Great Metropolitan Handicap was unique in the racing calendar as it started by the Epsom finishing post and turned off the main course up into the Epsom Downs winding over a two mile two furlong course which was special to the race. However, in 1985 due to safety concerns the raced was reduced to a mile and a half and was from then on run on the Epsom course proper  with its special character being forever lost. The race holds another special place in racing history as being the first race back in 1947 where the placings were decided by a photo-finish.

The City & Suburban was a mainstay trial for the Derby and other classics (now in some respects replaced by the Derby Trial which is on the meetings card). In I854 the super tough filly Viragowon both the City & Suburban and Great Metropolitan on her way to winning the 1000 Guineas.Sefton in 1878 went from the City & Suburban on to victory in the Derby that year. With the greatBend Or doing the reverse by winning the 1880 Derby and coming back to Epsom to win the 1881 contest. The brilliant Fred Archer won the City & Suburban Handicap five times accompanying on one occasion the American horse Parole for his famous Great Metropolitan and City & Suburban double in 1879.

KIPLINGCOTES DERBY – The oldest annual race

On the eve of the 2013 flat season riders will gather with their mounts to take place in the oldest annual  horse race – The Kiplingcotes Derby

For 494 years horses and their riders have gathered in the fields and lanes of  Yorkshire to race the four miles course of the Kiplingcotes Derby. With the first prize being the princely sum of £50 and the clerk of course being only paid five shillings a year to maintain the course this race may miss the headlines of many racing papers and columns.

The Derby will not see the likes of Camelot take the field but will have no less passion amongst the competitors than the Epsom Classic that is not even half its age. The rules state that all riders must weigh in at ten stone excluding saddles and that those wishing to take part need to gather at the winning post by 11am before riding out to the start. A horse of any age can be ridden in the race.

In 1947 and 2001 the future of the ancient race was threatened firstly by a harsh winter and then by the outbreak of foot and mouth. It is stated that if the race does not take part one year that it must never take place again. In both years a single horse and man made the journey down the course to save its future.

In 2013 the race is likely to attract a good number of participants and a sizeable group of spectators. The race is due to take place on Thursday 21 March near the town East Yorkshire town of Market Weighton. For more details about this year’s race: www.wicstun.com/derby

(References – Wikipedia – The Kiplingcotes Derby , wicstun.com and calendarcustoms.com) 

(Photograph – Kiplingcotes Derby Finishing Post by Ian Lavender Geograph.org.uk – Wikimedia Commons)