Richard Harper and his horse Benny may have become the oldest pairing ever to compete in England’s oldest race, the Kiplingcotes Derby.
This was the 503rd consecutive running of the Yorkshire event - so there’s no way of knowing - but the Kings Sutton combination of 90 years, were definitely the oldest this year and finished fourth out of 19 entries.
The first Richard knew about the race, believed to have started in 1519, was when he read a newspaper article featuring the 500th winner three years ago.
“I thought nothing more about it other than it looked quite fun,” he said.
“The race is always run on the third Thursday in March, come hell or high water, otherwise it is never run again.”
Richard, who farms the family farm with his son Charlie, has always ridden, his parents buying him his first horse for point to pointing in his late teens.
“That autumn I had another look at the history of the race, which is amazing having been run for 500 years and a little seed grew,” he said.
“I have a horse called Benny, real name Chapel House, who made me a permit holder 10 years ago (an amateur trainer who trains horses over jumps in national hunt racing).
“He has been a joy to own and train and has given me and other people so much pleasure. He was the only horse from home I would have taken.”
Richard had entered the 2020 race, but it was officially cancelled the day before, because of the Covid pandemic, but just run by two riders - the same in 2021, so it began to feel like it would never happen for him.
But this year, with Benny now aged 19, they made the 170-mile journey.
The race is run over a straight four-mile plus course slightly undulating and a gentle incline to the finish, consisting of road, tracks mud and slush.
The combined ages of horse and jockey was 90,oldest in the race.
“Having weighed out at 10 45, minimum 10 stone and had the rules read out by a lady as it was read out in 1590 something…19 of us set off to the start, four miles away, only to turn round and gallop back,” explained Richard.
“With the odd spectator standing by, one cannot imagine what it is like unless one has done it, trying to pick the best route for one’s steed.
“Triers and non triers alike.the flag drops and off we go!
“Benny was in his element having never galloped four miles in his life!
“Having been happy just to get to the start he finished fourth of 19 which is beyond belief and came home safe and sound.
“Having said goodbye to many new friends we had made in the few hours we were there, we left for our journey back home with so many happy memories.
“We were made so welcome, the furthest anyone else had travelled was about 40 miles.
“So much could have gone wrong, but all went like clockwork.
“Benny had travelled for seven hours in the trailer and 350 miles, trotted and galloped eight and a half miles, been away from home for 13 hours truly amazing…. and was as fresh as a daisy the next day!”