August Mongol Derby Day 6: Luck of the draw
Day 6 of the August 2022 Mongol Derby has drawn to a close, and things are heating up. After a long, hot day in the saddle, our leading trio of riders are camped at HS21, meaning only six horse stations remain between them and the finish line. If they keep up their current eye-watering pace, we could be crowning our victor in just two days’ time. But it’s still impossibly close to call: will the final champion be one of the group of six leading the race, separated by just one horse station tonight, or will a long shot tear through to the head of the pack? It’s all to play for, as we run through the day’s updates.
After the slightly soggy last couple of days, riders may have been relieved this morning to peek out of their gers at a gorgeous dewy morning, bright sunlight all around. Most riders spent the majority of the very toasty day (bar the odd summer shower) travelling along the beautiful Tuul River between HS15 to HS18, sacred to Mongolians. The leaders have split off from the river banks to head into some gently rolling hills on the other side of HS18, with the rest of the baying pack snapping at their hocks.
At the business end of the field, the action was kicking off at HS17 this morning. All six of the leading pack were up bright and early, preparing to mount up and tackle another day on the steppe. Gaucho Derby veteran Rochelle Latka (RLA) pulled a very spritely pony off the line, who promptly ditched the sacrificial herder who kindly mounted up before RLA. Unfazed, and potentially a little impaired from a poor night’s sleep due to feeling a little ropey, RLA declared he looked fine to her, and leapt on board to hoof it out of the station in hot pursuit of Abbi Bell (ABE). She in turn was tracking Callie King (CKI), herself on the tail of the first out the gate, the home team of Erdene-Ochir Uuganbayar (EOU) and Bilegbat Erdensukh (BBE). Victoria Wang (VWA) was last to blast out, completing the leading line-up.
Despite heading out last, VWA pulled off an astonishing feat of catch-up, somehow appearing alongside BBE to ride into HS18 and scoot out again cleanly by 08:55. Not far behind them, arriving just ten minutes later, were EOU and ABE. ABE has nailed the turn-around time, strolling in and sprinting out of the station again in 20 minutes flat, stalking the leaders. Efficiency is key. By 09:30 RLA and CKI had joined the party at HS18, only to see EOU disappearing in a cloud of dust and the drumming of hooves on the steppe as he hit the gas to make up for lost time.
With all six in transit between HS18 and HS19, the crew at HS19 readied themselves to welcome the pack, peering at the gentle hills surrounding the horse station and wondering who would pop up first and where. They were in for a surprise: VWA appeared on the horizon alone, and marched towards camp leading a regal grey steed with a bit of a swagger, looking as though he’d been for a gentle stroll rather than a 30km flat out gallop. She had pulled something of a superhorse, who vetted out perfectly and was given profuse praise by VWA, having propelled her to the lead.
BBE and EOU weren’t far behind her, having seen her whizz past them as they sat on the steppe, totally stationary and grappling with BBE’s snapped stirrup leather. Executing a masterclass in Derby improvisation, the boys fashioned a replacement made from a goat leather lead rein, and BBE was back in business quick as a flash. BBE appeared concerned when he noticed VWA gallop past them in the distance en route to HS20, but EOU was unbothered: “Ah, let her pass,” he muttered with his customary megawatt smile. “She’s going through the wrong valley.” EOU’s intuition turned out to be bang on, and VWA lost her brief lead on the way into HS20, having gone up and over the proverbial hill rather than round it, as the boys elected. ABE had ridden a blinder too, and rocked up at the same time.
Never far from the action, RLA and CKI trotted in shortly after them, with CKI announcing she had had an “epic” leg through her usual enormous irrepressible smile. RLA had also apparently quite enjoyed herself, becoming a touch emotional as she gushed about her “one in a million” horse, apparently a priceless combination of rapid and sure-footed.
Sadly, RLA’s ecstasy wasn’t to last. Having made very clear throughout the race that her aim is to finish with zero vet penalties, wherever that meant she landed in the leaderboard, she received her first vet penalty at HS20. It was a tough day for RLA, who had also been soldiering on with an upset stomach and woozy head. Visibly gutted, she was left to cater to her new found love while the other five swapped horses, chucked on tack and rode out, seeking HS21.
However, that was easier said than done for some today. This year we have been trialling some “lottery” horse stations at HS19 and HS20, the system we use for all horse stations on the Gaucho Derby. This means that, instead of choosing their own horse from the horse lines, riders are allocated a number drawn from a hat, corresponding to a horse at the station in question. This levels the playing field somewhat, and, to be frank, makes the whole thing a damn sight more exciting as a spectator sport. Riders at the front may have to deal with horses which would otherwise be final pick, while those at the back could find themselves getting legged-up onto the equine equivalent of a point and seek missile.
VWA’s first pick at HS20 was, in her own words, a bit too “pony club”, a pretty little thing but sporting a slightly rounder belly than VWA looks for in seeking out the perfect equine athlete. She redrew, and was soon watching on in horror as her replacement did his best to tear out the arms of the herder clinging onto his lead rein as he bronced furiously around the horse station in violent protest against his tack. Undeterred, she mounted up anyway, but discovered that her second pick had little respect for her steering suggestions. Galloping out of HS20 on a bearing more or less totally opposite to her planned route to HS21, she managed to wheel her rogue mount around to head back into the station, where he then had a decent stab at clotheslining her on the horse lines. Swiftly dismounting before being decapitated, she decided maybe her first pony hadn’t been such a bad option at all, and trotted out of the station shortly after on a much more obliging, if potentially less speedy, mount.
ABE was also unlucky in the lottery at HS19, initially picking a steed with some extraordinary aerial acrobatics in his repertoire. Watching the herders attempt to prevent him from launching into outer space, still attached to her tack and baggage, ABE quietly asked, “Can I pick another one now?” Her wish granted, she gelled much better with pick no.2, having also swapped out a black beauty at HS19 with a bit of extra energy earlier in the day.
VWA’s switcheroo at HS20 cost her: CKI, forced to leave buddy RLA behind at HS20, caught up with EOU and BBE to camp together at HS21, taking the joint lead overnight. VWA and ABE, although both making it out of HS20, couldn’t quite rocket all the way to HS21, and are camped out tonight on the steppe with two very gracious host families. RLA has HS20 to herself tonight, giving her time to get some much needed rest before attempting to claw herself back to the front tomorrow. Will she manage it, or will this particular vet penalty spell the end of her bid for the title?
Or, could those breathing down her neck camped between HS19 and HS20 tonight potentially crash the party tomorrow with a strong ride? Brothers Ben and Hugh Dampier-Crossley (BDA, HDM) and Stan Michael (SMI) have ridden like demons today to catch up towards the lead, now tantalisingly close. SMI may be hoping for a quiet night this evening, having had a very busy time on the steppe last night. Camped out between HS15 and HS16, he found himself in the care of a herder family in the process of carrying out their summer chores. A few hours later, and SMI had assisted in castrating a stallion, rounding up some errant horses and milking the mares. Fortunately, raw horse testicles, apparently a steppe delicacy, were not on the menu.
Close behind at HS19 tonight, Carol Federighi (CFE), twins Aliina and Margaret Keers (AKE and MKE) and Helen Davey (HDA) are benefitting from the shelter of the station to charge up for a big day tomorrow. All four arrived into the station declaring they were having all of the fun (more specifically, “great Type 1 and Type 2 fun”).
Out on the steppe for the evening, next up in the field are Alex Muirhead (AMU), Hugh McMurtrie (HCM), Tom Lambert (TLA) and Zoe Geddes (ZGE), camped out somewhere between HS18 and HS19 after having ridden the entire day as a happy little family of four. AMU had a slightly hairy moment today, when his already spooky steed suffered something of a heart attack courtesy of a small mammal shuffling around underneath his water trough. Leaping into the air and almost catapulting AMU into orbit, AMU’s life, and Derby dreams, flashed before his eyes. By his own admission, by something of a miracle AMU clung on and stayed onboard. Quite enough excitement for one day. HMC had his own brush with oblivion at HS18, when his mount managed to shake him off and dump him unceremoniously over its head. Ever the athlete, HMC executed an impressive drop and roll, and bounced straight back up. Unharmed but too sensible to sign up for same treatment twice in a row, HMC swapped his horse out for something more co-operative and tootled out with his teammates, who had stuck around to watch the spectacle.
At HS18 tonight are Ron Tira (RTI) and Willy Evert (WEV), WEV having left behind riding buddy Jessica Di Pasquale (JDP), the latter camped between HS16 and HS17. RTI was spotted today swinging by a small ger settlement to flex his Mongolian sign language skills to request a drink for his thirsty horse, while WEV has been delighting the Mongolian members of the crew by yelling “Sain baina uu?!” (which roughly translates as “How ya doin’?!”) at the top of his lungs to all passing traffic.
Much of the rest of the field are kipping at HS17 tonight, including Kate MacTaggart (KMA), who had a surreal moment today when galloping past somebody’s long lost beach bag washed up on the steppe. Alice Gully (AGU), now in Adventure class but never one to miss the party, was also at HS17 extolling her friend’s “grit”, even in the face of an unsavoury Derby pedicure. She is also joined by Olof Sundstrom (OSU), who continues to sprint everywhere across the steppe when not on a horse. Time is of the essence here, folks.
Also present is Krista Carter (KCA), who pulled a horse today literally scared of his own shadow, meaning drinking out of a reflective pan of water at a horse station today was a highly nerve wracking experience for him. Mary Donohue (MOD) continues to bash across the steppe sporting her unique and rather literal take on hydration bladders. Riding for most of today with Adele Dobler (ADO) and Brittany Hook (BHO), the trio were careful to rehydrate at HS14 and hide as much of their skin as possible from the sun, resembling a group of masked ninjas slinking across the steppe. BHO had a bit of excitement at HS15, where she picked a handsome black stallion as her next partner. Displaying all his power in an impressive plunging display, he almost threw off the herder having the first go, before BHO hopped on and firmly booted her steed out the station. Off she went, some dumbfounded and highly impressed herders following her spirited departure.
They had a pleasant surprise en route to HS17, when driver Tugaa appeared as if by magic brandishing a bag of sweeties. Delightedly refuelling, the girls zoomed off on a sugar high with a new lease of life, batteries recharged after draining a little in the blazing sun.
Meanwhile, at the rear end of the field camping between HS16 and HS17, Shandie Johnson (SJO) has derived some inspiration for a new tattoo: she was so deeply besotted with her favourite steed of the race so far, who bore her nobly between HS13 and HS14, she has decided to tattoo herself with his brand when she returns to civilisation, having also befriended his rightfully proud owner.
Meanwhile, the growing contingent of blood wagon passengers are having a merry old time at the back of the field, alternating between riding legs of the race (although no longer able to win it) and simply kicking back and enjoying the steppe. Today’s itinerary included a river dip and a trip to the steppe salon, where Emma Sunnucks (ESU) was coming up with some creative uses for kitchen utensils.
On that note, we leave you with some more awe inspiring shots from today’s action. We’ll be back tomorrow, to fill you in on all the day’s thrills and spills.
Photo credits: Shari Thompson, Louise Crosbie, Andy Fraser, Anna Bowker, Charles Van Wyk, Bayarsaihan Ochiroo, Babi Photography, Mandakhaa, Erik Cooper, Erin Nagle
Day 6 Close of Play
HS21: BBE, CKI, EOU
Between HS20 – HS21: ABE, VWA
Between HS19 – HS20: BDA, HDM, SMI
HS19: AKE, CFE, HDA, MKE
Between HS18 – HS19: AMU, HMC, TLA, ZGE
HS18: RTI, WEV
HS17: ADO, ALE, BHO, JDP, KCA, KMA, MDO, OSU, SCA
Between HS16 – HS17: CRA, JBE, MJA, SBU, SJO
Adventure Class: AGU, AMC, BMA, CDV, ESU, KMC, LSM, MJO, NBE, PLO
Retired: ELE, KSL, RLI
Vet penalties: RLA (2 hours)
Late riding: CFE (26 mins)
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