August Mongol Derby Day 7: The heat is on
Day 7 of the August 2022 Mongol Derby has drawn to a close. Our leading rider is only two horse stations from reaching nirvana: the finish line, complete with cold drinks, hot showers and clean clothes. And yet, it’s looking like the title could go down to our second nail-biting dash for the line of the summer. Erdene-Ochir Uuganbayar (EOU) has shaken off the rest of the leading pack and has made it to HS25, but the unflappable Callie King (CKI) continues with her quietly determined stormer of a race and lurks just behind him, camped between HS24 and HS25 and no doubt ready to launch herself back onto the steppe first thing in the morning. Which of these two, or any of the others snapping at their hocks, will hurtle over the line first?
For the first time in days, there was no threat of rain on the horizon today. The temperature cranked up again, along with the sporting tension. It was a day the Intrepid Medics team fear: prime heatstroke territory. They were spotted anxiously fanning riders at every opportunity, and stalking around gers threatening to spike water bladders with electrolytes. Defence is the best form of attack, after all. The vets were also having a busy day, with the soaring temperatures liable to have a commensurate effect on their equine patients’ heart rates.
Our overnight front runners, EOU, CKI and Bilegbat Erdensukh (BBE), were mounted and revving their engines bright and early this morning ready to get down to business. CKI was the first to zoom out at 07:02, looking like she was going to gain an early lead on the Mongolian squad. They were off and chasing by 07:07, and the race was on. Just behind them, the ladies on their tails were giving chase. Victoria Wang (VWA) arrived into HS21 after camping out last night with a local family, with Abbi Bell (ABE) just 9km behind her having had her own steppe adventure. VWA’s saddle had undergone some alterations courtesy of her host family, carried out with a “big needle and packing tape.” Nothing a bit of Mongolian ingenuity can’t fix.
Rochelle Latka (RLA) had HS20 to herself last night, giving her some time to recover from the blow of her first horse penalty last night. And recover she did: up and at ’em at sparrow fart this morning, she picked horse number 12 from the lucky dip at lottery HS20, which turned out to be the herder’s favourite. Also proving a hit with the herders were RLA’s distinctive chaps, which she nearly lost to an admiring fan while preparing to jet out. Pleasantly, her mount didn’t try to flatten her either, which she did admit makes a nice change.
VWA’s pick at HS21 had clearly woken up on the wrong side of the horseline this morning, outraged to have been roused from his slumber. One severe broncing fit later, he got over his funk and allowed VWA to mount on and trot out at a clip, pursuing the leading group en route to HS22. With RLA zooming towards HS21 with a new lease of life and a horse with a very full tank, ABE was checked in and out of HS21 in 15 minutes on the nose, but had a falling out with her new steed while barely out of sight of the horse station. He returned, one ABE lighter, shortly after, following which she appeared on the horizon herself, trudging resignedly back into the station. At that point she decided she may as well wait for RLA while she got her new steed ready, and prepared to reunite with her riding buddy.
Meanwhile, further ahead, CKI had managed to sneak in front of the boys, and made it into HS22 first. She commented she was feeling “good”, keeping a cool head in a pretty exciting situation on a hot day, with all the calm composure we have come to expect from her. But the boys weren’t far behind. There was a tense wait for BBE, who rolled into HS22 with a slightly chunky mount. The heat appeared to be a bit too much for tumshy: despite his best efforts to cool his steed by determinedly drenching him in water, BBE received his third vet penalty of the race when his horse’s heart rate remained above 56bmp 30 minutes after his arrival into the horse station. This was quite the hammer blow: a third vet penalty means 4 hours on the naughty step, and was the last strike before disqualification.
HS22 proved something of a bogey spot for both of the local riders. EOU’s rodeo luck finally ran out, as he was thrown off by a particularly acrobatic livewire and found himself unceremoniously deposited, arse first, on the steppe. Dusting himself off casually, he quietly returned his initial pick, and instead moved onto a more sedate looking palomino.
Crashing the party at HS22 not long after was VWA, who by this stage of the Derby has her priorities straight and headed straight into the catering ger for a good refuel. She had been lugged there by a “trotter” who had stuck steadfastly to his favourite gear for what she felt had been a very, very long leg. While VWA got some food on board, CKI was heading out on a mercifully laid back grey.
EOU, now lacking his compatriot stuck on the penalty bench, was taking no prisoners. He caught up with CKI in no time to lead the way into HS23. The pair arrived together, on foot and, in EOU’s case, with his saddle slung over his shoulder, the better to give his horse a break. You could practically hear VWA’s hoofbeats as she drummed across the plain on their trail, barely 15km behind them.
It wasn’t long before BBE was joined at HS22 by RLA and ABE, albeit temporarily as they vetted clear sharpish and moved on to new horses. RLA put on some entertainment, as she bravely attempted to mount a big dun brute seemingly intent on squashing her into the steppe. Herders looked on in morbid fascination, muttering amongst themselves that they certainly wouldn’t be volunteering to work that one in for her, before RLA deftly mounted and “chu-chu”-ed her foul tempered mount out onto the steppe. Is she insanely brave, or just insane? At this point we still can’t quite say.
Jumping back to HS23, and CKI vetted through ahead of EOU. EOU’s horse came through shortly after, to a yell of delight from EOU. He wasted no time in picking and tacking up his next mount, an initially calm looking chestnut. But never judge a book: no sooner had EOU swing his leg across his steed’s back than the horse leapt into the air, twisting and plunging furiously. EOU had already come off once today: it wasn’t happening again. He rode it out with astonishing stickability, leaving us all to puzzle over what on earth his horse at HS22 could possibly have pulled to eject him.
The two leaders were still flying neck and neck by the time they reached HS24, ambling in to a large crowd of fans while leading their horses With only six minutes left for their horses heart rates’ to drop down to 56, neither had passed the vet check. Exultation for EOU as he passed in the nick of time; agony for CKI who received her first vet penalty of the Derby, meaning a 2 hour time out. CKI, to her immense credit, seems unable to shake the smile from her face on the steppe, even on receiving such disappointing news. Had EOU just secured himself the lead?
It might have looked that way, but BBE had already blasted out of HS22 on an athletic looking bay, a man on a mission. RLA and ABE had also just reached HS23, with VWA only 2km behind them.
Knowing he had the chasing pack breathing down his neck and keen to maximise his advantage, EOU mounted up on yet another nutjob equine and expertly urged him out of HS24 with just 1.5 hours left of glorious summer evening left to ride. HS25 was within his sights, but could he possibly make it on time? Vet penalty served, CKI subsequently mounted up and flew out of HS24 to put as much distance as possible between her and the bloodhounds on her scent before close of riding hours. She selected the herder in residence’s favourite horse for the job, apparently trained to rear on command (and, one would hope, only on command). She has made it 6km out of HS24 this evening to spend what, odds are, will be her final night on the steppe in the ger complex of an enormous family who were extremely excited to see her. Kind-hearted as ever, she agreed to let the resident kids have a ride in her saddle, which left her in a slightly hairy situation when her horse, overcome with excitement at the party atmosphere, only passed the heart rate check at the very last minute.
Ahead of her, astonishingly EOU made it into HS25 tonight at 19:04, meaning he has incurred an 8 minute late riding penalty (late riding penalties being double the time by which you arrive beyond set riding hours). He sits at the head of the lead, alone, for the first time. Has he timed his attack perfectly to hold off the rest of the field for tomorrow, or will he be caught and picked off?
RLA and VWA made it into HS24 with RLA finding time for a short mud bath en route, and are joined by BBE, who has put in a jaw-dropping ride this afternoon to bounce back from what was, not unreasonably, expected by many to be a race ending four hour vet penalty. ABE fell slightly behind on the last leg of the day and is camped en route to HS24, accompanied by an assortment of younger steppe residents, fascinated by their strange looking (and by Day 7 realistically also strange smelling) guest.
Meanwhile, there was no shortage of entertainment in the mid and rear sections of the field. Shandie Johnson (SJO) awoke this morning to spy her sneaky stallion motoring off into the distance from her campsite between HS16 and HS17 last night, despite being securely hobbled. She somehow managed to track down and collar her errant steed herself, and drag him back to her tack to make it into HS17 this morning. By this point her pony had apparently decided she wasn’t so bad after all, making a big show of snuggling into her and demanding constant attention. Despite his short attention span, SJO described him as the biggest “lover” of all her Derby mounts to date. Her night out on the steppe had another benefit: she stumbled across a “real cucumber”, the first interaction with a vegetable she has had since leaving civilisation.
Sarah Carroll (SCA) was all smiles this morning, extolling the benefits of a sound night’s sleep at HS17 and a restorative dip in the river. She was thrilled to be back on board and heading back out to enjoy a gorgeous day on the steppe with “some laughs along the way.” Krista Carter (KCA) was keen to pick a dependable sort this morning, beginning to feel the bruises to body and pride obtained from her brushes with some less co-operative mounts. She selected a very smart little palomino, who did a great job of getting her morning off to a flying start en route to HS18.
Meredith Jarman (MJA), Stefanie Buettner (SBU), Joyce Bergsma (JBE) and Carla Rasdall (CRA) continue to ride as a little band, rolling into HS17 this morning after camping out together last night with a family who insisted on escorting them to water their horses, for fear of losing them in the flooded river. SBU was beaming in the morning sun at HS17 happily grazing her horse while recounting tales of the exceptional hospitality she enjoyed last night, where the girls had a ger to themselves.
Mary Donohue (MDO) gave us all a small heart attack this morning at HS18 when mounting a horse who preferred standing on two hooves to four, but she handled it with incredible skill and pushed him forwards out to HS19.
Jessica Di Pasquale (JDP) also had a tough time of it at HS18, when the steppe finally got the better of her stirrup. Undaunted, she recruited vet Ochirbat to help, and soon found herself riding off with some much more authentic local kit.
Arianna Leoni Sceti (ALE) and Adele Dobler (ADO) found themselves leading the charge from HS17 to HS18 this morning. Making it there in good time by 09:36, ALE was full of praise for her first mount of the day and was looking a little relieved. Strength regained after a pretty unpleasant day yesterday which saw her riding along vomiting off the side of her horse (hopefully when crosswinds were low), she elected to wait at HS18 for her riding buddies and nurses SCA and Kate MacTaggart (KMA) to arrive to ride on as a unit. Luckily ALE’s next horse was fine with the delay, content to snooze by her side while also propping up a dozy herder.The two trotted in soon after, and the ladies rode out as a three to crack on to HS19. On the steppe, loyalty as a team can be the key to making it round in one piece.
Setting off from HS18 this morning, Willy Evert (WEV) and Ron Tira (RTI) found themselves very willing passengers on the chu-chu express, clocked tanking along at 40mph on some serious horsepower. So aerodynamic were their mounts, the pair rocked up at HS19 and found themselves in the company of Tom Lambert (TLA), Hugh McMurtrie (HMC), Alex Muirhead (AMU) and Zoe Geddes (ZGE), the long-standing foursome tackling the steppe as a unit who had camped between HS18 and HS19 the night before.
Setting off from their campsite between HS19 and HS20, Ben and Hugh Dampier-Crossley (BDA, HDM) and Stan Michael (SMI) continued their fruitful alliance today, also bedding down together tonight along with Carol Federighi (CFE) between HS22 and HS23. BDA and HDM hit the gas out of HS20 on some prized naadam champion horses, but got smacked with vet penalties for their efforts, and were forced to take a two hour time out. HDM used his time wisely, as usual taking the opportunity to make friends with the locals at every horse station.Last night, the boys reported being fed a veritable feast by their host family. Good timing, too: by this point in the race, riders start to discover ribs they never knew they had.
SMI has had something of a shocker today. His first steed this morning at HS20 did not like the look of him, and swiftly flung him off over his head. Shaking this setback off, he was straight back up and exchanging his edgy equine for a more amiable mount. He ran into another spot of bother at HS22, where he realised he had lost his vet card, grounds for a one hour penalty. He made the most of his break by tucking into the watermelon on offer while Vet Anna scrabbled about for materials from which to fashion a replacement. As if that wasn’t rubbish enough, he then received a 2 hour vet penalty. Sorry SMI, it has been a tough one: hats off to you.
Also teaming up on the steppe today were Helen Davey (HDA) and Aliina and Margaret Keers (AKE and MKE), riding strongly to make it to HS22 by close of play. AKE made it in before her twin sister, but elected to wait for MKE to catch up to her having sat a vet penalty incurred at HS20. MKE and HDA made it in at 18:56 in the nick of time, by which point AKE had taken the opportunity to clean and hang all her tack. She wasn’t the only one on the steppe today paying attention to kit cleaning: at HS18 riders and crew were busy scrubbing girths clean, to prevent horses suffering from any rubbing.
It was a particularly fun day for HDA, who bagged herself the best horse of the lot at lottery station HS20. She rolled out, delightedly singing to herself about being “a lucky girl.”
While HDA, AKE and MKE were en route to HS20 earlier in the day, CFE was just behind them forging her own path. She had to start a bit tardily due to a late riding penalty but is nothing if not efficient and squeezed in some yoga before getting back in the saddle. Pulling her best horse yet to HS20 who “just never slowed down”, she made it ahead of the others to HS21, hounding down the leaders. Shortly behind her, HMC, ZGE, AMU, RTI and WEV were bearing down on HS21, with TLA just out of HS20 having had to sit out a penalty meaning he found himself separated from his gang. In a favourable turn of events, he was then paired up with a lucky charm of a chestnut: spotted bowling along en route to HS21 and catching up to HMC and AMU for the evening, he was spotted delightedly explaining “I love this horse!”. Luckily, some initial confusion over navigation was resolved, and he made it in good time on his supersonic pony.
Back on the blood wagon (aka the party bus), after a group stretching class on the steppe, Lisa Smith (LSM) has been busy demonstrating her favourite method of map reading. A masterclass in steppe improvisation.
That’s all for today, folks. We’ll be back tomorrow to, almost certainly, report on the leader lifting the (proverbial) August Mongol Derby 2022 trophy. Anything but a one-horse race.
Photo credits: Shari Thompson, Louise Crosbie, Andy Fraser, Anna Bowker, Charles Van Wyk, Bayarsaihan Ochiroo, Babi Photography, Mandakhaa, Erik Cooper, Erin Nagle
Day 7 Close of Play
Between HS24 – HS25: CKI
HS24: BBE, RLA, VWA
Between HS23 – HS24: ABE
Between HS22 – HS23: BDA, CFE, HDM, SMI
HS22: AKE, HDA, MKE
Between HS21 – HS22: RTI, WEV, ZGE
HS21: AMU, HMC, TLA
HS20: ADO, ALE, BHO, JDP, KCA, KMA, MDO, OSU, SCA
Between HS19 – HS20: MJA
HS19: CRA, JBE, SBU, SJO
Adventure Class: AGU, AMC, BMA, CDV, ESU, KMC, LSM, MJO, NBE
Retired: ELE, KSL, PLO, RLI
Vet penalties: BBE (4 hours), BDA (3 hours), CKI (2 hours), HDA (2 hours), HDM (2 hours), HMC (2 hours), MKE (2 hours), SJO (2 hours), SMI (2 hours)
Late riding: ALE (28 mins), BBE (54 mins), CRA (80 mins), EOU (8 mins), JBE (80 mins), KMA (28 mins), SCA (28 mins), SBU (84 mins)
Lost vet card: SMI (1 hour)