July Mongol Derby Day 4: The eye of the storm
Four days into the July 2022 Mongol Derby and we have our first major shake-up of the leaderboard since our 46 riders blasted off the start line: Annie Hackett (AHA) and Sam Edney (SED) have fallen off the pace for the first time, as we come up against some mountainous terrain. There is a new double act in town. Chris Walker (CWA) and Patrick Heffron (PHE) have ridden a blinder to launch themselves clear of the rest of the field, camped roughly halfway between HS12 and HS13. But they’re not out of the woods yet, closely stalked by a pack of three very determined riders snapping at their hooves.
Deirdre Griffith’s (DGR) calculated early morning horse selection has clearly paid off. Riding alongside Sean McBride (SMC) and Willemien Jooste (WJO) since they hoofed it out of their campsite between HS5 and HS6 yesterday morning, the group have pulled off something of a miracle to propel themselves almost to the head of the race. Camped just outside HS12, they have raced through a formidable four horse stations in just one day, having set off this morning from a campsite between HS8 and HS9. But will they be able to hold off the group of six riders camped just behind them at HS12 in the morning, fresh from a night of (relative) comfort in the horse station gers? WJO especially may be facing a sub-optimal night’s sleep checking her horse hasn’t gone AWOL, having misplaced her hobbles early in the day. Tyler Donaldson-Atiken (TDO) for one is certainly making the most of ger comforts, evidently having worked up quite the appetite. It’s all to play for tomorrow.
The morning did not dawn too brightly. Vet Dr Cozy reported “cold, wet and miserable” conditions on course. A sudden change for a field up until now more concerned with getting enough water on board than shaking it off. Would the dismal conditions be enough to dampen the pace at the front of the race, or provide a welcome break from the heat of the first few days?
Early indicators were positive: overnight leaders AHA, CWA, Howard Bassingthwaighte (HBA), PHE, SED and Tiffany Atteberry (TAT) wasted no time in tacking up and tanking off into the drizzle from HS9 this morning, ahead of their nearest rivals back at HS8. Sadly for HBA and TAT the early pace was not to last: the two found themselves literally bogged down while still in sight of HS9, but managed to extricate themselves safely to retain contact with the others.
Meanwhile, TDO and SMC were hot on their heels, appearing at HS9 after a night camping out and followed closely by DGR and WJO.
The midpack, having camped en masse last night at HS8, made a strong start this morning but splintered early on: Michael Field (MFE), Kayleigh Davenport (KDA), Lena Haug (LHA) and Claire Vile (CVI) stuck together, while Renee Senter (RSE), Heidi Falzon (HFA) and Julie Wolfert (JWO) took an alternative route. 2019 Mongol Derby veteran MFE woke up on his birthday (our third Derby birthday so far – we can’t really think of anywhere we’d rather spend the day either) to a stroke of extraordinary luck: after losing his horse complete with all his gear outside of HS7 yesterday, a herder appeared as if by magic, dragging the reluctant steed in his wake. He was later spotted trundling towards HS10 at a brisk trot, grinning from ear to ear on an improbably chunky but businesslike chestnut. Happy Birthday, MFE: the Derby Gods are smiling on you.
Kathy Gabriel (KGA), Flurina Hammer (FHA) and Sarah Endress (SEN) had a slightly more sedentary start, heading out of HS8 a little later than the rest of their overnight companions in some persistent drizzle. FHA has perfected her herder skills over the past few days, and was spotted executing a perfect steppe waltz with a particularly exuberant partner at HS9 later on in the day.
Further back in the field, Allison Kohlberg (AKO) and Wojciech Heliasz (WHE) trotted into HS8 this morning after a night out on the steppe between HS7 and HS8 last night, while the next bunch comprised of Iona Hutley (IHU), Madeleine Motelay (MMO), Siobhan Ryan (SRY), Marianne Finch (MFI), Sara Beck (SBE) and Eleanor Aitken (EAI) followed in their hoofprints. Never afraid of taking the road less travelled, AKO and WHE subsequently had a merry time between HS8 and HS9 drawing some beautiful zig-zags on our tracker map, somewhat alarmingly in an area reportedly being used by Mongol army tanks for target practice. Happily, they emerged unscathed from their brush with oblivion. Alexandra Fettterman (AFE) meanwhile took a short break from navigating between HS7 and HS8, and enjoyed a leisurely jaunt around a local gold mine.
Jumping back up the field, TDO and SMC passed through HS9 together, tantalisingly close to the leading pack who shortly after made it into HS10. The gap was closing, as SMC came close to reaching the head of the race for the first time. KGA was spotted ripping across the steppe towards HS9 on a little grey rocket, her cowgirl antics from yesterday having done her no harm. She remains committed to picking the buckiest broncos of the bunch, charming herder after herder with her suicidal enthusiasm.
The front runners retained a united front through HS10, all waved through by the vets and remounted for 10:10. At the other end of the field, Alexa Towersey (ATO), Brandy Dobbyn (BDO) and Tobias Endress (TEN) (long since abandoned by sister SEN, tonight two horse stations ahead) were being scrutinised by senior vet Dr Kit back at HS7. The gap between the bookends of the field is widening: would these riders be able to claw themselves back into contention?
The front pack remained united on the way into HS11. Guards were dropped: SED was spotted rapping in the rain alongside hypeman AHA, while TAT had the ride of her life aboard a rocket dragging her to the front of the pack for the whole leg. CWA meanwhile emerged having made a surprise outfit change. Choosing an ideal day to lose track of his raincoat, he managed to commandeer a very fetching local herder essential: the knee length plastic tunic. Sadly there are no points for style, but we can’t wait to see what his wardrobe has in store for us next.
The party of 6 vetted out of HS11 together again, evenly matched and roaming as a pack. SED was sad to say goodbye to her favourite mount of the race so far despite his unnerving lack of brakes. TDO and SMC were tenaciously clinging on behind them, sniffing out the lead between HS11 and HS12 on two handy looking mounts. CWA and PHE waited until HS12 to make their move: suddenly, they broke away from the pack, and wasted no time in legging it to HS13, trying to put some distance between them and their stunned former riding buddies. Word on the steppe is the odour emanating from PHE’s boots may be enough to keep the chasing pack at bay. Ingenious tactics.
At the end of a long leg of being hosed by the heavens and battered by hail, KDA rolled into the magical spot home to HS11 beaming after an “awesome” day / horse, crossing some serious mountains with a “steady, kind” steed: “couldn’t ask for anything better.” RSE and JWO meandered in around the same time from an alternative direction, their steeds happily munching the grass beneath them while they recounted tales of a thoroughly enjoyable leg soaking it all in on “the scenic route.”
Cesca Green (FGR) has also joined the Adventure party, having taken a knock or two. Her sunny disposition remains intact, with intentions to enjoy the ride in the Blood Wagon alongside Ciara Cahill (CCA) for now before getting back in the saddle when she’s feeling a little less tender. CCA has had a bit of rotten luck with some sort of stomach upset which has kept her away from remounting, but is enjoying the Mongolian tunes blasting from the Blood Wagon as she is chauffeured around the steppe.
Today was a very important day for one inhabitant of HS10: the son of a herder family had his first horse in the Derby. Proud as punch, he stood by waiting for his prized steed to be selected from the horse lines positively fizzing with excitement. Start ’em young.
We are very sad to report the retirement of PRA and NTA from the race. Their joie de vivre and plucky spirits will be sorely missed.
Our final shoutout for the day goes to BDO, soldiering on in Adventure category with a broken finger and multiple broken ribs. Tough cookie.
Day 4 Close of Play
Between HS12 – HS13: CWA, DGR, PHE, SMC, WJO
HS12: AHA, HBA, KGA, SED, TAT, TDO
HS11: CVI, FHA, HFA, JWO, KDA, LHA, MFE, RSE, SEN (BST – Adventure)
HS10: AFE, AKO, AGA, BFA, GTI, KCA, MKE, WOS, WHE
Between HS9 – HS10: IHU, MMO, PGO
HS9: ATO, EAI, MFI, SBE, SRY, TEN (BDO – Adventure)
Blood Wagon (Adventure Class): CCA, FGR
Retired: JON, NON, NTA, PRA
Late riding: AFE (150 mins), AKO (10 mins), BFA (150 mins), KGA (TBC)
Vet penalties (2 hours): TEN
No check out: GTI (1 hour)
Photo credits: Louise Crosbie, Eledv-Ochir Bayarsaihan, Stevie Delahunt, Tulgaa Skizz, Shari Thompson, Erik Cooper.
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