July Mongol Derby Day 5: Hump day
The brave yet bonkers riders of the July 2022 Mongol Derby have broken the back of the beast. They are over hump day, with five of the maximum 10 riding days behind them. And what a day it was: a beautiful, clear morning heated up into a warm afternoon, with just a smattering of refreshing showers as riders sped through lush, verdant valleys and negotiated sandy tracks. The going was good and the horses pleasantly co-operative, but our leaders have struggled to extend their lead from the tenacious chasing pack. Chris Walker (CWA) and Patrick Heffron (PHE) remain out in front after seizing the lead last night, but they have a fragile 18 minute advantage on the seven gritty riders stubbornly clinging onto their tails, camped just behind them at HS16.
Race HQ elected to extend riding hours by an extra 60 minutes until 19:00 today in light of the pleasant weather, to give riders more time to get flying through the course. Bringing up the rear of the field with irresistible good cheer, Alexa Towersey (ATO), Eleanor Aitken (EAI), Tobias Endress (TEN), Marianne Finch (MFI), Sara Beck (SBE) and Brandy Dobbyn (BDO) were allowed an additional hour to be accounted for in the final totting up of riding times, in order to bunch the field back together a little more.
Jockeys were up and at ’em early this morning, with most of the field already mounted and anxiously checking watches to get rolling for 07:00 sharp. Despite the punctual start, few had sprung out of bed: the physical reality of the pummelling which racing 100km per day across the steppe delivers to the body is starting to hit home. Many were spotted gingerly stretching out stiff legs this morning, while gear was donned with some noticeable winces and grimaces.
Some of the ladies have taken a particular beating. BDO continues to defy medical expectations and sensible advice on her “roughest day yet” as she traverses the steppe with a boundless grim determination and a set of broken ribs, MFI is now rocking a fetching purple broken thumb, and Annie Hackett’s (AHA) knee appears to have come up against some sort of emergency cheese grater stashed in her jodhpurs. Hump day indeed.
HS11 saw plenty of action today, with all those who camped there last night sweeping out in the sunshine this morning, followed by the groups of riders who had spent the night back as far as HS9. Also in attendance at HS11 this morning was a local orphaned camel, curious about all the fuss and initially willing to lend a hump to some crew members seeking a high point for the benefit of crucial race updates. His benign curiosity appeared to wear off at some point during the morning, when he began taking chunks out of vet Kipling’s arm and became something of a rambunctious presence. Apparently renowned for wandering around the local gers wreaking havoc on any home the occupants are foolish enough to leave unoccupied for too long, his position as horse station assistant was short lived, and he was shooed off to terrorise another unsuspecting family.
While presenting an unexpected challenge for the crew, he proved something of a lucky charm for riders: not a single involuntary dismount was reported at HS11, and jockeys were full of beans. The host family had even been busy overnight catching some carp as a break from the usual diet of mutton and mutton, and had somehow procured beds and stoves for each ger. Steppe luxury if ever we’ve seen it. Ideal timing for celebrating Michael Field’s (MFE) birthday last night: he was welcomed into HS11 with the customary Mongolian combo of pastries, Haribos and a candle to accompany a rendition of happy birthday. Vet Kipling somehow produced a bottle of malbec, presumably saved for a rainy day from his time spent vetting the Gaucho Derby earlier this year.
Claire Vile (CVI) was to be found enthusiastically expounding the benefits of travelling light having lost the entirety of her gear several days ago, insisting sleeping rough on the steppe is in fact a blessing when it also means you have no saddle bag with which to antagonise your horses. Silver linings.
Lena Haug (LHA) was pleased with her choice of horse, eyeing him up as the herder presented him to his jockey: “Looks like a sweet boy, a little wild in the eye, I’m excited,” blissfully ignorant to the sounds of her steed snorting like a dragon out of shot. Heidi Falzon (HFA) meanwhile was beaming while standing unusually close to a beast which looked like he had trotted straight out of the ice age, such was his resemblance to a Prezwalski’s horse of old. His temperament did suggest he’d been around the block once or twice, standing docile as a lamb while HFA took full advantage of finally coming into contact with a horse allowing himself to be cuddled. The hope was that he would, however, transform into a “little rocket” as soon as she clambered onboard.
Morgan Kelly (MKE) also took some time out from a busy day of Derbying to talk to the paps loitering at HS11. She is “getting in the groove” despite some “minor incidents” involving some particularly ferocious marmot holes, and was aiming to whizz through four horse stations today to make up some ground. She finishes the day at HS13, meaning three were successfully negotiated: a very respectable innings.
Renee Senter (RSE) and Julie Wolfert (JWO) were feeling positive, although they appeared slightly confused about which day it was and were unable to elaborate on their navigational tactics beyond going “the right way.” Pressed on their masterplan, they divulged that this involved heading “whichever way all the other riders go.” They have apparently learned their lesson from yesterday after their sightseeing tour en route into HS11, and have graciously decided to give their fellow riders a chance to shine in the navigational department.
Meanwhile, further back at HS10, the resident family’s champion racehorses were proudly displayed on the horse lines sporting some very smart suit jackets.
Having stuck to each other’s sides throughout, SBE and MFI were in their reliably cheery spirits. SBE is still loving every minute, aboard another “lovely pony” and overhead enquiring about Mongolian immigration laws, declaring she was “born this way” and busily planning to import her husband in order to live out the rest of her days in the magnificence of the steppe.
Alexandra Fetterman (AFE) had sadly misplaced her suncream, but compensated by adorning herself in every other item of clothing or kit she had brought instead.
EAI, ATO and TEN had a very pleasant day bowling along on some smooth horses, while Allison Kohlberg (AKO) recounted her mini-meltdown while camping out with Wojciech Heliasz (WHE) a few nights back, luckily cut short by some emergency Pringles. There’s nothing a good snack can’t fix. Wendy Oswood (WOS) was spied with her eyes set firmly on the horizon traversing some beautiful verdant plains solo on a handsome mount. Kristin Carpenter (KCA) was sure she must have broken some sort of leg speed record after pulling a mount with only one gear: bolt.
Further up the field at the business end of the race, the tension is palpable. PHE and CWA started the day 10km shy of HS13 at their campsite from last night, closely followed by Deirdre Griffith (DRG), Sean McBride (SMC) and Willemien Jooste (WJO) from their overnight spot just a few kilometres behind. Reaching HS13 with their pursuers just 12km out, the pair were straight down to business and were vetted in and out in the stamp of a hoof. The chasing trio had problems of their own, as the group camped at HS12 last night set an eye watering pace to close the gap between HS13 and HS14. Kathy Gabriel’s (KGA) hard graft and frankly frightening choice of horses over the past few days has clearly paid off: she rode out with the chasing pack this morning, joining AHA, Howard Bassingthwaighte (HBA), Sam Edney (SED), Tiffany Atteberry (TAT) and Tyler Donaldson-Aitken (TDO).
By HS14, CWA and PHE were still ahead of the game, soon saddled up and partnered with a smart pair of steeds dubbed the Rolls Royces of the steppe, prompting their riders to gush about the exemplary job done by the herders in getting them onboard such fine specimens. En route to HS15, the gents stopped off to cool their engines, although CWA got more than he bargained for and almost found himself jumping straight in at the deep end.
DGR, WJO and SMC also retained their position through HS14, albeit with the chasing six breathing down their necks. AHA took advantage of coming across vet Dr Cozy out on the steppe, sensing her horse was tiring and requesting a roaming vet check. Cozy confirmed her concerns, and she displayed exemplary horsemanship in choosing to slow the pace for the benefit of her mount and continued on to HS14 at a gentle stroll. Karma paid her back between HS14 and HS15, where she joined forces with the Black Stallion of the steppe to ride her “coolest horse” of the Derby so far, disappearing off into the distance with his remarkable mane billowing in the wind.
There was no change through HS15 for the first five riders, but AHA and KGA decided to call it a day and rest their heads there for the evening.
The rest of the leading riders pressed on to HS16 in something of a hurry. WJO was clearly feeling the pressure: not wanting to detain waiting buddies TAT and DGR, she brushed aside the usual offer of herder assistance before mounting her next horse. Herders watched on in dumbstruck amazement as she coolly rode out an aggressive bout of broncitis, before kicking on to HS16 with her companions.
CWA and PHE’s impressive run in the lead almost came to an end at HS16. Vetting out just in time to avoid a penalty and with relieved grins spreading across their faces, the chaps thought they had done enough to get HS16 to themselves for the evening, and were waiting around to set up camp when the unmistakable outlines of the chasing three appeared on the horizon. Suddenly deciding HS16 maybe wasn’t such a nice spot after all, they threw their tack back onto some very handsome horses and rode out like the clappers at 18:42, determined to put as much distance between them and their stalkers as possible.
SMC also had an interesting time between HS15 and HS16, taking a unique arc while his fellow riders shot straight there. Just as well he saves time refuelling on the go, unlike fellow contender TDO who continues to devastate food stocks at every available ger.
The leading pack are being treated to a bit of a party tonight by some very hospitable hosts, while DGR, TAT and WJO find common ground with the young daughter of the family when DGR unexpectedly produced some Frozen stickers from her backpack. DGR must be pretty pleased with herself at the moment, finding herself within spitting distance of the leaders after having ridden into HS1 dead last. What a comeback, but can she pull off the win?
Emotions were running high today for CWA on realising that one generous supporter’s offer to match the funds he is raising for Watershed Riding for the Disabled Association if he wins or joint wins may actually come to pass. We imagine that particularly generous individual may be feeling a little hot under the collar at the moment double checking their bank balance, watching CWA float over the steppe with effortless style.
Not to forget those in the field currently sitting out the riding thing, CCA and FGR are having quite the party in the Blood Wagon. Stumbling across a Mongolian girl keen to practise her English skills today, they were found locked in a spirited rock, paper scissors battle in the back of the wagon before FGR made a valiant attempt at tag, limping around after her new friend. Siobhan Ryan (SRY) has also had to join them in Adventure Class, but will hopefully be back in the saddle soon. Meanwhile, Brian Stengel (BST) has made the difficult decision to retire from the race, but we hope to see him rejoining us for the finish line fiesta.
A long day on the steppe, and potentially a further five days of action to come. We leave you with this pretty astonishing snap of some of the truly majestic lands crossed by our riders today. Let’s hope tomorrow brings more of the same.
Day 5 Close of Play
Between HS16 – HS17: CWA, PHE
HS16: DGR, HBA, SED, SMC, TAT, TDO, WJO
HS15: AHA, KGA
HS14: CVI, FHA, HFA, JWO, KDA, LHA, MFE, RSE, SEN
Between HS13 – HS14: AGA, GTI, KCA, WOS
HS13: AFE, AKO, BFA, EAI, MFI, MKE, PGO, SBE, WHE (BDO, NTA, SRY – Adventure)
Between HS12 – HS13: ATO, IHU, MMO, TEN
Blood Wagon (Adventure Class): NTA, CCA, FGR
Retired: JON, NON, BST, PRA
Vet penalties (2 hours): JWO
Photo credits: Louise Crosbie, Eledv-Ochir Bayarsaihan, Stevie Delahunt, Tulgaa Skizz, Shari Thompson, Erik Cooper.
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