Kiplingcotes Derby in Yorkshire cancelled for only the fourth time since 1519

England's oldest horse race has been called off for only the fourth time in its 501-year history.

The Kiplingcotes Derby will not be run
The Kiplingcotes Derby will not be run

The Kiplingcotes Derby has been contested in the flatlands of the Yorkshire Wolds since 1519 and was run during an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665 and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19.

But trustees have decided to cancel this year's race, which was due to be held on Thursday, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Around 500 spectators usually gather on the course, and there were 1,500 people in attendance at the 500th anniversary Derby in 2019.

It's only been cancelled three times before, and all previous occasions were within living memory. It enjoyed an uninterrupted run from 1519 until 1947, when a harsh post-war winter and huge snow drifts left the course impassable. It then continued until 2001, when there were cases of foot and mouth disease at nearby farms, and was also called off in 2018 because off-roaders had damaged the course.

The Kiplingcotes Derby is one of the most eccentric events in the equestrian calendar. Any horse or rider can enter, no matter what their age or ability, and thoroughbreds can be seen racing shire horses and ponies. There are no advance entries, and jockeys simply turn up at the starting post at 11am on the third Thursday in March. It's been called the 'Brigadoon of racing' after the mythical Scottish village which only appears every 100 years - because by 1pm, the four-mile course from Etton to Londesborough Wold Farm is deserted once again and reverts to farmland for the rest of the year.

According to traditional rules, if the race is not run one year then it cannot be held the following March - so when cancellations have occurred, a single rider has 'walked' the course to ensure it can continue.

On Thursday, steward Stephen Crawford, who performed the duty in 2001 and 2018, will once again be the lone jockey. He will be joined by trustees including Claire Waring, whose family, the Stephensons, have been involved in the Derby for generations. Her great-uncle Fred Stephenson walked the course in 1947.

As the tough off-road race often sees jockeys fall from their mounts, paramedics are usually in attendance, but the government stated on Tuesday that they will no longer provide medical support for public gatherings and sporting events.

"We didn't want to cancel it but we've had to follow government advice. There will be no ambulance and no spectators - but Stephen and another rider will walk it under the rules," said Claire.

"We were resigned to it - we can't leave the decision to the last minute when we had caterers booked to come out.

"This race has been through everything."

Other event cancellations in Yorkshire announced today include Harrogate Spring Flower Show and Springtime Live, which were both due to be held at the Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. Bettys have closed their tearooms in Harrogate, York, Ilkley and Northallerton. The Anne Lister Birthday Weekend celebration event in Halifax has been called off. The Vale of York 10k race has been postponed.