The competition for this year's Derby is especially fierce. A full line-up of 35 riders, from 14 nationalities, set off from the start point last Friday but 4 riders are already out of the race with six fighting it out to stay in front.
At the start of Day 4 the lead was tied between 6 riders, all desperate to grab the glory of being the winner of the world's toughest horse race.
None more so than South Africans, Joe Dawson and Barry Armitage. Having taken part in last year's Derby, they were bitterly dissapointed not to win and have returned this year to complete unfinised business.
Joe said, “where horses are concerned there is always an element of the unknown because each horse has a mind of its own, a way of responding to different aspects of the environment that will vary from one horse to another; however in the Mongol Derby this was amplified tremendously, to the point where choosing your next horse at a horse station could feel like a combination of buying a lottery ticket and playing Russian roulette.”
Barry is well aware of this after taking a fall last year that damaged his shoulder and forced him to drop out. Joe continued riding after Barry's fall and finished in 5th place.
There main competition at the moment comes from 24 year old Adventuring-a-holics, Charlotte Treleaven and Julie Youngblood, and Irish jockeys, Dony and Richard. The bags of confidence that the South Africans set off with on the morning of Day 3 seemed to be serving them well as they pushed temporarily into the lead;
"I got a psycho rocket ship [...] I was lucky to be alive but it was an amazing ride. We were, at this stage ahead by about half an hour." Barry wrote on his blog.
However, one lazy horse and one horse diagnosed with the thumps later and they were scanning the skyline as they waited for the horse's full recovery:
"We also waited for the chasing riders to come over the horizon. An hour and a half later they did: the two Irish lads, Charlotte and Julie. Our substantial lead was blown."
The chasing pack of four had also had a slow stage with some lazy horses, and also resorted to leading the slower horses to try and quicken the pace.
Barry said: "The upside was spending another night with these guys who have been our roommates since the first night. The Irish lads are a scream. We now have to drag ourselves out there, squeeze out a lead and somehow drop these good people; you are only truly in the lead in this race when you sleep ahead of your rivals."
Follow the chaps' excruciatingly competitive story with our video blog post, put together with their footage from the Steppe and interviews filmed by champion jockey Richard Dunwoody - including an amusing tale of Richard Killoran and Barry taking a tumble.