Mongol Derby 2017 Rolling News

Finish Camp Report. August 15-19, 2017.

 Ed and Barry bring their final horses down to the lake at finish camp.

Ed and Barry bring their final horses down to the lake at finish camp.

Finish camp was a remote, idyllic lakeside location, complete with sit-down toilets and hot showers (though some riders were so used to being so dirty for so long that we’re not entirely certain they used them…). As riders crossed the line, they were greeted with ceremonial airag, a beer, and some chocolate. We suspect the Snickers produced more tears than the rest of the race combined. Most importantly, there were gallons of vodka for obliterating memories forged during the past week.

Ed, Barry, and Jakkie had the run of the place the first night. They were thoroughly shocked at the sight of a woman’s leg (Dumpling to leave her hot pants at home next time; the lads can’t handle it), and put away roughly a litre of vodka each.

 The end (or is it just beginning?) of a beautiful bromance: Jakkie, Barry, and Ed

The end (or is it just beginning?) of a beautiful bromance: Jakkie, Barry, and Ed

The following day saw ten more riders in, with Rebecca “Pixie” Pumphrey rocking up to a raging bonfire long after dark. The next day, she had to gallop sans horse the final hundred or so meters separating the actual finish line from where she dismounted by the fire. No one was sober enough to care that she hadn’t crossed it when she rode in, and we almost lost her down a marmot hole when Dumpling led her, staggering—Pixie from the effort of riding, Dumpling from the vodka—to the showers.   

 Deels, stories, poems, and vodka by the fire. Recounts Rebecca Hewitt: "I'd been swallowing painkillers like I own the company."

Deels, stories, poems, and vodka by the fire. Recounts Rebecca Hewitt: "I'd been swallowing painkillers like I own the company."

Though they had ten days to complete the derby, all riders finished late the evening of Day 9, relieved, elated, and a little bit changed from when they started. Notably, Greg Chant is “gonna have fallopian melodramas for the rest of [his] life” after riding with women and subsequently growing his own ovaries. His mantra? “Put on your big girl pants and hurry the f*** up.”

 Celebratory roll after passing the vet check. Greg Chant's summary: "I wouldn't say it was easy. I wouldn't say it was fun. But it was definitely worth doing."

Celebratory roll after passing the vet check. Greg Chant's summary: "I wouldn't say it was easy. I wouldn't say it was fun. But it was definitely worth doing."

Riders cheered, drank, swam, drank, congratulated each other, and drank throughout the days. The only times that mattered were mealtimes, though the entire bunch were still programmed to rise at dawn regardless of how late they stayed up drinking. This morning riders and crew alike stumbled out of their gers in a hungover haze and boarded vehicles back to UB (half the journey on unpaved roads, naturally). Surprisingly, only one vehicle got bogged.

Tonight is the official finish party, where we’re likely to see a whole different kind of carnage from the race.

Day 10. August 18th, 2017

And so, with everyone having finished, it's time for the riders and crew to head back to Ulaanbaatar for their official finishing ceremony and party. These nights generally tend to be rather large, so we'll do a full Derby update including final leaderboards after the weekend when the dust has settled.

Again, huge congratulations and thanks to all the riders, crews, local families and throngs of other wonderous people in Mongolia and beyond who work backstage to make this event possible.

Until Monday then. Toodle pip. 

Day 9. August 17th, 2017

19:54 GMT It's all gone eerily quiet from the steppe. No news, is always good news though. No doubt with so many ecstatic finishers today it's becoming quite a party at the finish. We expect a slightly airag-tinged report from Derby Chief Katy tomorrow with all the juicy gossip. Massive congratulations to everyone who has crossed the line so far. Endurance riding to a whole new level, and now with just a couple more riders to finish it looks like tomorrow will see everyone in. Then the party will really start...

More heroic finishers. Before comparing them disfavorably to the guys that crossed the line on day 7, remember these chaps and lady chaps have spent an extra 2 days in the saddle. Respect. Photos brought to you by @ASTSystems.

Day 8. August 16th, 2017

Filed by Derby Chief Katy Willings - Ops Room

Here Come the Girls

Ten more finishers today on the Mongol Derby - we have a good 15 more within range of the line tomorrow barring the usual Derby shenanigans.

Will Comiskey, known to his fans as Dingo, sling-shotted (sling-shat?) himself to the top of the Mongol Derby Hall of Fame at 11:10 this morning as the most successful Derbyist ever - a first place and a fourth place, 2 finishes from two starts. He is now The Best Finisher, a title we are sure he will bandy around all the relevant internet dating sites as soon as he is back in phone reception. Not just a technician, nor indeed just a fabulous horseman, he has genuine panache, stopping to pick some wild flowers for Head Vet Emma on the way in. And taking his lovely horse into the lake as soon as he had passed the (still blushing) vet, somersaulting off his bottom into the water, helmet still on. Safety first and all. His new Bromance Warren Sutton tied for 4th with him, they have forged a formidable partnership over the last 500kms, and like an owner with their pets, folks are struggling to tell one from the other now.

A couple of hours later we finally got some oestrogen across the line.  And Greg Chant, who is also ovulating now. Brooke Wharton has the distinction of riding two full days completely solo, enjoying the herders' hospitality and cementing a reputation as an exceedingly competent adventuress and horsewoman. She is also penalty-free, quite a feather in her cap, and the highest-placed penalty free rider, tied with Greg. We're fashioning some kind of award from some pipecleaners in HQ as we speak. Also in that 6th place gang were Jodie Ward, Marie Palzer and Rebecca Hewitt, all of whom have ridden cracking races, rolled with the punches, enjoyed good luck and bad, gone up and down the order, laughed and cried. Marie in particular has been on a rollercoaster, hot headed at times, competitive, sensitive. She held the lead with Ed Fernon for much of the early racing but clocked up a few vet penalties from riding too fast, pushing herself too hard to stay with Ed. Her tears on the finish line were testament to some tough lessons learned and a formative experience completed. Everyone else cried too apparently. Then poked a beer down her. 

Roberta McLeod and Jen Cook came in 11th and 12th, within an hour of each other, though both have been riding solo the last day having lost their groups to penalties between U22 and the finish. It shows a certain steeliness to press on solo and make your own luck from there, and both have given us a lesson in steeliness.

Finally, Pixie Pumphrey made an audacious assault on the finish, riding out of U27 at 18:45, to the quizzical expressions in the Ops Room. She'd have to gun it to get in by close of play, 20:30. She didn't.  And she didn't. And then she slowed down and wiggled around a bit. Then she hit HELP and summoned us on her tracker. Sure enough, she was lost in the dark, just 3kms out from camp, a cold beer, a warm bed, her goddamn luggage...oh, the torment. Still, we chased her down with a crew vehicle or two (film crew Ali got in there first, bad luck Pixie you'll never live that down). Horse a-ok and she is on the finishers list, though whether she can hold 13th place ahead of Sally and Ceri, ST CP, since she earned herself a 3 hour penalty for arriving 21:30. Ouch. If ST and CP get in before 22:00, and pass the vet, she's 15th. Still, a pretty good result for the girl whose 'perfect' race kit was still in Frankfurt on the launch day.  She's got my waterproofs, riding boots and down jacket, and Charles' lucky pants on. She also has some pretty appalling saddle sores we're told. Hope the medics packed their maggots... Whoever of the three gets in will be the best Brit.

Mid-field, we had reports of a Cowboys and Indians skirmish which looks set to run and run, between the Aussies (LT and JL) and the yanks (LW, AC and TD). Not sure who is who but we understand no horses were harmed during the battle, and our mounted camerawoman Chloe laughed so hard she almost fell off.

Various fetch and carries, kit spares, horse changes and other shenanigans out the back as tired riders ("they resemble the zombie apocalypse" according to the irrepressibly perky medic Andrei, always freshly laundered and corn fed as he examines your chafing or broken ribs) pick fractious horses, forget to switch on their trackers (Mark, looking at you here) or fall off and lose their horses. Before you snigger, ask yourself if you could do what they are attempting. It will be mo less magnificent an achievement for them to get over the finish line than it was for Ed and Bazza yesterday.  

Lastly, we report that a few of the Blood Wagoners have scabbed over sufficiently to be medically cleared to continue by our Iqarus doc Dick Hooper. Olivia Wood, Rick Helson and Jane Boxhall will all be heading backwards down the course in the Blood Wagon tomorrow to get to Urtuu 25, where we hope they will join the pack and ride on to the finish. They have all been a great asset to the cheerleading squadron and we look forward to returning the favour.

Underwater Love - Smoke City

 Gigi, Erik, Will and Michelle with their inflatable friends in Khangal Nuur, our spectacular finish camp. Charades will be after dinner

Gigi, Erik, Will and Michelle with their inflatable friends in Khangal Nuur, our spectacular finish camp. Charades will be after dinner

Dumpling has been sent to the finish camp to sniff the fresh mutton air of the steppe and the stories it is still to yield from this year's Mongol Derby.  As the finishers congregate at Khangal Nuur (Lake) in faraway Khentii province she'll be collecting the story-dust before it settles.  And standing around on horses arses, as in the photo above. Updates posted by Chief Willings, in the office another day, by correspondence.  Mainly pigeon.

Says Dumpling: "Bromance Will Comiskey and Warren Sutton rode into joint fourth place this morning. Upon passing the vet (immediately), Will stripped down and rode bareback into the lake, jumping off his horse's bum for the first "bath" he's had in a week. Overheard at the finish: Ed to Will: "Jakkie is a fucking legend. What a hero." Sportsmanship and camaraderie at its absolute finest."

"On JM's last night riding, he stayed with local family. Wanted to help the woman of the house churn butter, and found himself stuck w that chore... for 40 min. Very sore arm in addition to everything else upon finishing." 


Day 7. August 15, 2017.

The Boys are Back in Town - Katy Willings, Derby Chief
(Michelle Tanaka at finish camp to newshound from there)

We have a winner!  Well, two actually, and three riders over the line nursing their newly minted Mongol Derby sores).  For the first time since 2012 we have a male-dominated leaderboard. Ed Fernon of Australia and Barry Armitage of South Africa crossed the line together at 17:34, brother in arms after 7 days of fierce competition and grueling riding. Close in behind them at 19:01 was Jakkie Mellet, also of South Africa, who vied for the lead through much of the race.

So many scores were settled and loose ends tied up by this evening's result, and some extraordinary benchmarks set.

2017 brought the fastest ever finish; mid afternoon on the 7th day after a slightly tardy 11:11 start on Wednesday last week.  

It was also the longest ever Derby; 1020km of incredibly open steppe, a veritable ocean of green, which after some much needed rainfall in the days prior to, and early in, the event, made for a spectacular arena. 

Jakkie lost his lead this morning after an unfortunate "horse not great in traffic" incident, which meant he had to back-track to Urtuu 25 on foot and retrieve a more suitable mount. His original choice decked him when a car came past (doesn't happen all that often in Mongolia, to be fair) and fled back to the station, saddle round belly. In the bid for freedom JJ lost a stirrup leather, and the herders helped him fashion something out of rope to ride home on. Meanwhile Ed and Barry snuck past, gaining 20 kms. Amazingly he did catch up and get his nose in front again, but squandered the lead again having pushed too hard to retake it - his 27th horse didn't pass the vet check. So he sat a penalty as BA and EF cruised past again.

Amazingly, this is Barry's 3rd Derby. He was first across the line in 2012 too, but subsequently lost the race on a vet penalty. Many a buttock was clenched watching him hone in on the finish.  Ditto Ed, who has led or been thereabouts throughout the race, pushing hard for every racing minute and falling foul of the vets and refs a couple of times. That's how you end up an Olympic athlete, no doubt. In the event, they cruised most of the day riding skilfully within themselves, in hot and intense conditions, and unable to put any real distance between each other. In a great example of gentlemanly endeavor they elected to ride over the line together. If 1000 kms couldn't split them, so be it. No showboating, no risk taking, they just got their horses home and promptly took them into Khangal Lake, where we have created our finish camp, for a well-earned swim and cool down.


Amanda Charlton and Leslie Wylie enjoying a bowlful of dumplings for breakfast. Truly a sublime start to the day (and portable with the aid of a ziplock bag).

Don't Stop Me Now

Some highlights from further back in the field. Actually the highlights are more like low-lights, because most of the chasing pack, mid-field and rear guard just kept buggering on today. Some cracking 3 and 4-leg days from the likes of BW, RM, LT, PR, CL...they seem to have got into their rhythm of eat, sleep, ride,repeat. Shout outs to ST and CP who seem to have made camping between urtuus something of an art form too, another clockwork day's riding. MB who got off to a very slow start and got shuffled up the field in a car once he was some 60kms off the pace rode through four stations today. That's pretty much the Derby Gold Standard. Hats off.


42 cracking Mongolian warrior-horses bagged and tagged and on the line for our lucky riders.  That's what an urtuu should look like folks. 

Cry Me a River

Two items under this heading. Paul Richards riding upsides of our whizzkid mounted camerawoman Chloe - it was his wife's birthday, and this is the longest period they have spent apart in 36 years. Understandably, the tears started to flow, first Paul's, and then, Chloe's. Look out for some wobbly camerawork there.

Secondly, the Kherlen and Onon rivers flowing fast in the latter section of the course, and the volume of water in some of the low ground swallowed a few of our vehicles whole. 1 referee, 2 vets, one film crew and the Blood Wagon were all part digested by the flood plains of Khentii. At five separate intervals we had riders approaching urtuus with the vet team assigned to that urtuu digging out of a bog on their way to post. Some impressive day saving behind the scenes today.

19.55. JM has passed the vet check. confirming him as 3rd place finish. Congratulations to Mr Mellet.

17:55. Vet check passed. It's confirmed. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are proud and honoured to announce that Mr Barry Armitage from South Africa and Mr Ed Fernon from Australia are joint winners of the 2017 Mongol Derby. The world's longest and toughest horse race has new champions. Congratulations gentlemen.

And how did they celebrate their glory? By getting straight in the lake - with their horses.

Bloody good show.


17:34. Barry Armitage and Ed Fernon have crossed the line and completed the 2017 Mongol Derby. Awaiting vet check...



 The crew get stuck in a bog, but thankfully use their wits to knock up some up some cocktails and bourgeois snacks

The crew get stuck in a bog, but thankfully use their wits to knock up some up some cocktails and bourgeois snacks


 Sunrise at HS 22

Sunrise at HS 22

Day 6. August 14, 2017.

Day 6 Take It to the Limit - Michelle Tanaka

Leading man (once again) Jakkie Mellet checked into U25 at 20:31, sticking himself with a Late Riding Penalty, which will have to be sat out in real-time in the morning. Bad luck. Instead of riding out at 07:00, he’s going to have to sit chilly until 07:02.

With 17 minutes riding time to spare, Ed Fernon went blazing out of U24 in pursuit of Jakkie. Twelve minutes later, he returned to spend the night. Good choice, Ed—you’ll sleep much better in a warm dry ger, horse pre-grazed and pre-watered when you saddle up in the morning.

Spot of disappointment today: EF possibly trying to evade horse welfare rules. Race ref Maggie first issued official, assuredly stern warning for pattern of inconsiderate riding. EF continued, and earned himself two hours at Naughty Corner. Meanwhile MP spent six hours at U22, not freed until 45 minutes riding time remained.

With all recent talk about Naughty Listers and Naughty Corners, it’s time to recognize the handful of riders who have managed to avoid all penalties, vet or technical: Brooke Wharton, Lucy Taylor, Paul Richards, and Jodie Ward earning Best Decision-Making Awards. So far. They’ve got a couple days’ riding to go. Don’t let us down.

Darling of the Day: BW. She’s been riding solo—completely solo, with no one in range for dozens of miles. She’s not lonely, though, befriending the locals at every stop and earning invitations to stay longer and return. She’s also one of a handful of riders going completely penalty-free (so far).

Today’s Medical Tale: PG pestered JL for advice on how to treat chafing… in the testicular area. This must be PG’s first time riding long distances, otherwise he would know how not to squash the family jewels. Wonder what JL told him...

Update on increasingly-popular LW: she’s been using a sock stuffed with donated bits and pieces as a saddle bag (after losing all kit early on). No one is packing any extra kit in their 5kg allowance, so kudos to those donating to the less fortunate.

Retirements: GK, two cracked ribs. OW, torn ligament. They are both luxuriating in UB’s newest hotel, the swankiest of swanky Holiday Inns. That’s eight total retirements so far.

We expect JM BA MP EF WC WS to finish tomorrow early afternoon, and while we’re reasonably sure of the order, a lot can happen quite quickly out there. Keep your eyes glued to the Twitter feed for the most up-to-date news. 

 Ginger and sugar on the boil. Why yes, that is a camp stove on top of an induction stove. 

Ginger and sugar on the boil. Why yes, that is a camp stove on top of an induction stove. 

17:30. Eerily quiet in the Ops Room this afternoon. Our version of twiddling thumbs is making shitloads of ginger-lemon cocktail syrup for the finish camp. To go with shitloads of vodka, of course. Official finish party won’t take place until August 19 back in UB, but we figured we’d start punishing livers before then, they’ve earned it. Not that this lot will need mixers by the time they’ve crossed the finish line. After riding 1,000 kilometres through the Mongol wilderness, they’ll no doubt be ready to pound it back straight.

Day 5. August 13, 2017.

The fantastic Julian Herbert has been out there on the steppe following the riders and clicking away. Thanks to marvellous folks over at AST Systems he's even managed to send them back to HQ - which is nothing short of a miracle. Today he was following our fearless leaders. 

Wild, Wild Horses - Michelle Tanaka Ops Room & Mongol Dumpling

Oh, Marie. You’ve practically handed it to the boys today with your third vet penalty of the race. Marie Palzer got herself a four-hour, third-offense vet penalty at U18 today—on top of the prior two hours at U16. Riders have been well-briefed on the consequences of less-than-stellar riding. Marie won’t have to sit them until U22 tomorrow, where she will likely watch the rest of the leading pack come through. Which now includes Greg Chant, Rebecca Hewitt (RHW), and Jodie Ward.

Ed Fernon is penalty-free post-U11 so, barring poor decisions in the morning, will breeze in and out of the second Penalty Urtuu. Jakkie Mellet will cool his heels for two hours, when Barry Armitage will likely overtake him.

 A slew of riders picked up the pace today, riding almost as far as the leaders. It should be noted that Brooke Wharton rode four legs alone. That takes an extra measure of ballsiness.

But a big chunk of the field also encountered quite feisty horses today, beaming out “Help” on their sat trackers for retrieval assistance. Lucy Taylor and James Lester had a bit of fun with broncs just off the horseline this morning, both unhurt after being decked (and this after James’ little prank last night, pretending he hadn’t waited for Lucy at U11 then jumping out to surprise her just as the tears started).

More penalties today. Perhaps it was the Naughty Corner keeping everyone in check yesterday. Many a vehicle carry-forward jettisoned riders to the next urtuu as well as to the top of the Naughty List (can’t fully blame them, after this spirited bunch of steeds).

Back at HQ, we had to make some angry phone calls to the Gatekeeper of the railway underpass outside U13, who didn’t want to let our crews through. Said it was fine for the horses to cross, but cars were a separate matter. He’s not wrong (horses and cars are admittedly very different), but we had urtuus to manage, so set him straight.

The sixth retirement of the race is Marianne Williams, who arrived in UB overnight. A firecracker even in the SOS clinic. Despite requiring clavicle operation as a result of falling in “every marmot hole in Mongolia,” she’s in marvellous form. Derby Chief Willings was able to escape the Ops Room for a hot second to bring flowers and gossip just as MW ordered a ribeye (rare), massive glass of wine (red), and cheesecake for lunch. We will see her at the finish party in UB August 19.

As ever, much of this lot love to sleep en plein air, but the family at U14 is stuck feeding the slumber partiers tonight.

 JL and LT tighten their saddle bags after getting bronc'ed off the same horse at the horse line. JL eventually rode it away. Crew Erik's take: "Dude has balls. And great hair."

JL and LT tighten their saddle bags after getting bronc'ed off the same horse at the horse line. JL eventually rode it away. Crew Erik's take: "Dude has balls. And great hair."

1631. “Four seasons in a week, har har.” That’s Mongolian weather for you. Day 2 saw borderline hypothermia; snorkels and x-ray vision were highly recommended. Day 5: blazing sun. Mercury may not read sky-high, but when you’re kitted out riding for 13 hours, zero shade, it’s scorching. Hope no one’s chucked their sun cream. And that no one chucks their rain gear. Because likely more wet ahead (naturally), according to our course guru Darren. They’re about to cross into Jargaltkhan. Different province, different climate. Ready the machetes for hacking through the jungle.

13:20. That’s a big-ass spread halfway through Day 5. Gonna need a bigger board here at HQ (in case you’re wondering, we’ve got an LCD HD touchscreen with holograph messaging capabilities spanning an entire wall in the Ops Room. Jokes.)

Day 4. I Can See Clearly Now, the Rain Is Gone - Michelle Tanaka Ops Room & 2015 joint 3rd place

Riders finally got a dry(ish) day, making for much-improved spirits and quicker riding. HQ admittedly had a bit of head-scratching and abacus-consulting to do over where to send which crews when. (We figured it out. We always do.)

Penalty Urtuu U11 saw a buttload of action today. Having Naughty Listers serve time in the Naughty Corner meant far fewer penalties (or riders are cottoning onto when to stop flogging it). No penalties earned past U11, so intervals between riders are accurate. With one important exception: Marie Palzer, our front running woman, was slapped with a heart rate penalty at U16, no doubt for hoofing it too hard to catch the boys before riding cutoff. She won’t have to serve that until U22, though.

A couple riders had full-on spa days at the Penalty Urtuu. If U11 was a spa, that is. (It could be argued that sitting on one’s arse for a few hours is a luxury after a few days trying to keep it in the saddle.)

Leaders remain the same. Ed Fernon and Marie caught up with Jakkie Mellet at U16 this evening, just in time. Barry Armitage is camping out alone half a leg behind them, narrowing their lead.

Notably, Marie is the only female in the fastest five riders, anomalous in the Derby. Let’s see if the gents can continue to dominate the top for the second half of the race.

Broadly speaking, the ‘Racing’ class of riders has pulled away from the ‘Adventure’ class, with the back third of the field congealing into the (probably now very stinky) Penalty Urtuu. Some can ride off first thing in the morning, while others will get a bit of a lie-in for their sins. Blessing in disguise, we’d say.  

No equine tantrums at the railway underpass outside of U13. Yet. Recall pre-race training titters when riders were briefed on it. Half the field will negotiate it tomorrow—and this is the more troublesome half of the field. Fingers also crossed no one accidentally wanders into the mining zone and falls into a pit or flattened by haul truck out there. We’re not sure everyone knows the road sign for “Do Not Enter.” Or reads Cyrillic, for that matter.

Retirees Jane Boxhall and Julia Fisher left UB this morning to join Hustler Erik in the Bloodwagon. Unfortunately, Clare Salmon retired this morning with an injured ankle; her husband Neil Goldie-Scot is accompanying her.

Another fine selection of photos from Julian Herbert, who is using the wizardry of an AST Systems BGAN Explorer 500 to get his pics over to us from the middle of bloody nowhere.

In case you missed it, you can catch up with the latest and historical leaderboards here.

Derbying at its absolute finest. Footage of Leslie Wylie (35, USA) riding stirrupless yesterday. For 40km. On half-wild horse. Bad. Ass.

16:27. Christ, we are seeing some speedy changeovers today. It's not just the frontrunners trying to blaze through the stations, mid-pack are picking it up as well. Must be the Naughty Corner, Penalty Urtuu U11 that's motivating everyone. Reckon some riders have spent enough time on their arses in a ger today to suit them for the next few days. Time to leg it.

12:35. Two retirements first thing at U7 this morning, married couple CS and NG. All campers' horses stayed put on their hillsides last night, riders unmolested (here’s CW hobbling brilliantly in the dark). Weather much improved, smashing start to the day, but those at the top of the Naughty List will be having a good long think at the first Penalty Urtuu, U11. Doubtful anyone’s been able to sneak a paperback into their 5kgs of gear. That just leaves gnawing mutton fat and watching better-behaved competitors sail through. Meanwhile JM holding lead, EF MP split up, distances among them widening…

Day 3. All Quiet on the Western Front - Michelle Tanaka Ops Room & 2015 joint 3rd place

…Though possibly not for the crews, who started this morning by getting bogged and rescued, rescuing then getting bogged. Vets were swarmed throughout the day by riders descending upon urtuus en masse.

Derbyists themselves encountered far less drama compared with yesterday, field widening predictably.

Three horses ditched their pilots today. In case you missed it, Leslie Wylie rode an entire leg without stirrups after horse buggered off with saddle, and will go without any of her gear overnight. Badassery at its finest.

Ed Fernon and Marie Palzer narrowly lost their lead to Jakkie Mellet while serving heart rate penalties at U11. Jakkie did a hell of an urtuu changeover to squeeze every minute’s lead he could. Which was 18, to be exact. The three of them are now bunking with a local families. Separate ones. A mere five kilometers away.  

Warren Sutton, Barry Armitage, and Will Comiskey aren’t far behind at U11, though they’ll have to finish serving their penalties at 7:00 before they can ride out. Barry will be able to leave at 8:15, Warren at 8:50, and Will at 9:08, who was four minutes late to U11 (additional 8 minutes tacked onto to the 2-hour vet pen).

Ceri Putnam, Sally Toye, and Roberta MacLeod are grazing their hobbled horses on the side of a hill for the evening. No cramming into a gear with 15 of their closest competitors tonight. We’ll see if their horses are still on the same hill in the morning, wily buggers. Don’t think tying three of four legs together will immobilize anyone.

We have three retirements from the field thus far: Julia Fisher from U1 (cracked ribs); Rick Helson (RHL) from U3 (dehydration and hypothermia); Jane Boxhall from U4 (rough fall from horse). All have been through the SOS clinic in UB and discharged in good health. They’ll be dining in good company tonight, warm, dry, and presumably mutton-free.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch earlier today: longtime crew member and Derby veteran (5th, 2013) Chloe Philips-Harris arrived in HQ after a three-week stroll through Australia’s Simpson Desert with a pack of camels (dromedaries, not cigarettes). We gave her a cup of tea then dispatched her straight onto the steppe to film. From horseback. Like Rebecca Pumphrey, she’s in borrowed kit, as her bags are still somewhere out in the desert.

You can catch up with the latest and historical leaderboards here. And we'll leave the last word with Derby chief Katy over on the Twitter.

Day 3. August 11, 2017.

 EM and BF study a potential shortcut through the dunes. Could result in an arseful of sand.

EM and BF study a potential shortcut through the dunes. Could result in an arseful of sand.

18:15. Balls. We’ve jinxed BA, looks like, as he’ll now have two hours at the Penalty Urtuu for elevated heart rate. EF and MP will be long gone, as they’re nearly halfway through their sentence at U11 now and likely hold the lead this evening (barring mutant racehorses. Not unheard of in this country). Further back in the field, it looks like another ger cuddle puddle could be in order for the evening, with 17 riders thundering along in vicinity of each other. Keep those vets on their toes, lads. 

15:30. Bit more action this afternoon. Star riders from yesterday LW and RP each lost horse during kit adjustment but soldiering on, LW sans gear—including stirrups. RP lost bridle, bought new one off a herder. Resourceful. Frontrunners EF and MP have their first penalties, elevated heart rates. They’ll serve time at next stop, U11. Not likely enough time for anyone to overtake, though BA a leg away with a spotless record. Above, AK with her U6 pick while GK advises “You better stay on this one!”

12:15. No dramas this morning rider-side, though a film crew vehicle needed rescuing from a bog. Its rescuer then in turn required rescuing (standard). Horses fresh and seemingly behaving—or maybe Derbyists have learnt to clamp on a bit tighter. The pack of 20 that camped together at U5 is gradually spreading out; Day 3 usually sees the field widen and the ‘Racing’ group pull away from the ‘Adventure’ group. Start arguing amongst yourselves on who belongs in which category (then watch them muck up all predictions by end of day).


Day 2. August 10, 2017.

Day 2 Baby It's Cold Outside - Michelle Tanaka (2015 joint 3rd place rider)

Riders got straight into it with icy cold hurricane-like conditions first thing this morning. As crew vehicles trundled through the muck, horses once again proved themselves to be the fastest means to cross the steppe. Provided riders stay on, that is.

…Which a handful of Derbyists had some trouble managing. This morning JC unbridled her horse as she came off. Fellow riders plus five crew members couldn’t catch him (turns out he was waiting for a motorcycle rescue, diva). HS required a carry-forward after her stallion made off into the storm. AK’s horse bolted during a saddle adjustment, outrunning two herders on their fastest steeds. Eventually he lost enough steam to be caught outside a soum, 15 kilometers away.

Frontrunners EF and MP held their lead throughout the day (wearing warm layers and properly-fitted tack, no doubt). Only three riders are caught between urtuus tonight; we’ll see how RHW, WC, and JW do in the morning without the warmth of a ger.

Urtuu 5 is hosting a record 20 riders tonight. The Naughty List grows longer as riders prefer the three-hour late riding penalty to another night out on the steppe - see details on the Leaderboard.

Leaders MP and EF walking into a horse station. Both have managed to keep their penalty logs clean.

LW and RP, perhaps the day’s most considerate riders, according to veteran vet Cozy.

LW waiting to tack up in the torrent. When asked at pre-race training which he fears most out of shitting his pants, being savaged by wild dogs, or drowning crossing a flooded river, he said he's "only really worried about being cold." Not sure if that makes him really hard or really soft, but he’s certainly coping, front-pack in U6



Photo Highlights Day 2

Carnage mounting. Hellacious weather. Cold, wet, suffering riders - mainly those camping out last night (paying off for some, but mostly not for others). Weather causing horses to run for the hills, mounted or not. Bend down to adjust your jacket--horse gone. Reigning champ WC even called for help just short of U3. Vets looking after both two- and four-legged animals. First retirement: JF. Looks like fractured ribs, on her way back to UB, understandably devastated. EF and MP pushing hard at the front, maintaining high speeds and breezing through urtuus. Will it pay off, or will they be hypothermic by day's end? Even Unenburen, our head horseman, advised riders not to ride out of U3 this morning due to poor visibility. Not so much a race hold as a plea to hold off until the hurricane subsides. If anyone doubted this is indeed the world's toughest horse race, here you go. No apologies from Mother Mongolia today. 

The 2017 Derby launched today at 11:10 (local time) 41 brave riders from across the globe battling for the Derby crown. In 1000km and less than 10 days one rider will have their name etched in the history books, but many more will fall along the way.

You can catch the Day 1 leaderboard and penalty log over on the Daily Leaderboard

Photo highlights, Day 1

Tactical observations from Derby Chief Katy in the Ops Room

(Riders are given a map at each Urtuu with a 'racing line' for the next leg. Not necessarily the shortest route, but usually the easiest (and often quickest). Deviating from the line isn't against the rules, but comes with obvious risk.

 Pierre Germain (PG) had a tumble, got kicked in the face. A few stitches from the doc and he's back up and riding. In good spirits

Pierre Germain (PG) had a tumble, got kicked in the face. A few stitches from the doc and he's back up and riding. In good spirits

 Liv Wood (OW) checking in at HS 1 after having to walk a large portion of the way. Horse wouldn't comply

Liv Wood (OW) checking in at HS 1 after having to walk a large portion of the way. Horse wouldn't comply

Rachel Land and Greg Chant talk to Mr Eric before the launch

The moment of launch:

When asked which he fears most out of shitting his pants, being savaged by wild dogs, or drowning crossing a flooded river, James Lester said he’s “only really worried about being cold.” Not sure if that makes him really hard or really soft...
— HQ Michelle

Rider Call Signs

You might catch us using abbreviated rider call signs on the Twitter and blog. Here's how you know who's who


  • Annette Kriller - AK
  • Amanda Charlton Herbert -AC
  • Barry Armitage -BA
  • Ceri Putman - CP
  • Charlotte Wills - CW
  • Christine Sarah Arndt - CA
  • Clare Salmon - CS
  • Cy Lloyd-Jones - CL
  • Ed Fernon - EF
  • Emma Manthorpe - EM
  • Greg Chant - GC
  • Hanna Schumacher - HS
  • Jakkie Mellet - JM
  • Jane Boxhall - JB
  • James Lester - JL
  • Jennifer Cook - JC
  • Jodie Ward - JW
  • Julia Fisher - JF
  • Leslie Wylie - LW
  • Louisa Ball - LB
  • Lucy Taylor - LT
  • Margaret Clare Summers - MS
  • Marianne Williams - MW
  • Marie Palzer - MP
  • Mark Bauwens - MB
  • Neil Goldie-Scot - NG
  • Olivia (Liv) Wood - OW
  • Paul Richards - PR
  • Pierre Germain - PG
  • Rebecca Hewitt - RHW
  • Rebecca Pumphrey - RP
  • Rick Helson - RHL
  • Roberta (Bobby) Friend - BF
  • Roberta McLeod - RM
  • Rachel Land - RL
  • Sally Toye - ST
  • Suzann Holmqvist - SH
  • Taylor Dolak - TD
  • Taylor Williams*(B.Warton) - BW
  • Victoria Twelves - VT
  • William Comiskey - WC
  • Warren Sutton - WS

You can follow in Twittersphere, the Facebookplace and on our Live Tracking Dashboard. Or if all this armchair punditry is giving you a yearning for the action you can apply for the 2018 Derby HERE.