Historic Flagg racing makes its point...

Flagg Races 'Tea and cake was served in the hospitality tent
Flagg Races 'Tea and cake was served in the hospitality tent
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“IT WAS warm here yesterday, honest.”

The official’s assurance is cold comfort on a day when a brisk north-easterly is rollicking across the valley from Monyash and into the ruddy faces of the faithful 5,000.

Place your bets: Bookmakers display odds to the punters.

Place your bets: Bookmakers display odds to the punters.

But this is Flagg Races, no-one comes here for a suntan and compared to the snow-bound meetings of legend, it’s positively balmy.

The truth is it that this year’s meeting very nearly didn’t happen at all - thanks to the weather.

Not because it’s too cold and wet, but because it’s been too dry and sunny.

The course had to be watered every day for five days for the race to go ahead after a mini-Derbyshire drought lasting 46 days made the ground like stone.

Racing fun: Some of the 5,000 visitors enjoy their picnics and wine at the Flagg meeting.    Pictures: Sarah Wasbourn

Racing fun: Some of the 5,000 visitors enjoy their picnics and wine at the Flagg meeting. Pictures: Sarah Wasbourn

The race’s organising committee had to spend an estimated £5,000 of their ‘mud budget’ to get a million litres of river water tankered up and spread on the course.

Cash normally reserved to pay farmers to tow motorists stuck in muddy car parks was this year spent on water.

Quite an unusual year then?

“Things have to be a lot more organised these days,” said races representative Joanna Burnett.

Up for the cup: Mark Caley celebrates his win in the three- mile contest.

Up for the cup: Mark Caley celebrates his win in the three- mile contest.

“We are mostly staffed by volunteers, and people come in from Good Friday to help get things ready over the weekend, the weather was superb but it’s a bit cooler today.

“We have had to get the course watered. We knew we wouldn’t have a mud problem this year, but the race can be called off if the course is too dry and hard for the horses to run on.

“The watering also made the grass grow more which gives a bit of protection for the horses as they go round the course.”

For townies and those uninterested in horsey affairs, the race probably seems a point-to-pointless country event in the middle of nowhere.

In action:: Jockey Pip Clayton, from Curbar, who competed in the High Peak Hunt Members, subscribers and farmers' race.

In action:: Jockey Pip Clayton, from Curbar, who competed in the High Peak Hunt Members, subscribers and farmers' race.

But point-to-point became racing from church steeple to church steeple which became steeplechasing which became modern horse racing and Flagg is the only point-to-point meeting still run to Jockey Club rules.

Flagg has been run every year since 1892 and at 1,200ft above sea level is the highest point-to-point course in the country.

It’s quite the social event, too.

High on the hill above the course the £10 ticket holders queue for pork sandwiches and burgers. In the £40 car park, toffs tailgating out of Range Rovers, Porsche 4x4s and BMWs are well into the Mersault and canapes by 12 noon. Sides of roast beef are unwrapped, champagne and Stella stacked by polished alloys as the tweeded, waxed and brogued gather to lunch.

Mike Muscroft, of Sheffield’s TC Harrison car dealership, has been going to Flagg for 40 years.

“Everyone seems to be getting older here each year but I do notice a lot of families here,” said Mike.

Break time: Visitors brave the blustery conditions to enjoy snacks between races.

Break time: Visitors brave the blustery conditions to enjoy snacks between races.

“I enjoy it because I see people here who I wouldn’t otherwise see. My son Max used to come with me when he was little and now he brings his son Milo. It’s a great family day.

“The weather is actually pretty good this year. I have been here in thick snow in previous years, this is fine.”

On the course, the Farmers’ Race as they call The High Peak Hunt Members, Subscribers and Farmers Race is completed over actual dry stone walls - none of your fake fences here. The three-mile race was won by local rider Mark Caley but was less rewarding for fellow rider Sue Tideswell whose fall had the air ambulance scrambled but she was not seriously hurt and was later driven to hospital as a precaution.

Over by the full-to-bursting beer marquee officials and sponsors Barbour queue for Pork pie, Victoria sponge and cold sausages at the beautifully-stocked buffet in a tent of their own.

Outside the wind almost blows away race news from the tannoy, inside farmers wives sip tea, horsemen and women eat sausage rolls and cake, officials fuss.

This is Flagg Races, steeped in history and tradition, it takes a lot more than a cold wind to change things around here.