The London Pantomime Horse Race where nags don’t have to stay at home, any old mare can sign up and as long as you have unbridled enthusiasm for silly races then this should be your mane event of the year….. or should it?
Puns aside, the race celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and what originally started with five ‘horses’ as a quirky little local event raising money for children’s charities has now become internationally known raising thousands of pounds over the years as 60 runners pair up to become 30 horses and race from pub to pub.
Last year I stumbled upon the pre race ceremony while having a bimble around in Greenwich. After watching the horses have a hilarious dance off then set loose to race their way around half a mile of 6 pub pit stops knocking back shots and dodging obstacles I decided that this was a crazy race I wanted to do.
Roll around to this year, I discovered a clubmate had entered so I found myself a willing partner (Marina) and we signed up. The race always has a theme which the horses have to be decorated as and this time around it was Star Wars, admittedly I have never watched any of the movies so I went with Marinas choice of Princess Leia. We were set to raise money for Rosie Walks.
In October we received an email to say that a sponsor had pulled out almost causing the event to collapse, now horse costumes would no longer be provided and we would have to provide our own. Not a major problem and so we were still in the ‘wackiest’ race trying to figure out how to make a horse look like Carrie Fisher!
The week before the race we received the itinerary and it was definitely not the same as last year, no dance off, no pre race entertainment but the main thing was the event was still going ahead. Included in the itinerary were the ‘rules’ which I’ll get to shortly.
Marina and I arrived at the pub designated for our meet up at a little after half past ten and were greeted with hilarious mayhem of horses heads being carried around with weird and wonderful costumes. We went and changed, did a few costume alterations and the obligatory selfies. We were due to leave to walk to the Old Royal Naval Yard at 11.45am but at 12.15pm we were still outside the pub waiting to be on our way.
Finally we got moving and made our way to the yard, we were only due to be there for around 25 minutes so as we were already running behind schedule, the race was due to start at 1pm and we still had not had our pose in the ‘paddock’ area at Devenport House I assumed we would not be there too long. I was wrong. Apparently the organiser still had not turned up and we could not go anywhere until he did.
Shortly before 1pm the organiser showed up dressed as Hans Solo and although he was claiming to be the twin brother of the organiser for some unknown reason but thankfully said we could now go over to the ‘paddock’.
Oh lord, being bent over double pretending to be the horse’s rear end was a killer on my own rear end! The only view I had were my own two feet shuffling along the ground and I had to rely on Marina guiding us, at times she went too fast leaving me struggling to keep up and other times she was too slow leading to frequent shouts about my hair being stuck in the velcro on her back!
We made it to the paddock in one piece but by now it was after 1pm and we were nowhere near to starting. Introductions for the horses were quite lengthy and then the organiser had a temper tantrum, shouted he was resigning while live on stage and stormed off! I was too far away to hear exactly what he was unhappy about but I knew that meant the race may not go ahead and if it did then even more waiting around would follow and we had now already been in costume for almost 2 hours.
It was finally decided to set us off at almost 1.40pm without the organiser being there so finally off we went with most of us not actually having a solid clue where we were going so we just followed the others and the shouted directions from the helpful stewards.
Now here’s the rules:
On arrival at pit stops 1 and 2 we have to wait at each for a minimum of 5 minutes, pit stops 3 to 6 have a maximum stay not a minimum. Pit stop 6 will determine the 5 best performing racers who will then have to race each other on space hoppers for first place.
Sounds easy enough in theory but not in practice!
All of the pubs were too small to have over 30 horses in at one time so we were all moved on, especially pit stops 1 and 2 where we were supposed to stay for 5 minutes. We dragged it out as long as possible before we had no choice but to leave.
At the majority of the pit stops the horses behind us were unable to get in to the pubs and at the final pub we were told that we were not wanted, only 5 of us horses made it through that doorway before being told to go!
To be fair, all the pubs except number 6 were brilliant, happily giving us shots and the patrons were extremely good natured cheering us on but I was a little confused as to why we had met no obstacles along the course as promised. Dodging kerbs and moving cars were not what they intended I don’t think.
We went back to the pub where we initially had to meet and followed the itinerary instructions to go upstairs and change while also questioning the missing aspects of the race? Myself and Marina had managed to finish 4th, we would have been 3rd but she ran right past the final pub and we had not even been drinking!
As we got out of our costumes we were told that all of the horses had been disqualified because we had not followed the rules. To say everyone was shocked and very in happy was an understatement. The stewards said if we wanted to go ahead and have the space hopper race then we could with no need to change back in to costumes.
I was tempted but then thought knowing my luck I’d fall off and injure myself incurring the wrath of my running coach so decided to give it a miss.
We left the pub about 20 minutes later to go to the after party up the road and found the organiser was outside with the media and now dressed in a completely different costume and with the space hoppers.
When I questioned him as to whether we were actually disqualified he told us that we had arrived too early and that’s why the decision had been made. I stated that we had completed all the pit stops and had arrived at just after 2.15pm so we had been on course for just over half an hour fitting the timescale of the race. He then proceeded to select random horses for the obstacle and space hopper final race despite those horses not being allowed into pub 6 and not being the first five to finish.
We went off as planned to the after party and waited. This was due to start at 3pm with awards given to the winner of the race and to the top fundraisers, by 4pm which didn’t happen so we left.
I will be honest, this was one of the most disorganised races I’ve ever attended. I have no idea what happened this year but it was nothing like the race I watched last year and according to one of the stewards, who said they would never be involved again, this was the last year the current organiser would run the event but there were other people interested. The organiser apparently does absolutely everything himself and then finally delegates last minute meaning corners have to be cut.
This would be a brilliant race if it was better organised and had not outgrown itself by increasing numbers of horses.
Having racers wait around for hours in costume needlessly isn’t helpful, setting small pubs as pit stops isn’t workable or at least reduce the number of participants because 30 horses equals 60 runners and when you throw in spectators plus the other pub users then space becomes nonexistent.
Most of the time we had no clue what was going on so it would have been better for us to be kept updated but as far as we could make out the stewards weren’t told anything either so had nothing to pass on to us.
Despite it all we had a laugh but will definitely think twice about signing up next year if the current organiser is still involved because, as much fun as it was being a horse’s ass for the day I really don’t appreciate being treated like one.
Review by Elizabeth Ayres.