In its modern format it has been a relay race, with five legs over a distance of 2.4km and changeovers on Top Common. It felt like history was being made this year too, with coronavirus restrictions meaning we had to make some alterations to the format of the race.
The last time the event was held it was just a couple of days before the national lockdown began in March, and little did we know then that it would be so long before we could meet again for a big Inter-House race of this type. Having had to postpone the Tucks and Paperchases until we have more freedom to meet in large groups, we were desperate to try to put on some competition this term in their place, and with the need to keep pupils in their year-group and House bubbles, the Steeplechases fit the requirements quite nicely. Instead of having fluid changeovers, we moved to five discrete year-group races, with the aggregate times of each collated for the team scores. With all other sports sessions cancelled for the afternoon, there was the chance for mass participation and plenty of House support from those not competing.
With each House setting off at five-second intervals, each leg offered the opportunity for lots of overtaking and it was never clear at the end of each leg what the exact race order was. Rigg’s, the strong favourites for the boys’ race, were at the very back of the queue, and had lots of ground to make up! The same was true of Emma Darwin for the girls, who also had good form and were expected to take the win.
In the first (3rd form) leg, a terrific battle could be seen in the latter stages of the race between Harry P-M (I) and Jack K (PH). Both these boys came to the School this year with real pedigree in cross-country running, and it was great to see them renew the rivalry we saw back in September in the 3rd form race. Though Harry managed a heroic effort in fending off Jack to the end, Jack’s was the faster time having started 15 seconds back. Olivia K (M) ran the best girls’ leg, some 18 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, Lyla W (G).
In the 4th form leg, Mimi G (EDH) ran an astonishingly good race with the 4th-fastest girls’ time overall in 9:44, thirty-odd seconds ahead of Hattie A (G). Archie T (Rt) battled valiantly with Brad K (R) as the latter hunted him down along the home stretch of Top Common, just pipping Archie to the post in a very exciting finish. Brad had managed to break the 8-minute mark with his electric run, a feat matched by only four of the older runners in the race. It was great to see that, having concentrated on football this term, he hasn’t lost any of his speed! The day boys dominated the rest of the top order, taking seven of the top ten places, with excellent performances from Hamish G and Massimo W (both PH) in particular.
The third leg was the turn of the 5th form, with Sophia U (EDH) hoping to lay down a marker in her first big House race since taking up regular Hunt training this year. Last year she won the Junior Girls’ fastest leg, and this year she stormed through the girls’ pack and finished very strongly in 9:27 (the second-fastest girls’ time of the day), over 30 seconds ahead of second-placed Eva H (G). Will S (R) was among the favourites to set the fastest time of the day, but without anyone of his quality to work with, he struggled to find his pace and while his time was excellent (7:53), it was probably a little slower than he’s capable of. It was still enough to be the fastest time in his leg however, stretching out Riggs’ lead to over two minutes with only three legs run. A little further back, Johnny F (Ch) ran a very strong 8:27, and George H (O) 8:45.
Onto the Lower Sixth leg, and again we were treated to another exciting finish along Top Common, as Harrison C (R) chased down Jonny P (I) with about 100m to go, and from there extended his lead powerfully in the final straight. His time of 7:35 was the fastest of the day, and though the course was about 20m shorter than usual, it should probably go down as the fastest Steeplechases performance in recent years, the previous record being held by Oscar D in 7:44 back in 2016. Jonny’s time of 8:03 was also among the fastest of the day, and kept Ingram’s in the hunt for second place. Livy E (EDH) – having made the switch to training full-time with the RSSBC this year – showed that she’s still got plenty of pace in her legs, running the fastest L6 time of the day and third-fastest overall, with 9:45. Kate R (EDH) also ran extremely well for the EDH B team, clocking 9:49.
As the Upper Sixth lined up for the final leg, it was clear that Rigg’s had already secured a massive and essentially unassailable lead, and all the RSSH Huntsman Oscar H-R had to do was jog round and the victory would be theirs. Oscar was hungry for a place on the individual leader-board though, and powered round in 7:49, the second-fastest time of the afternoon. Senior Whip Will O (Ch) was not far behind, just pipping Will Singleton for 3rd-fastest time overall by 0.1 seconds, clocking 7:53.6. Sam F (SH) was just outside the 8-minute mark with 8:01, but in doing so showed what excellent progress he’s made this year. Francesca H (EDH) won back her Steeplechases title which injury prevented her from defending last year, in a time of 8:59, over a minute faster than her nearest U6 competitor.
Rigg’s then took the overall boys’ victory by just over four minutes, with Ingram’s putting in a great effort to claim second, only ten seconds ahead of Radbrook in third. Special mention should go to Port Hill for fielding 9 teams – surely a record of mass-participation from one House in this event! In the girls’ race, Emma Darwin claimed the overall victory, ahead of Grove in second, with Emma Darwin’s B team claiming second. Well done to Mary Sidney Hall for putting out five teams, more than any other girls’ House.
I often make reference in these reports to House spirit, but today’s was truly exceptional, both from those running so competitively for the honour of their House, to the hundreds of supporters noisily willing them on. Congratulations to everyone who competed.
IPH, Master in Charge of The Hunt