Last year’s winner, Freddie Huxley-Fielding of Rigg’s, was such a strong favourite that no one really doubted his eventual success. Indeed, the first three positions were all fairly predictable. This time around, however, it was too close to call. At my estimate, even without the talents of the Hunt’s two vice-captains (or Whips) Owen Mock and Niklas Amthor (both of Rigg’s), there still remained five runners who had a reasonable shout at claiming victory. In the girls’ race, meanwhile, we would for the first time see a competition across four girls’ houses.
Scouting missions around the course in the two weeks leading up to the fateful day reported a worryingly uneven Tuck’s field, with no discernible path, the farmer having ploughed right up to the edge and leaving any overtaking opportunities few and far between. Multiple twisted ankles looked to be an inevitability and was duly written in to the lengthy risk assessment. However, some (entirely unprompted) last-minute levelling by the farmer on the morning of race day luckily for us made the field a much easier prospect. More evidence that the gods of cross-country were smiling on the Tucks race was witnessed in the preceding week of dry weather, making for one of the smoother passages through the Red Hill area that we have seen in recent years.
The stage was set, then, for another epic battle. Tension was etched on the faces of the runners of the ‘A’ wave as they lined up on the start line, ready to charge for the narrowest of gaps out of Meole Brace playing fields and out on to Church Lane. As ever, a clean start was vital to avoid losing valuable time in the several bottlenecks that exist in the first kilometre of the course.
As the runners sprinted across the field, most of the known contenders for the victory seemed to get away well. For those of us positioned at the start/finish area, we would now have to wait for the entire duration of the race before knowing how any of it unfolded. In the meantime, though, three more waves duly set off at two-minute intervals, comprising nearly 750 runners in total (including around 50 staff).
The boys’ race was won by Harry Remnant (Ch) of the Lower Sixth, in an impressive time of 17:50, which is within 30 seconds of the race record set by George Mallett (S) back in 2011. Having stayed with a leading pack until about halfway through the race, I’m told he was able to gradually pull away and stretch the opposition out, in a fine example of tactical running.
A bit further back, in an excellent performance by a Fifth Former, was Sam Western (PH), who was able to show how far he has developed as an athlete in the last year or so.
Taking bronze was Cameron Anwyl (S UVI), just ahead of the RSSH Huntsman, Monty Hardcastle (I), who was still feeling fatigued from his efforts in the Pringle Trophy only a few days before. Tom Jackson (R), another Fifth Former, rounded up the top five with an impressive display.
In the girls’ race, Francesca Harris (EDH) lined up at the start a clear favourite, having won the race last year as a Third Former, an unprecedented achievement. Her expected win did indeed come to pass, with a strong run in 20:52, beating her nearest rival and fellow Emma Darwin runner, Lillian Wilcox (herself only a Fifth Former) by nearly two minutes. Huntswoman Immie Evans (G) claimed bronze, ahead of Sophia Dixon and Anna Cowan (both of MSH) in 4th and 5th.
Prizes are also awarded to ‘junior’ runners, i.e. those in the Third and Fourth Forms. In the boys’ race, first junior was claimed by Oscar Hamilton-Russell, who placed sixth overall in a tremendous run. Second place went to Third Former Seb Price (again of Rigg’s), who placed 12th, while the bronze medal was won by Fourth Former Orlando Williams (Rt).
Among the junior girls, Francesca Harris of course picked up gold here, having won the race outright, while the silver medal was won by Third Former Nell Ware (MSH), with Charlotte Russell (G) taking third.
Perhaps even more important to these runners than their individual successes, though, was the performance of the Houses as a whole. As the results were counted, it became clear that Rigg’s had overcome the setback of losing two of their best runners (Owen and Niklas) to claim a huge points win over their nearest rivals, Severn Hill, by nearly 150 points. This was an extremely impressive achievement by Rigg’s, who also won the title last year, and is testament to the strength in depth that currently exists in that house. The fact that nearly 20 Rigg’s boys train regularly with the Hunt is surely an important ingredient in their success.
Among the girls’ houses, victory was much more marginal. Having claimed the one-two by Chessy and Lillian, last year’s winners Emma Darwin must have felt confident of the overall win, but this actually went to Mary Sidney Hall in what was a surprising win for them. A great team performance ensured that their seventh and eighth counters placed fairly high up the field, and contributed to a team score just 13 points lower than Emma Darwin’s. The Grove took third place, and Moser’s, in their first Tucks appearance as a girls’ house, placed fourth.
One of the most exciting things about the Tucks race, for me, is not what goes on at the top end, but the myriad minor battles taking place right through the field. A lot of these battles are purely personal – a Fourth Former, perhaps, aiming to improve on last year’s result of 250th, or a Lower Sixth entrant, keen to place in the top 100 after betting she could to one of her housemates. The overall spirit of competition shown by all Salopians on the day – whether or not they consider themselves runners – was tremendously inspiring, and I congratulate them all on a wonderful achievement.
Teacher in Charge of the Hunt
To enjoy a short film featuring some of the highlights of the Tucks, please follow the link: The Tucks Film 2017