The racing of frogs is taken seriously in Kent. The piece de resistance is the Frog Derby in Bexley Heath on the third Saturday of June, which has been run since 1731.
The Frog Derby is run over an undulating course of four hundred yards on the downs. At 9 a.m. fifty racing frogs are placed on the starting line by their trainers. Each frog is marked with a number so they can be identified. At 9 a.m. the starter shouts “Frogs Hop Off” and the race begins.
The frogs must reach the finish line under their own power. The entire race course is cordoned off and no humans can enter this area during the race. This prevents trainers walking along in front of their frog with an enticing fly hanging on a string. This happened in 1782 when Josiah Smethhurst “coursed” his frog Bathsheba to the finish. Despite a protest from Toby Farquarson, the trainer of the Royal Racing Frog, Bonaparte, the result stood but the rules were changed to prevent it happening again. Trainers can place a carrot or other enticing tidbit at the finishing line for the frog to aim at but that’s all that’s allowed.
The course record is 4 minutes 36 seconds by Rupert the Racing Frog in 1862, a record he nearly broke in 1863. Rumours abounded that Rupert was ‘gingered up’ for both those races, an accusation with some substance given that he didn’t stop at the finish line but carried on until he arrived at a pond and submerged in the water.
Besides the starting and finishing line judges there are a number of officials who take part in the event. Their names are Agincourt, Poitiers, Harfleur, and Waterloo and their role is to keep the frogs in their place so that they don’t leave the course.
This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker