A potato farmer is currently beating an Olympian in the world’s longest and toughest horse race.

After six days of the 2017 Mongol Derby, 40-year-old South African potato farmer Jakkie Mellet (pictured top) had covered 880km of the 1,000km contest.

Close behind him was Australian Olympian Ed Fernon (pictured below), 29, from Sydney, and South African, Barry Armitage, 51, who was first past the post in 2012 but thwarted by a vet penalty, are currently in joint second.

Following them 40kms behind are Australians William ‘Dingo’ Comiskey, 29 from Long Reach and joint winner in 2016, and Warren Sutton, 45, from Victoria.

Ed already has long-distance experience under his belt, having ridden 1000km from Braidwood, New South Wales to Melbourne over the Snowy Mountains, following the legend of the first Melbourne Cup winner, Archer.

Credit: Julian Herbert

Organisers say that harsh weather conditions have made this year’s race a particularly gruelling challenge.

In the face of driving rain and freezing cold, three competitors have already dropped out on health grounds.

The UK’s Jane Boxhall retired after a “rough” fall, while Julia Fisher from the US cracked her ribs. Fellow American Rick Helson was also put out of the running after suffering from dehydration and hypothermia.

This year marks the ninth running of the event, which saw 41 hopefuls line up to start.

They include last year’s joint winner William Comiskey, a rodeo rider, eventer and showjumper who honed his skills growing up on a cattle station in Queensland, Australia.

Other participants include a dairy farmer, an ostrich rider, a dog-sledder, a psychologist, an artist, a banker, a private investigator and even “a desperate housewife”.

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The UK has 13 remaining competitors in the running: Louise Ball, Mark Bauwens, Neil Goldie-Scott, Cy Lloyd Jones, Rebecca Pumphrey, Ceri Putman, Paul Richards, Clare Salmon, Sally Toye, Victoria Twelves, Charlotte Wills, Gigi Kay and Paul Richards.

Officially in the Guiness book of records as the world’s longest race, the Derby course takes competitors through the Mongolian Steppes, recreating the route of the horse messenger system developed by Ghengis Khan in 1224.

Native Mongolian horses are sourced from the nomadic herders and breeders for the race, with riders switching mounts every 40km.

The organisers select around 1400 horses every year to undergo a Derby pre-training and fitness programme.