York racecourse is located in the south-west of the city on a piece of land known as the Knavesmire. The course is accessible via the A64 Junction and is clearly sign-posted on race days. There is a shuttle bus to and from York Railway Station with frequent trains from London Kings Cross and direct trains from Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham.
York is regarded as one of the leading flat racecourses in the country. It is a left handed flat, galloping track with a circuit of just under two miles. There is a straight six furlong course with seven furlong races starting on a chute. Low numbers have a slight advantage over five furlongs in large fields. The reverse is true over six furlongs where high numbers hold sway, particularly in soft ground.
York Horse Racing History
Official race meetings at York’s current venue date back to 1730 while horse racing at York goes back to Roman times. The Knavesmire was originally a common pasture belonging to the city and was the scene of the hanging of Dick Turpin in 1739. The first Grandstand was erected at York Racecourse in 1754 with major developments in 1890, 1965 and 1996. The Ebor Stand was opened in 2003 and now resides on the site of the original Grandstand.
York was chosen to host Royal Ascot in 2005 while the Berkshire track was redeveloped. The following year, York again profited from developments elsewhere. It was chosen to hold the season’s final Classic, the St Leger, while Doncaster underwent improvements.
York Ebor Festival & Dante Meeting
The highlight of the racing year at York is the four-day Ebor Festival in August. The Ebor is Europe’s richest handicap on the flat and is the signature event of the meeting. The Festival also features the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes, the International Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks. Informative juvenile races at the meeting include the Gimcrack Stakes and the Lowther Stakes.
The Dante Stakes is a significant Derby Trial and lends its name to the three-day meeting in May. The Musidora Stakes is a recognised Oaks Trial while the Yorkshire Cup is a championship race for stayers. Further notable meetings at York include John Smith’s Cup Day in July, always popular with the racing public. Around 350,000 people pass through the gates at York Racecourse annually.
The Group 1 International Stakes is the richest race staged at York each season with prize money of £1million in 2017. The race was originally run as the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup in 1972, featuring a clash of the generations over ten furlongs.
The Nunthorpe Stakes is the only Group 1 race in Britain which is open to two-year-old geldings. It is one of the top sprint races in the calendar and was formerly known as the William Hill Sprint Championship. The Yorkshire Oaks is open to fillies and mares aged three years and older and dates back to 1849. It was originally restricted to three-year-olds but was opened up to older horses in 1991.
The Ebor Handicap is named after the Roman name for York (Eboracum) and is over a mile and five furlongs. Prize money was increased to a record £285,000 in 2017 and it is one of the most competitive handicaps of the season. The Yorkshire Cup is a Group 2 race over the Ebor distance and is a natural stepping-stone to the Ascot Gold Cup.
The Dante Stakes is named after the 1945 Derby winner Dante who was trained in Yorkshire. He was bred and owned by Eric Ohlson of Manor House Stud in Middleham and trained by Matthew Peacock. The Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes is also named after a successful Yorkshire-trained Derby winner. Voltigeur won the Derby and St Leger in 1850 and race has often proved to be a reliable guide to the outcome of the Doncaster Classic.
Famous Races and Racehorses at York
The inaugural running of The International Stakes featured a thrilling victory for Derby winner Roberto over Brigadier Gerard. It was the only defeat for “The Brigadier” in eighteen career starts. Three horses have won the International Stakes on two occasions; Dahlia (1974 and 1975), Ezzoud (1993 and 1994) and Halling (1995 and 1996). Ezzoud was trained by Sir Michael Stoute who is the leading trainer in the race with six winners.
Other horses to win the Epsom Derby and the International Stakes were Troy (1979), Authorized (2007), Sea The Stars (2009) and Australia (2014). The roll of honour for this race is littered with famous names of the turf including Wollow (1976), Triptych (1987) and Giant’s Causeway (2000). In 2012 the great Frankel tackled ten furlongs for the first time and thrilled the large crowd with an impressive victory.
Sharpo completed a hat-trick of victories in the Nunthorpe Stakes in 1982, emulating the feat of Tag End (1928-1930). Other top class sprinters to win here included Dayjur (1990), Sheikh Albadou (1991) and Lochsong (1993). In recent years, Borderlescott (2008 and 2009), Sole Power (2010 and 2014) and Mecca’s Angel (2015 and 2016) have all recorded two victories. In 1997, Alex Greaves rode Ya Malak to dead-heat with Coastal Bluff, becoming the first woman to ride a Group 1 winner in Europe.
Sea Pigeon’s victory in the 1979 Ebor Handicap under 10 stone is still remembered fondly. The race has been won by many very popular stayers including Jupiter Island (1983), Further Flight (1990), Quick Ransom (1992) and Sergeant Cecil (2005). Mudawin stunned punters in 2006 when scoring at odds of 100-1 for Trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam. The race has been used as a route to the Melbourne Cup in recent seasons. Give The Slip (2000), Purple Moon (2007) and Heartbreak City (2016) all went on to finish second at Flemington.
The Dante Stakes has a phenomenal record as a Derby Trial. Golden Horn (2015) was the eighth horse to complete the Dante/Derby double in a 30-year period. This group includes Shahrastani (1986), Reference Point (1987), Motivator (2005) and Authorized (2007).
York Top Jockeys and Trainers
Sir Michael Stoute’s runners return a good percentage of winners and his horses have won over £1million in prize money in the past three seasons. William Haggas is not far behind and has recorded a fine strike-rate and a level stakes profit over the same period.
Frankie Dettori has a good record in the big races at York and his booked rides are always worth a second look. James Doyle has also enjoyed plenty of success at the Knavesmire while PJ McDonald has rewarded his followers with a healthy level stakes profit.