York racecourse isn’t far from the top of the tree of the Northern racecourses when it comes to atmosphere, facilities and quality of racing, and is a place well worth a visit.
August each year sees the track play host to its flagship Festival as the Ebor meeting comes to town. Headlined by the top staying handicap that is the Ebor itself, and featuring a trio of Group 1 contests, for racing fans these are four days of action simply not to be missed.
Here we take a look at the main events, provide a few general pointers towards picking out those all-important winners and take a look back at the history of the festival.
Ebor Festival – Main Races
Great Voltigeur Stakes – Group 2 – 1m4f
The first Group class contest comes on the opening Wednesday of this meeting with the race which is effectively the Ebor meeting’s Derby. In common with the Epsom showpiece this is restricted to the three year olds and run over 1m4f. Unlike at Epsom though geldings are permitted to compete.
This may “only” be a Group 2 contest but it has nevertheless been landed by the likes of Bustino, Rainbow Quest, Postponed and Cracksman over the years, indicating the quality of horse it often takes to prevail.
Juddmonte International Stakes – Group 1 – 1m2f
What is traditionally the richest race of this meeting also falls on the opening day. Always one of the highest quality mile and a quarter contests of the season, the Group 1 Juddmonte International is a true championship contest, being open to all runners aged three and older, be they colts, geldings or fillies.
Authorized, Sea The Stars, Australia, Postponed, and of course the greatest of them all, Frankel, all feature on the roll of honour here.
Yorkshire Oaks – Group 1 – 1m4f
It’s the turn of the fillies to provide the headline acts on day two of the meeting. On a card also featuring the Lowther Stakes for the juveniles of the fairer sex, it is this contest for the fillies aged three and older which tops the bill. The three year olds receive a 9lbs weight allowance from their older rivals in this clash of the generations which regularly attracts runners from The Oaks itself.
Sir Michael Stoute has tasted his fair share of success in this over the years, including with one of only two dual winners of the race, Islington. The likes of Petrushka, Ramruma and Enable also feature on the list or previous victors.
Nunthorpe Stakes – Group 1 – 5f
Strap yourself in for the most thrilling minute of sport of the week as the speedsters line up for the flying five furlongs of the Nunthorpe Stakes. The great and the good of the sprinting game have scorched the turf on their way to glory in this over the years, including the likes of Right Boy, Lochsong, Pivotal, and Sole Power.
Despite its competitive nature, multiple winners aren’t unknown in this; Tag End and Sharpo each winning the race in three consecutive years. Open to all runners aged three and older this high octane event acts as the showpiece event on the Friday of the meeting.
Ebor Handicap – Class 2 – 1m6f
The centrepiece of the card on the concluding Saturday is one of the most prestigious handicap contests of the entire season – certainly for those runners who boast stamina as their strong suit.
First run way back in 1843 and named after the historical Roman name for the city of York, this staying contest truly lives up to its Heritage Handicap status. A gruelling 1m6f is the trip in a race which has been won by such stars as the ever popular Further Flight, and legendary dual purpose performer Brown Jack.
Ebor Festival – Betting Pointers
One of the most important things to look for when making your selections at York is a true ability to see out the distance – whatever that distance may be – from the 5f of the Nunthorpe to the 1m6f of the Ebor. One of the fairest tracks in the land, York’s flat galloping nature and long 5f run is ideally suited to those runners who can wind up their challenge from a long way out and really maintain their run to the line. Look for powerful galloping types rather than smaller nippy sorts.
Solid runs at similarly galloping tracks such as Ascot, Newmarket, Doncaster and Haydock should count as a big positive. Doncaster in particular has a similar configuration to York’s Knavesmire track.
Many hold that York is a track well suited to tough frontrunners, but overall that doesn’t really seem to be the case. It can be tough to make all the running at such a stiff track and as such those that fare the best are runners who sit just off the pace, get a good tow into the contest and then come with sustained challenge. Look for comments such as “tracked leader” or “mid division” in the in-running comments of the contenders previous performances.
In terms of the draw, low drawn runners appear to have a slight edge on the round course, with the bias becoming more pronounced on good to firm going.
Ebor Festival – A Brief History
One of the UK cities with the strongest Roman heritage, it was over 2000 years ago during the reign of Emperor Severus that racing first took place at York.
Racing on the current Knavesmire track came a little more recently, but still quite a long time ago, first being recorded in the year 1730.
For those curious about the “Knavesmire” moniker; knave stems from the old English meaning a dishonest or unscrupulous man; (comparisons with the current bookmakers on track are surely a little harsh) and mire from a stretch of boggy or swampy ground. The going certainly does get pretty testing at York when the heavens open, without perhaps ever reaching swamp-like proportions.
York racecourses signature festival began over 170 years ago with the inaugural running of the Ebor handicap back in 1843. An ancestor event known simply as August race week had however existed for around 100 years prior to that. Then – as now – it was one of the first events pencilled in to the social calendars of Yorkshiremen, and indeed racing fans from further afield.
The meeting has run almost continuously ever since – other than during the war years – with the first abandonment of the card due to the weather not coming until 2008. Not bad for the north.
Not only is the opening days’ Juddmonte International the classiest contest run over the four days of the meeting, it has on occasion been THE classiest race run anywhere in the world, being declared exactly that by the International Federation of Horseracing authorities in 2015. As befitting such a high calibre contest, the prize money was raised to a whopping £1million for the first time in 2017.
The feature race itself is often the subject of a major public gamble. Tuning (1998) and Purple Moon (2007) being two examples of successful betting coups. It doesn’t always go according to script in the Ebor though; Jane Chapple-Hyam sent out Mudawin to win at a massive 100/1 in 2006.
When looking through the history books of the meetings flagship contests, it is the name of Lester Piggott which crops up again and again in the jockeys standings. Imperious wherever he travelled, Lester was particularly effective at York, winning five International Stakes, four Yorkshire Oaks and the Nunthorpe Stakes on no fewer than seven occasions.
Amongst the trainers it is the great Sir Michael Stoute who catches the eye, having racked up record setting totals in both the Yorkshire Oaks and International.
However your punting goes on the Knavesmire, you will surely fare better than legendary robber, Dick Turpin, who was hanged on the track in 1739.