York Racecourse

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Published: 28/08/2013

Measuring two miles in length and featuring a five-furlong run-in, York Racecourse ranks among the oldest and most important of all courses in the United Kingdom. Its track, referred to as the “The Knavesmire,” is a left-handed oval used exclusively for flat racing and hosting some 17 days of racing between May and October. The biggest highlight of the year is the four-day Ebor Festival in August, featuring three Class 1 flat races—the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Darley Yorkshire Oaks and the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes.

Part of the Fabric of British Racing

York Corporation records indicate that the City first fully supported racing as early as 1530. The sport is also known to have taken place in 1607, on the frozen river Ouse, between Micklegate Tower and Skeldergate Postern. From 1709 to 1730, racing was conducted adjacent to the river on Rawcliffe Ings, but the course suffered from frequent flooding. As a solution, a new course was laid down on a common pasture belonging to the city of York on the Knavesmire, which has remained the site of York Racecourse to this day. Its initial meeting took place in August of 1731, making York the first centre after Newmarket to formulate a structured race programme. By 1754 a grandstand had been erected, financed by 250 subscribers who donated guineas each.

During the mid-19th century, a number of innovative races were introduced by the York Race Committee formed in 1842, including several that have grown into major events. Among them were the Ebor Handicap inaugurated in 1843, the Gimcrack Stakes established in 1846 and the Yorkshire Oaks launched in 1849. An annual calendar was established to include the Spring Meeting in May and another in August, supplemented by the Yorkshire Union Hunt Meeting in October and a steeplechase meeting in April.

Of particular historic note was the “Great Match” held at York between two of that era’s standout horses, Voltigeur and The Flying Dutchman. Both had previously won the Derby and the St. Leger, but in the fall of 1950, Voltigeur prevailed over his rival in the Doncaster Cup, setting the stage for a head-to-head showdown. The following May, York arranged a two-mile match race between the two steeds for a purse of 1,000 sovereigns, whereupon The Flying Dutchman exacted revenge by a length, thrilling a crowd estimated at between 100,000 and 150,000 spectators. It was quite likely the most celebrated duel in the history of British thoroughbred racing.

Among many other important races inaugurated at York Racecourse in the 20th century were the Nunthorpe Stakes (1922), Yorkshire Cup (1927), Lowther Stakes (1946) and the Great Voltigeur Stakes (1950). They were soon joined by the Dante Stakes (1958), Duke of York Stakes (1968), International Stakes (1972) and Middleton Stakes (1981). And most recently added to the annual schedule was the £100,000 Group 2 York Stakes (2006).

Racing at York Today

For the 2013 season, York Racecourse offered a record £5.8 million in prize money, including the richest race ever staged on the Knavesmire—the £750,000 Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes held on the opening day of August’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival. In addition to that spectacular four-day meeting, other annual attractions include the Dante Festival in May, the John Smith’s Cup Meeting and Music Showcase Weekend in July, and the October Finale with its Coral Sprint Trophy race.

Since 1890, stands have been erected and renovated to incorporate much of the course’s original facilities. The five-tier grandstand was added in 1965 and the Melrose Stand opened in 1989, followed by the award-winning Knavesmire Stand and additional conference facilities in 1996. The Ebor Stand was completed in 2003, containing, amongst other features, the Nunthorpe Suite, which is kept on racedays for exclusive use by Annual Badgeholders.

With a current capacity for 60,000 racegoers, York Racecourse has something for everyone. Entry to the Grandstand and Paddock Enclosures starts at £12, while the most expensive tickets at the County Enclosure go for £54 during the Ebor Festival. Combined admission and food offers are available with “Top-Up” pricing, allowing food & drink to be added to any ticket for £7.50 (sandwiches and tea at the Gimcrack Restaurant) to £64.50 (Yorkshire tapas and account bar at the Melrose Club Lounge). Numerous other food and beverage facilities are also available all around the course.

Published on: 28/08/2013

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