The £140,000 Gimcrack Stakes is one of several Group 2 races conducted during the York Ebor Festival in August each year. For many years it was held on Ladies Day, Day Two of the four-day meeting, but for 2011 it has been moved back a day to precede a pair of other big races—the Group 3 sky bet Strensall Stakes and the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes.
The Gimcrack Stakes is a six-furlong sprint conducted exclusively for two-year-old Thoroughbred colts and geldings on the straight turf of York’s Knavesmire course. Each runner carries eight stone twelve pounds, with a penalty of three pounds for previous winners of Group 1 or Group 2 races.
Named after a grey 18th-century stallion that won 27 of 36 races in his seven-season a turf career, the Gimcrack Stakes was inaugurated in 1846. It was initially open to horses of either gender and remained so until the male-only restriction was imposed in 1987. Scottish Equitable served as the primary sponsor of the race for nearly two decades until 2007, when Ireland claimed the title spot. Since 2008, the event has been run as the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes.
The winner’s share of the prize purse is upwards of £89,000. However, as much as the money is attractive, the Gimcrack Stakes offers an additional prize that some believe is even more important. The annual Gimcrack Club dinner is held at the racecourse each December, and the winner’s owner is treated as a VIP guest, traditionally invited to give a speech to the membership.
Each sprinter gets a single shot at success in the Gimcrack Stakes. One of the most memorable winners to leave a mark here was a bay colt named Bahram, winning this race in 1934 before going on to capture the British Triple crown in 1935. In nine career races, the horse never lost.
Another great bay stallion that used this event as a stepping stone was Mill Reef. He won the Gimcrack Stakes in 1970 before taking the Epsom Derby in 1971 and becoming the European Horse of the Year. That latter honour was also bestowed more recently on Rock of Gibraltar, the Gimcrack’s 2001 winner that went on to capture both the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish 2,000 Guineas in 2002.
One jockey accumulated a staggering nine victories here in the 19th century. That was John Osborne, Jr., who won initially on Exact in 1852 and finished up aboard Simnel in 1880. During the intervening years, he won riding Coastguard in 1863, Wild Agnes in 1864, Lord of the Vale in 1865, Bothwell in 1870, Thorn in 1872, Holy Friar in 1874 and Constantine in 1876.
With seven wins, the race’s leading trainer also harks back to the 1800s. William I’Anson, Jr. succeeded here with Pursebearer in 1881, Castor in 1885, Lady Muncaster in 1886, Derwentwater in 1887, Lockhart in 1889, Royal Stag in 1890 and Barbette in 1903.
Since the turn of the new millennium, no trainer has brought more than a single victor to the Gimcrack Stakes, and only one jockey has claimed a pair of wins, that being Jimmy Fortune on Conquest in 2006 and Showcasing in 2009. Going back two decades, Frankie Dettori, Pat Eddery and Michael Kinane have all triumphed twice, but none more recently that 2003.
The size of the field can vary greatly, from half a dozen to twice that many or more. In years with few entrants, the favourites do well, such as 2/1 Showcasing beating five higher-odds chasers, perhaps having scared stronger competition away before the race began. But when eleven, twelve or thirteen starters compete, look for higher odds to prevail, such as Shaweel in 2008 paying 16/1 with 16/1 Master Noverre right behind in a field of a dozen healthy sprinters.