The Ebor Festival is one of the premier events on York’s social calendar and a real end-of-season highlight of the Flat racing calendar. Thousands from Yorkshire and further afield make the journey to York Racecourse for four days of fashion, food, drink and of course top, top class racing.
The racing at York is as varied as it is entertaining. The four days include Group 1 contests like the Yorkshire Oaks and Nunthorpe Stakes and lucrative handicaps like the Ebor Handicap from which the festival gets its name. It goes without saying that this provides plenty of opportunity for punters so let’s get stuck in to see if we can find some winners.
Juddmonte International Day Races (Wednesday)
|1:45||Sky Bet And Symphony Group Handicap||Class 2||5½f|
|2:15||Tattersalls Acomb Stakes||Group 3||7f|
|2:45||Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes||Group 2||1m4f|
|3:15||Juddmonte International Stakes||Group 1||1m2½f|
|3:45||Sky Bet Handicap||Class 2||2m½f|
|4:20||Sky Bet Fillies’ Sprint Handicap||Class 2||5f|
|4:50||Sky Bet Nursery Handicap||Class 2||6f|
Ladies’ Day Races (Thursday)
|1:45||Sky Bet Lowther Stakes||Group 2||6f|
|2:15||Goffs UK Premier Yearling Stakes||Class 2||6f|
|2:45||Clipper Logistics Handicap||Class 2||1m|
|3:15||Darley Yorkshire Oaks||Group 1||1m4f|
|3:45||Sir Henry Cecil Galtres Stakes||Listed||1m4f|
|4:20||Sky Bet EBF Stallions Nursey Handicap||Class 2||7f|
|4:50||British Stallion Studs EBF Fillies’ Handicap||Class 2||7f|
Day Three Races (Friday)
|1:45||Sky Bet Handicap||Class 2||1m4f|
|2:15||Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup Stakes||Group 2||2m½f|
|2:45||Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Gimcrack Stakes||Group 2||6f|
|3:15||Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes||Group 1||5f|
|3:45||British Stallion Studs EBF Convivial Maiden Stakes||Class 2||7f|
|4:15||British Stallion Studs EBF Fillies’ Handicap||Class 2||1m2½f|
|4:50||Sky Bet Mile Stakes||Class 2||1m|
Day Four Races (Saturday)
|1:50||Sky Bet And Symphony Group Strensall Stakes||Group 3||1m1f|
|2:25||Sky Bet Melrose Handicap||Class 2||1m6f|
|3:00||Sky Bet City Of York Stakes||Group 2||7f|
|3:40||Sky Bet Ebor Handicap||Class 2||1m6f|
|4:10||Julia Graves Roses Stakes||Listed||5f|
|4:40||Sky Bet Handicap||Class 2||1m2½f|
|5:10||Sky Bet Apprentice Handicap||Class 2||5f|
About the Meeting
All racing fans love a good summer flat festival, and thankfully for UK equine enthusiasts the British racing calendar has plenty to offer in this regard. The southern meetings of Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood annually grab their share of the headlines – and rightly so – but they do know how to put on a top-class racing festival up north too, and nowhere is it done better than at York.
One of the top racecourses anywhere in the country in terms of facilities and atmosphere, the jewel in York racecourse’s crown is this four-day betting bonanza held each year in August. Whether its top-class Group action or handicaps, stayers or sprinters, that tickle your fancy, there’s something for everyone on the Knavesmire. Here we run through a few of the star attractions.
Where else to start than with the contest which lends its name to this entire meeting. Held on the closing Saturday and run over just shy of 1m6f, this Class 2 Handicap is one of the top events of its type run anywhere in the world, and having been with us since way back in 1843, truly warrants its Heritage status. With prize money having been boosted to £1 million for the 2019 renewal, it is no wonder that this is one of the top targets for connections of the most talented staying handicappers in the game.
Given the premium placed on stamina here it is not unusual to see not only the top flat trainers, but also those more often sighted in the jumping game lay one out for a tilt at this. The great duo of Sea Pigeon and Brown Jack are perhaps more associated with their success in the National Hunt sphere, but both also feature prominently on the list of previous winners for this contest, and remarkably Sea Pigeon triumphed when aged nine.
The hugely popular Further Flight and Sergeant Cecil are other notable victors from more recent years. As of 2018 though the only horse to ever win this twice is Flint Jack who landed back to back editions way back in 1922 and 1923.
Other Key Races
Topping the bill on Day 2 of the meeting is this contest for the classiest fillies and mares in the game. In common with its Epsom namesake, this event is held over a distance of close to 1m4f. Unlike the Classic contest though, the race is open to all fillies and mares aged three years and older and as such annually throws up a mouth-watering clash of the generations. Offering a total of £350,000 (2018) in prize money, this contest invariably attracts a field which more than lives up to its Group 1 status.
Having first been run in 189, its no surprise to see that we now have an impressive list of magnificent mares and flying fillies featuring on the roll of honour here. Oaks winners Ramruma and Alexandrova feature prominently, but perhaps the greatest of them all was the brilliant dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe heroine, Enable, who took this in 2017.
The Ebor Festival certainly flies out of the starting stalls, with the feature event on the opening day being not only the classiest contest of the week here on the Knavesmire, but one of the very best mile and a quarter contests held anywhere in the world. Another £1 million+ affair when it comes to the total prize money, this is a Group 1 event of the very highest order and regularly ranks in the upper reaches of the top 10 global races in terms of quality.
It is of course the class of the participants in previous years which has played the biggest part in establishing this contest towards the very top of the tree, and a quick run through the list of previous winners quickly demonstrates the kind of talent we are talking about. The greatest racehorse ever to have laid a hoof on the turf, Frankel, took this in fine style in 2009, with the brilliant globetrotting filly, Dahlia, and star Godolphin performer, Halling, both dual winners of the race. Sakhee, Sulamani, Authorized and Sea The Stars are just a few of the other stellar names on the list.
Great Voltigeur Stakes
Immediately preceding the International Stakes on what really is a spectacular opening day, is this 1m4f event for the three year old colts and geldings. Named after the locally trained dual classic winner Voltigeur, this contest was first run in 1950 and soon established itself as a firm fixture on the middle-distance calendar for the three year olds.
Seen as something of a Derby-lite by some, with this being a Group 2 as opposed to the Group 1 of the Epsom Classic, there may be some truth in that, but there’s certainly nothing light about some the heavyweight names to have stormed to victory in this race over the years. St Leger winner Bustino, Arc heroes, Alleged and Rainbow Quest, Derby king Reference Point, and brilliant two-time Champion Stakes winner Cracksman all boast wins in this race on their CV.
Raw speed is the name of the game in the pedal-to-the-metal 5f Nunthorpe Stakes which lights up the Day 3 card at this meeting. Initially run as a selling race back in 1903, the fastest race on the Knavesmire has come some way since that time. A top tier Group 1 contest since 1922, prize money had bulged to £350,000 by 2018. Unusually for a Group 1 sprint contest, this event allows the two year olds to tackle their elders. It has proven a tall order for the youngsters though with only two coming home in front as of 2018.
Tag End and Sharpo both proved too quick for the rest on three separate occasions in this, but possibly the greatest achievement was that of Sole Power. First successful in 2010, he brought the house down when rolling back the years in 2014 to come home in front once again. Flying filly Lochsong and the ever popular Borderlescott are other names of note in the history of this super sprint.
Best Of The Rest
One of the real features of this meeting is the quality of the juvenile action on offer. The best of such events for the fillies is this race on Day 2. A Group 2 6f contest with £225,000 up for grabs, this regularly attracts a field of the most promising fillies in the game.
The list of previous winners here features a mix of precocious sorts who don’t go on to achieve much of note, and those who certainly do. Subsequent 2000 Guineas winner Russian Rhythm falling very much into the latter camp.
The classy stayers aren’t left out at York with this Group 2 contest over 2m acting as a counterpoint to the Nunthorpe on Day 3. Along with the Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup, this event makes up the “Stayers Million”. Win all three, together with a recognised trial, and connections will find their bank balance boosted to the tune of £1 million. John Gosden’s Stradivarius became the first horse to achieve this feat in 2018.
Where the fillies have the Lowther Stakes, the juvenile colts have this Group 2 to aim for at the Ebor meeting. Held on Day 3, this is also run over the 6f trip, and offers £225,000 (2018) in prize money. First run way back in 1846, the race has been landed by the likes of Champion Sprinter Muhaarar and the brilliant Rock Of Gibraltar over the years.
One of the feature races on the undercard on the fourth and final day is this Group 3 1m1f contest for runners aged three and older. Offering £100,000 (2018) in total prize money the event is regularly contested by those runners looking to make the breakthrough to the top level; a feat achieved most notably by Muhtarram who went on to land the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes in both 1994 and 1995.
Taking place on the opening day of the meeting, this Group 3 contest for the juveniles is held over a trip of 7f and offers £100,000 (2018) in total prize money. A distance of 7f can be a pretty stamina sapping trip for a two year old, and this race has at times pointed the way to future success at the highest level over further. 1999 champ, King’s Best, went up to 1m to take the 2000 Guineas, whilst 2003 winner, Rule Of Law, moved all the way up to 1m6f to take the subsequent season’s St Leger.
York racecourse is one of the most truly historic of racing venues in Britain, with records of competitive racing at the track harking all the way back to the 1730’s.
Inaugurated way back in 1843, this meeting has steadily built around the signature handicap. The Ebor, of the meeting’s – and feature race’s – title, stems from an abbreviated version of the word Eboracum, which is how our old friends the Romans used to refer to the City of York.
Looking back through the history of the meeting, the name of the great Lester Piggott stands out amongst the great riders to have graced the track. Piggott compiled a stellar record over the years, including seven triumphs in the Nunthorpe Stakes. The “Long Fellow” undoubtedly fared much better than a certain Dick Turpin who was hanged on the Knavesmire way back in 1739.
The Ebor itself is both the oldest race run at the track and has regularly been the richest handicap contest to take place anywhere in Europe. The meeting as a whole has grown significantly in prestige over the years, with the International Stakes in particular having now developed into a true heavyweight of the global racing calendar, whilst the speedfest of the Nunthorpe has begun to attract an international cast, a sure sign of the increasing appeal of this festival.
With the already significant prize money having been boosted still further for the 2019 edition, this meeting, so steeped in history, continues to keep pace with modern times. That prize money combined with the high-profile nature of the festival should ensure that racegoers and the most talented horse in the game continue to flock to the Knavesmire for years to come.
A Complete History of the Ebor Festival
Give yourself a pat on the back if you know where the name Ebor comes from. If you don’t, it is the shortened form of Eboracum, the name the Romans gave to York when settling in AD 71. The history of the Ebor Festival doesn’t stretch back this far of course but it’s the best part of two centuries old now. Plenty has happened throughout this time and you can read more about the meeting’s fascinating history below.
1731 – Racing commences at York
York hosts horse racing for the very first time at its present Knavesmire site. By the end of the decade its August meeting, now the Ebor Festival, had become the city’s top ranking social highlight of the year.
1843 – Ebor Handicap begins
Although August racing at York precedes this date, the Ebor Festival as we know it was only born following the introduction of the Ebor Handicap this year. Then known as the Great Ebor Handicap, it owes its creation to the work of John Orton who had recently been appointed Clerk of the Course. Initially the race was contested over two miles and only later was it cut to its present distance of 1m 5f and 118y.
1846 – Gimcrack Stakes born
The small yet hugely successful 18th century horse Gimcrack was honoured in the form of this new race at York. Initially open to horses of both genders, in 1987 it became a colt and gelding only affair. Traditionally the owner of the winning Gimcrack Stakes horse delivers a speech at the annual Gimcrack dinner, of which there have been almost 250. No pressure!
1849 – Yorkshire Oaks created
Following shortly after the creation of the Ebor Handicap and Gimcrack Stakes was the Yorkshire Oaks. A filly named Ellen Middleton won the opening renewal and 12 years later the middle distance contest was, for the first time, won by the reigning Epsom Oaks champion. Legendary jockey Fred Archer enjoyed much success during the Oaks’ earlier decades, securing eight victories between 1875 and 1886.
1923 – Double Jack Please
The Ebor Handicap may be an old race but throughout its history only one horse has won it on more than one occasion. This incredible double came courtesy of Flint Jack who returned after finishing runner-up in the 1921 edition to win the handicap in both of the following two years. Clearly with a keen eye for this race, the gelding returned again in 1926 where he managed a highly respectable third place finish.
1932 – Another dead heat
Just two years after seeing a dead heat in the Ebor Handicap, spectators at York Racecourse witnessed another, this time in the Yorkshire Oaks. Officials were unable to see any daylight between Nash Light and Will o’ the Wisp as they crossed the line, forcing them to award the race to both horses. For over sixty years this was the last dead heat seen during a major Ebor Festival race.
1940 – Wartime disruption
The transition away from peacetime had its impact on the Ebor Festival schedule. The Yorkshire Oaks was the first race to fall, returning only in 1946. The Nunthorpe Stakes held on longer but from 1942-44 had to be relocated to Newmarket. York tried it’s hardest to cling onto the Ebor Handicap but in 1943 and 1944 it proved impossible with Pontefract given the honour of hosting the historic race.
1946 – Lowther Stakes reborn
A race by the name of the Lowther Stakes had previously existed at Newmarket but it’s not the same as the race run at York. The Knavesmire version is run over a shorter distance of six furlongs and is only open to two-year-old fillies. It has featured at York ever since its creation with the exception of the 2008 renewal which took place at Newmarket.
1950 – Great Voltigeur Stakes introduced
Exactly 100 years after Voltigeur won the Derby and St Leger, York introduced a name in his honour. Originally simply called the Voltigeur Stakes, ‘Great’ was added to the title seven years later. Almost immediately it served as a trial race for the St. Leger with Premonition becoming the first to win both races in 1953.
1953 – Youth prevails
The Nunthorpe Stakes is quite unique in that it allows juvenile horses to compete against their elders. It took some time for a two-year-old to make their mark on this race but High Treason became the first when winning the 1953 edition of the sprint. Juvenile success has continued to be a rarity but there was a somewhat recent example in 2007 courtesy of Kingsgate Native.
1969 – Intermezzo denied
As of 2019, 13 horses had won both the Great Voltigeur Stakes and the St. Leger, a figure that would be one higher had it not been for a stewards’ call in 1969. Intermezzo found himself penned in by the rail during the Great Voltigeur and with no place to manoeuvre, rider Ron Hutchinson forced his way through a small gap before eventually winning. The Australian’s aggression (aggression from an Australian, surely not?) gave the stewards little choice but to disqualify him in what was not a particularly controversial decision.
1972 – International Stakes created
Former Clerk of the Course at York, Major Leslie Petch, devised a plan for a new middle distance event at the course. Ill health forced him to resign his post before the inaugural running but it was his groundwork that made it possible. The first edition of the then called Benson and Hedges Gold Cup was a truly memorable one. Derby winner Roberto struck gold at the expense of Brigadier Gerard in what ended up being the only defeat of the iconic horse’s career.
1982 – Sharpo completes treble
After Tag End managed the Nunthorpe Stakes hat-trick between 1928 and 1930, there was a long wait for another three-time champion. Decades passed but eventually Sharpo became the second horse to manage the feat with his third consecutive triumph coming in 1982.
1986 – Acomb Stakes introduced
York adds a new race in the form of the Acomb Stakes, a seven furlong test open to two-year-olds. A horse by the name of Bellotto won its first running with Pat Eddery taking the mount. The race is named after Acomb, an area in the western side of city close to the racecourse and in 2006 it enjoyed promotion to Group 3 level.
1988 – Persian Heights denied title
Approaching the final furlong there were five horse almost neck and neck in this year’s renewal of the International Stakes. On the outside of the quintet was Persian Heights who put on the burners as he made his way inside before passing the post first. Jockey of Indian Skimmer, Steve Cauthen, who finished third, launched an objection however stating that Persian Heights caused interference that prevented him from finishing second. Under the rules of racing at that time, the stewards relegated the colt to third, handing the win to Shady Heights.
1991 – Oaks relaxes entry criteria
Ever since its inception, the Yorkshire Oaks had been strictly a race for three-year-old fillies but this changed in 1991. The Group 1 contest now allowed all older fillies and mares to compete, albeit with additional weight. The first non-three year old winner came just two years later courtesy of Only Royale who also won again as a five-year-old, becoming the first ever two-time Yorkshire Oaks champion.
1994 – Channon enjoys first Group 1 success
Former England footballer Mick Channon struck gold for the first time in a Group 1 race but only after an anxious wait. His entry, Piccolo, lost out to Blue Siren in the Nunthorpe but replays showed that the eventual winner bumped Piccolo on his way past. Jockey John Reid immediately launched an objection and subsequently the stewards’ inquiry resulted in Blue Siren and Piccolo swapping places.
1997 – Shared Nunthorpe glory
Large fields competing over the minimum distance mean that the Nunthorpe Stakes is often determined by the finest of margins. In 1997 it proved to be too fine to call as Coastal Bluff and Ya Malak crossed the line at the very same time, producing the race’s first ever dead heat.
2004 – Stoute enters Oaks record books
For over a century, Matthew Dawson’s record of saddling nine winners in the Yorkshire Oaks proved too great of a feat to match. That was until Sir Michael Stoute came along. The Barbados-born trainer got off the mark in 1978 before a flurry of wins at the start of the next century saw his total increase to nine. Quiff’s victory in 2004 helped him match Dawson’s record but will he be able to go one better? Given he continues to turn out such classy horses, win number 10 seems likely to come at some stage.
2004 – Lonsdale Cup promoted
For six years the Lonsdale Stakes had run as a Group 3 event but this changed in 2004 when it was reclassified as a Group 2 status. The same year the race also changed its name to the Lonsdale Cup which it retains today.
2006 – Twice Over become oldest champion
Never before in the history of the usually prestigious Juddmonte International had a horse over five-years-old got themselves first past the post. Twice Over put an end to this though when winning what was a notoriously poor renewal of the Group 1 race. Only five names competed for the £397k first place prize and the six-year-old Twice Over took full advantage.
2007 – Dettori draws level with Piggott
Four years after Lester Piggott secured his fifth, and last, win in the International Stakes, Frankie Dettori scored his first. More success came the Italians’ way and in 2007 he joined Piggott as the race’s all-time leading jockey when guiding Authorized to a one length win.
2008 – Weather forces abandonment
Cancellation of a race meeting due to heavy rain is nothing new but it’s not something you expect to see in August. Torrential downpours led to extensive waterlogging on the Knavesmire, forcing devastated organisers to cancel the entire card. The timing of the unseasonably wet weather was especially cruel too as this was the year the Ebor Festival planned on rolling out its additional day.
Tourism bosses estimated that the cancellation cost the local economy in the region of £5m. Most scheduled races failed to feature but highlight contests, such as the three Group 1 events, did run at Newmarket the very same week. The Great Voltigeur Stakes moved to Goodwood while the Ebor Handicap also managed to get itself relocated, running under the guise of the Newburgh Handicap at Newbury just days after initially scheduled.
2009 – Extra day introduced
At the second time of asking York did manage to add a fourth day of racing to the Ebor Festival, extending the fun and betting opportunities for all. Previously the meeting featured seven races each day but the inclusion of Friday racing saw organisers reduce the number of races each day by one. Still three contests short, a trio of new events made their Ebor Festival debut. The most notable of these was the Group 3 Strensall Stakes which had previously featured at York in September.
2011 – Nunthorpe added to Breeders’ Cup
The Nunthorpe Stakes becomes the latest addition to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series. As a result the winner of the five furlong contest receives automatic entry to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint later in the year. It wasn’t until 2017 when a horse accepted the invitation though. In her final ever race, Marsha travelled to Del Mar for the high profile sprint but could only manage a sixth place finish.
2014 – Juddmonte International crowned world’s best
Based on three-year-averages, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities declared that the Juddmonte International Stakes was the best horse race on the planet. With an average rating of 124.17, the Group 1 contest took the title for the very first time, edging out the hugely prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The following year it lost its place on top spot but still retained the title as being the top rated event in Great Britain, a huge honour for the Yorkshire course.
2017 – Juddmonte International hits £1m
An additional £100k added to the purse of the Juddmonte International sees it hit the £1m mark for the very first time. By doing so the 1m 2f contest became the joint fourth richest race in Britain. The news came just months after York increased the total purse of the entire Ebor Festival by £260,000 with no race offering less than £60,000.
2018 – Stradivarius wins big
A new initiative introduced by Weatherbys Hamilton offered a £1m bonus to connections of any horse who won one of four recognised prep races and then went on to the Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup. The prize fund took no time in being snapped up as Stradivarius completed the WH Stayers’ Million during its inaugural year. The Lonsdale Cup at York stood as the final hurdle but John Gosden’s popular horse managed to hold off Count Octave in the two mile test.
2019 – Ebor Handicap enjoys massive cash boost
The Juddmonte International may be York’s richest race the Ebor Handicap is now breathing down its neck. The contest has long been the most valuable flat handicap on the continent but its purse received a huge boost following a new sponsorship deal with Sky Bet. In 2017 it offered a handsome £285k pot but the following year this was upped substantially to £500,000 and in 2019 it continued its meteoric rise by offering an incredible £1m.