Everything You Need To Know About York Racecourse
Last updated & tested: 2020-03-18
York races have a rich and historic tradition. Horse racing on the Knavesmire to the southwest of the city walls predates the capital of the north lending official support to the sport in the 1530s. The first official meeting of York horse racing was 200 years later in 1731 and more than another century passed before the Ebor Festival was inaugurated in 1843. York racecourse now hosts three of the UK’s 36 Group 1 contests – all during the Ebor – and isn’t used at all over the winter months as the track is Flat racing only.
Given its location near the River Ouse which is highly susceptible to flooding and the name Knavesmire, it didn’t make sense to race on it during the six months from November to April as waterlogging was inevitable on any flat ground in the Vale of York. Parts of the city centre still flood to this very day. There are plenty of York racecourse events throughout the Flat season (from May through October) which we’ll expand on in more detail below. Only Ascot offers bigger prize money on average per meeting, while York races are the third biggest in Britain in terms of the total purse on offer in a calendar year.
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York racecourse events that are popular with punters
As we’ve touched on above, York horse racing is Flat only so the course isn’t used for competition at all during the winter months. From late spring through to autumn, however, it is home to some of the best action on the level there is. There are two main meetings – towards the start and then at the business end of the Flat season – plus several other racedays over the summer. Here’s what York races have to offer in more detail…
The Dante is a three-day meeting in May and features multiple Group 2 contests. On the first day (Wednesday) of this spring spectacular, the Duke Of York Stakes is the main event over a straight 6f. This valuable sprint has just one multiple winner in Handsome Sailor (1987 and 1988), while in more recent years victorious horses have included Royal Applause (1997), Invincible Spirit (2002), Society Rock (2013) and Harry Angel (2018).
A Group 3 for three-year-old fillies only, the Musidora Stakes, over an extended 1m 2f supports the Duke Of York and can be used as a trial run for horses that have contested the 1000 Guineas and are being aimed at the Epsom Oaks. The race is named after Musidora, a Yorkshire trained filly that won both Classics in 1949.
Day two of the Dante Festival inevitably centres on the eponymous Dante Stakes over an extended 1m 2f for three-year-olds only. This feature race has emerged as the best trial for the Epsom Derby in recent years, having been won by the likes of Motivator (2005), Authorized (2007) and Golden Horn (2015), who all went on to Classic glory a few weeks later.
A total of 10 Epsom Derby winners also landed the Dante on route and it has also thrown up subsequent Irish Derby heroes too. Supporting the Dante is the Middleton Stakes, another Group 2 but for older fillies over the same course and distance. This race was an initiative to keep fillies and mares in training as an alternative to sending them straight into bloodstock.
The Yorkshire Cup over almost 1m 6f is the big race on the third and final day of the Dante Festival. Like the Middleton, this is open to four-year-olds and up and gives staying horses – perhaps some who ran in the St Leger at Doncaster the previous season – an opportunity to stay in training and chase valuable prizes in the Long Distance series.
Ardross (1981 and 1982) is the only dual winner of the Yorkshire Cup, but Kayf Tara (2000) may be the most famous horse to land the spoils – given what he has achieved in the world of breeding. He was a three-time champion stayer in Europe and was one of the older horses to earn victory at the Knavesmire.
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Sweet summer racedays
Following on from the Dante is another day of racing on the last Saturday in May during the second Bank Holiday weekend of that month. A 1m 6f Group 3 older fillies and mares only race, the Bronte Cup – named in honour of the literary sisters from Yorkshire whose works were popularised from Victorian times – headlines the card on this day.
The Grand Cup is the main event in June at York races. This Listed contest is open to older horses as well over the same 1m 6f trip as the Bronte and Yorkshire Cup. July has two days of action at the John Smith’s Cup meeting – a hot feature handicap at a trip of an extended mile-and-a-quarter. Supporting that are two Group 3s – the Summer Stakes over 6f for fillies and mares aged three and up, and the Silver Cup for older stayers over almost 1m 6f.
Also in July is the popular music weekend that sees gigs from leading pop music acts take place after racing. The York Stakes – a Group 2 event over the extended 1m 2f – takes centre stage of the Saturday, while the Friday card is the only evening action to take place among York racecourse events.
Towards the end of August, before the end-of-month Bank Holiday, we have the meeting that York racecourse is synonymous with. The Ebor Festival is as good as it gets at York with three Group 1s and four terrific days of action culminating in the eponymous Ebor Handicap. Here’s what you can bet on day by day at this splendid gala of Flat horse racing.
On the Wednesday, the feature race is the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes over an extended mile-and-a-quarter. This really does have an illustrious roll of honour, with recent winners including modern Flat icons Sea The Stars (2009) and Frankel (2012). Sir Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori are names to look out for as they are leading trainer and jockey respectively in this great middle distance contest.
Supporting the Juddmonte International are the Group 3 Acomb Stakes for two-year-old over 7f on the turn and a key St Leger trial in the shape of the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes. An amazing 13 Voltigeur victors have gone to taste Classic success at Doncaster, so whatever finishes first past the post has to be respected for the Leger – despite there being almost 3f difference in distance between the races.
Thursday sees the fillies and mares come to the fore at the Ebor as it’s ladies’ day. The Yorkshire Oaks over almost 1m 4f is another of the Group 1 contests open to three-year-olds and up over just shy of a mile-and-a-half. It’s one of the richest prizes on offer for the females outside the Classics, so it gives owners every incentive to keep them in training a while longer. Enable justified hot favouritism to land the spoils in 2017 in-between victories over the boys in the King George at Ascot and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe over in France.
Supporting the Yorkshire Oaks is the Galtres Stakes – a Listed contest over the same course and distance open to the same age bracket. This race is a drop in class from the other, but often attracts more entries as a result. The Lowther Stakes is a Group 2 sprint for juvenile fillies only over a straight six furlongs and leading horses he go on to the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket with a view to being Classic contenders in the following season’s 1000 Guineas.
Friday has a great variety of racing action at the Ebor. While the feature is the red-hot Group 1 sprint, the Nunthorpe Stakes over the flying five furlongs, the supporting card contains the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup which has a trip of an extended 2m. The Nunthorpe is an all-age race, which means two-year-olds get the rare opportunity to take on their elders, though only three times in history have juveniles landed the spoils. Given how unpredictable sprint contests can be, there are quite a few multiple winners and even a dead heat in 1997.
As for the Lonsdale Cup, which is open to three-year-olds and up, this too has plenty of multiple winners despite the toughness required to win. Even some horses also known in the world of National Hunt horse racing, like Max Dynamite of Willie Mullins’ stable, have tasted victory over the extended 2m here. The City of York Stakes is the other main race – a Group 3 over 7f for horses aged three and up – on the day three card at the Ebor.
Saturday is when the Ebor Handicap (and the consolation race over the same course and distance called the Melrose) takes centre stage as the Festival draws to a close. Sea Pigeon of Champion Hurdle fame won the Ebor itself back in 1979 as he had a summer campaign before going on to Cheltenham Festival glory.
This was first run in 1843 – and is a short form of Eboracum, the Roman and old Latin name for York. The Ebor is the most valuable Flat handicap in Europe over just shy of 1m 6f. Only one horse has won it twice – Flint Jack in 1922 and 1923.
Alongside the Ebor on the final day of the Festival is the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes for juvenile colts and geldings. Rock Of Gibraltar (2001) is perhaps the most famous winner of this 6f sprint. The Group 3 Strensall Stakes, meanwhile, is over almost 1m 1f for three-year-olds and up and has just one dual winner in Echo Of Light in 2006 and 2007. There’s also one more juvenile sprint in the Listed Roses Stakes over 5f on this card.
Best bookmaker for betting on York horse racing
As sponsors of the Ebor, Betfred are perhaps your best bet in terms of the bookies you can place wagers with on the racing action at York. While Sky Bet also sponsor several races throughout the year at the Knavesmire, there is no doubting the status of Betfred as ‘the bonus king’. It’s not an idle boast with extra places on the big betting races a regular occurrence and those enhanced terms can really help to boost your balance. The firm also guarantee to go top price on select race meetings in the UK every day, which means you can eke out extra value while getting the best odds guaranteed if the starting price turns out to be bigger than the one you’ve taken earlier in the day.
Any bonus that adds something to your punting is a clear positive and that’s definitely the case here. If you’re an old school gambler and still like the feel of betting shops, then Betfred also offer many of their promotions in their retail outlets as well as online. Wherever you place your bets, then, you can access that little something extra through this firm who have a broad appeal in the gambling community.
All the York races tips you need
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Whether it’s the Ebor Festival or another of the great horse racing events at York, you can rely on our betting experts to have all the big races covered. Our York races tips are given weighty consideration by expert punters who smell value a mile off. After all, there’s no finesse in tipping hot favourites all the time and looking at contests from other angles can actually be more rewarding. We’ve always got our eyes open for an each-way punt on horses that may not count among the market principals but have the potential to outrun their odds and make the frame.
One thing to always note with our betting tips is that prices are subject to constant change. We may put up a horse at certain odds, but other smart punters have latched onto it and backed it. It’s an occupational hazard of betting and you should take that as a good sign if a horse we like the look of is a market mover. There’s also plenty more to bet on in the world of horse racing than the action at the Knavesmire! Punters can expect full tips coverage across all the leading Flat and National Hunt racecourses. Horse racing is an all-year round sport and that means plenty of opportunities to take a punt.
Expert advice from York racecourse on hand
Here at OpenOdds, we’re on a mission to leave everyone better informed about the world of horse racing and of course the betting that goes with it. You may be a relatively inexperienced punter who is just cutting their teeth in the world of gambling. If that’s the case, then you might not be clued up on all the terminology that goes with this great sport and betting on it. It’s all a learning curve and there’s no need to feel uncomfortable as we’re here to help. If you’ve heard horse racing jargon at York races 2020, you can understand it in plain English here as we’ve got an extensive glossary of related terms. Our experts have penned in-depth articles telling you all about everything from ante post betting to NAPs.
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