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York Racecourse – Home of the Ebor Festival

The United Kingdom is filled with a whole bunch of awesome horse racing venues, each one being unique in their own right. Let’s talk about a racecourse in England that boasts some of the most extraordinary prize pools in all of British Thoroughbred racing – one that hosts 3 of Britain’s biggest Group 1 flat races every year.

This guide is designed to tell you all about York Racecourse in North Yorkshire. How and when did it get started, and what makes it stand out? What are the major races held there, and what else is there to do around the property? Relax, take a deep breath!

We are going to answer all of those questions and more in the following sections. By the end of this page, we want you to feel like you have been to York Racecourse a dozen times. The truth is that after hearing everything, you may be on your way!

Start with this short box of basic facts before you jump into all the details.

Overview of York Racecourse

Year Opened
1730
Location
York, North Yorkshire, England
Owners
York Racecourse Knavesmire LLP
Course Type
Flat
Notable Races
Dante Stakes, International Stakes, Yorkshire Oaks, Nunthorpe Stakes, Ebor Handicap
Official Website
Overview of York Racecourse

Introducing York Racecourse

Depending on who you ask and what source you rely on, you will hear different dates for when York Racecourse actually first opened. We know that racing took place somewhere in Yorkshire as early as 1607, and it’s said that horse racing was “a thing” in the area as early as 1530.

York Racecourse will tell you that 1730 was the first year that a Thoroughbred event was held on their property, so we’ll go with that. It happened after some torrential weather that meant that York’s race meeting was moved from the its Clifton Ings location to a site in Knavesmire, the marshy and undeveloped land where York Racecourse still sits today.

Another important date to note is 1751, which is the year that York officially started scheduling annual events. They were the second racecourse to do so, with only the famous Newmarket venue acting before them.

This is when horse racing as a competitive sport at Yorkshire Racecourse was officially “born.”

Believe it or not, horse racing wasn’t the only thing on public display at York Racecourse. Up until 1801, , as we learned from thoroughbredracing.com.

The first grandstand for spectators came in 1754, thanks to 250 people each putting in 5 guineas a piece to finance the construction. In 1842, the York Racecourse Committee was created, an organization designed to help lead and control the racecourse. They are in conjunction today with York Racecourse Knavesmire LLP, the company who owns the land.

Since that original grandstand was built by well-known architect John Carr, many more facilities have been built. Additional stands were put up in 1890, but the big plans came in the early 1960s.

That was when the massive, five-tier grandstand that opened in 1965 was first thought of. The Melrose Stand came 24 years later; then it was the Knavesmire Stand in 1996. Nope, they weren’t done just yet.

The Ebor Stand, completed in 2003, showcases the Nunthorpe Suite, which is an exclusive area reserved for the Annual Members. All in all, more than 60,000 patrons can be squeezed into the confines of York Racecourse.

The Various Stands at York Racecourse Provide a Large Capacity
York Racecourse has a large capacity for accommodating horse racing fans.

If you are wondering why so many stands are needed, you must not get the full picture of just how significant of a horse racing venue that York Racecourse really is. Read along to find out more.

Exploring the Racecourse and Facilities

Now that we have opened with a backdrop of the beginning of York Racecourse, it is time to start focusing on the here and now. We are of course going to talk about the most acclaimed flat races that are held annually at York, but we first need to tell you about the race track.

Before 2005, the shape of the course resembled a horseshoe. The course was renovated to host the Royal Ascot that year, meaning it needed to be amended. Those changes meant rounding out the course to a total length of 1 mile 7 furlongs, just slightly less than 2 miles.

The shorter races that are 6 furlongs or less are run on the straight portion of the course. This lends itself to the fans being treated to an all-out sprint to the finish, translating into tons of excitement. The longer races start from a different chute, but in the end, all winning horses must cross the same finishing post.

As far as the facilities for the men, women, and children who attend the races go, there are plenty of options. We briefly touched on the names of the grandstands and when they came to be. Now it is time to pay a little closer attention to the enclosures that make up York Racecourse.

The Country Enclosure

The County Enclosure is where the luxurious Ebor Grandstand is located, and it has loads to offer. Looking for a fine-dining meal? No problem. Check out the Gimcrack Restaurant or head up to the top floor and try out the Eclipse Restaurant.

You can reserve a table for the entirety of the afternoon while you eat, drink, and enjoy the races. The Princess Mary Seafood Bar has some delectable bites, as well.

If you want something quicker and don’t feel like emptying out your wallet, the Ebor Bistro on floor level is a hot spot for a snack and cheaper eats. Of course, the County Enclosure isn’t your only option when you come to York Racecourse.

The Grandstand and Paddock

If you are the type of racegoer who wants to squeeze everything out of your race day experience, you’ll probably find yourself at the Knavesmire Grandstand, positioned conveniently directly across from the final stretch of the races. If you don’t want to be around excited fans cheering for the horse they picked, you won’t like it at the Knavesmire Grandstand.

Just make sure if you stop by the Buttery that you try their fish and chips with a side of Yorkshire pudding. We promise you won’t regret that decision. In fact, you might stay and order seconds!

Regardless of if you are in the Knavesmire Grandstand or another enclosure, you’ll have access to plenty of food and plenty of drinks, as well as have tremendous views of the racecourse. Now if you can just hit on your winning bets you place at the main betting ring, you’re really in for an exhilarating day.

When it comes down to it, the social aspect of going to York Racecourse can certainly be appreciated by many, especially those who aren’t those most avid horse racing fans.

The ones who do come to watch the events intently are never let down. Not when you consider the magnitude of competitions that are held at York Racecourse.

The Esteemed Horse Races at York Racecourse

One of the things that York Racecourse is synonymous with is having gigantic purses attached to their marquee events. While the Ebor Festival in August is undoubtedly the signature series of events at York Racecourse, there are some other festivals that are more than worthy of being discussed.

We arranged the series by how they fall on the schedule chronologically. It all starts on a Wednesday in May.

The Spring Festival and Dante Stakes

The Spring Festival is held on a Wednesday-Saturday in May, totaling 6 races in all. The most revered of all the Spring Festival events is the Dante Stakes, which falls on Thursday, or the second day of the sequence.

This flat race is designated for three-year-olds only, both male and female. The 2,063-meter (just over 1 ¼ miles) run hands out more than £105,000 to the winning horse and his/her team, so you better believe Thoroughbred owners in the United Kingdom have the Dante Stakes circled.

Inaugurated in 1958, it was a Group 3 event at the outset in 1971 when the grading system was first used. By 1980, it was upgraded to Group 2, where it stands today.  The fastest time recorded came in 1994 when Willie Carson guided Erhaab to the winning post in a lightning-quick 2:06.18.

July Meeting

The July Meeting is simple. Racing fans in North Yorkshire are too antsy after the Spring Festival to just wait around until the Ebor Festival rolls around in August. Three events are held over Friday/Saturday in August.

The Summer Stakes is a 3/4-mile (6 furlongs) Group 3 sprint for female horses three years old or more. The John Smith’s Cup handicap race is the next day, also for horses age three and up, although the “guys” get to participate in this one. This event is 1 ¼ miles, plus 88 yards.

The York Stakes ensues the John Smith’s Cup and is the identical distance. The difference here is that it is classified as a Group 2 competition. This is a newer race, as it wasn’t made official until 2006.

August Meeting

Okay, so we told you the July Meeting was all the fans at York Racecourse needed to hold them over until the Ebor Festival. Sorry, we lied. There is a short August Meeting that is really just a warmup to Ebor. Three events are run on back-to-back days preceding the upcoming festival.

The middle event of the August Meeting lands on a Friday and is the most recognizable of the three. The City of York Stakes is 7 furlongs and was promoted from a Listed Race to a Group 3 event in 2016. Owners of the competing Thoroughbreds surely didn’t mind, as the 2017 edition came with a handsome £175,000 purse.

Now, for the granddaddy of them all.

The Ebor Festival

There is no question that the most important time of the year at York Racecourse is a five-day period in August when the Ebor Festival takes place. It’s nonstop action from Wednesday to Saturday, and let us tell you, folks – these are not cheap horse races.

More than £4.4 million was on the line during the 2017 Ebor Festival, and that number is sure to grow in coming years.

There isn’t just one big race at the Ebor Festival every summer. In fact, there aren’t just two or three major races, either. We told you at the top of the page that three Group 1 races are hosted at York Racecourse each and every year. Well, guess what – all three fall between those five busy days in August.

That’s not even counting the culminating event of the series, the Ebor Handicap. The point is, between the prominent races and all the history behind the festival, we couldn’t do it justice by just squeezing in a few facts and details in a small segment of this guide.

The right thing to do was to create an organized, full-blown “hub” for all things having to do with the Ebor Festival. That way, you can really understand the significance of the Yorkshire Odds and the Nunthorpe Stakes, just to name a couple of the more illustrious races that are part of the Ebor Festival.

From learning about the beginnings to what else goes on during the week, please indulge yourself by clicking the button above. Find out why the winning horse at the International Stakes sponsored by Juddmonte is handed out more than £567,000 or how you get tickets to this extravaganza. It’s all right there; go explore for yourself!

September Day

The last bit of horse racing on the calendar at York Racecourse is a Sunday in September. It’s the Garrowby Stakes, a 6-furlong (¾-mile) flat race for horses who are at least three years old. Unlike some other events at York Racecourse that have been around for well over 100 years, the Garrowby Stakes originated in 2012.

The time of the winning horse during that inaugural event is yet to be beaten in any of the September Days since. Three-year-old filly Mince finished the race in 1:08.23 while being ridden by jockey-man James Doyle. Considering no horse has come within two seconds of Mince’s incredible time, it’s safe to say her record may stand for a while.

A modest purse when compared to some other events at York, more than £28,000 of £50,000 goes to the victorious horse and his or team.

How Do You Get to York and What Else Is There to Do?

Before we summarize the page, we want you to have a good idea of what other attractions are in the city of York. What else can you do in the famous city in the North Yorkshire County, and how the heck do you get there?

We will start with those of you who live near the area, the ones who don’t need to hop on a flight to get to York. The good news is that the York railway station is a busy terminal with plenty of trains coming in and out of the station.

It’s less than a 2-hour ride from King’s Cross, making it convenient for most. Those in the center of London can get to the racecourse in York that easily.

Regardless of where you are coming from, ending up at the railway station in York puts you close enough to the racecourse that you can walk there in under 20 minutes.

Of course, many have no ambition of making the 1.5-mile trek, so they opt for the bus service that transports passengers to and from the racecourse and the railway station every ten minutes. If you need to get there ASAP, hop in an Uber or a taxi, and it’s less than a 5-minute drive. But why pay the 6 or 7 pounds if you don’t have to?

Now, for our friends that don’t live in the vicinity, you’ll want to book a flight into Leeds Bradford Airport. At around 45 minutes away, this is the closest major airport to the York Racecourse.

If you are coming from south of North Yorkshire, flying into Doncaster Sheffield Airport might make the most sense, although it’s a much smaller airport and won’t have nearly as many flight options.

Whatever route you choose, once you arrive in York, there are some fascinating places to visit.

York has much to offer than just the famous racecourse. The York Minster is a cathedral that is one of the largest not just in England, but in all of Europe. Popping over to Clifford’s Tower or will leave you speechless in some of the breathtaking views and pieces of history you’ll see.

Allow yourself plenty of time and have enough space in your camera phone because there are quite a few momentous sites and landmarks in and around York. It’s up to you to try and see as much as you can!

Closing Thoughts

As you have learned, there is a lot going on at York Racecourse. When it comes to Thoroughbred flat racing in the United Kingdom, it doesn’t get much bigger or more significant than the track at York.

Introducing the racecourse was important, especially when you consider that different sources will tell you alternative dates when addressing when York Racecourse was born.

What we do know is that the prize pools attached to the horse races at York are colossal, especially those that fall during the Ebor Festival in August. Giving you some information on the biggest races was vital so that you would get a full glimpse at how noteworthy of a racing venue this place really is.

Discussing the layout of the course and the facilities also helps you picture York in your mind. If picturing it isn’t enough, just schedule the trip already! We gave you details on how to get there and also highlighted a few of the amazing places you’ll want to check out while you are there.

You are going to enjoy every minute of York Racecourse. This guide was just designed to warm you up!