There can few arguments when we state that York Racecourse is one of the must-visit racecourses in the UK. In fact, they’ve even been voted best racecourse by punters, media and the general public.
The site is open through the Spring and summer months, and hosts a number of high quality racing fixtures. One of their main meetings comes in the form of the Dante festival which takes place in the month of May.
The Festival is widely regarded as the start of racing at York Racecourse and often gets huge crowds that flood through the doors after their winter hiatus from the course. The meeting is spread over three days and takes place on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The festival is named after the Yorkshire-trained winner of the Derby, Dante. It’s a name that is held in huge regard in the region and it’s for that reason why the race has become so popular.
Dante Festival Major Races
The highlights of the three day Dante Festival are the valuable Group 2s the Duke Of York Stakes, Yorkshire Cup and the Dante Stakes itself. We look at all of these races in more detail, they can be found below.
York Racecourse and Location
The course is famously situated just a few miles from York city centre. It’s so handy that you’re able to walk direct from the train station to racecourse and then back into the city. This makes it a massive attraction for punters as they can enjoy a days racing and then go and relax in one of the many bars that the city boasts.
The track is next to the former Terry’s Chocolate factory and the ground is commonly referred to as Knavesmire, from the Anglo Saxon translation for a low swampy area. Interestingly, the site was the location for the hanging of Dick Turpin in 1739.
The track itself has seen many improvements over the years, but in 2005 it was changed from a horseshoe to that of an oval, which means they are now able to accommodate the 2mile 4f Gold Cup for the Royal meeting that was hosted their when Ascot was undergoing their huge reconstruction project.
The Format of the Meeting
As stated, the meeting takes place over 3 days and whilst there are no Group 1 races, which is rare for York Racecourse, there is an abundance of Group 2 and Group 3 races. Some of the races are highly competitive as well, with large prize pools, so it’s certainly not lacking in racing pedigree.
The start of the festival is triggered with the Group 2, Duke of York Stakes. The race is a 6f sprint and with it we see some of the fastest three year olds that are up and coming in the racing sector. The race comes with a healthy purse of £125,000 and has been running since 1968. The race was originally given a Group 3 status, but this was upgraded to Group 2 in 2003.
Complementing the Duke of York Stakes on day one of the festival is that of the Group 3 race, Musidora Stakes. The race is another that has been running since the sixties, with the first race taking place in 1961.
The race is open to 3-year-old fillies and is named after another Yorkshire-trained winner of the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks in that of Musidora. As a result, this race is seen as a trial for the Oaks and there have been several winners of this race that have gone on to win the race over the years.
The festival really comes alive on day two and the biggest race of the day has to be that of the Dante stakes, especially given that the whole festival is names after this famous Yorkshire horse. A purse of £165,000 make it one of the richest races of the festival.
The race is over 1m 2f and is open to three-year-old and up horses. The race has been running since 1958 and is hugely important as it serves a major trial for the Derby, one of the biggest flat races in the world. As you can imagine, any horse that does well in the race is immediately propelled into the limelight, so whilst they might not be the biggest names heading into the race, horses that perform well are going to soar in popularity.
The current Group 2 status was awarded to the race in 1980 after previously being Group 3. In total there have been ten winners of this race that have gone on to win the Derby. The first horse to do so was that of St Paddy in 1960 and one of the most recent was that of Golden Horn in 2015.
Another stalwart of the festival is that of the Middleton Stakes. This race has been running since 1981 and with it comes a restriction to just fillies and mares, aged 4 and up. The original race was just for three-year-old fillies, but this was lifted by 1997. The purse for this race stands at £125,000 with £70,888 for first place.
The race was raised from a Listed status to Group 3 in 2004 and then to a Group 2 in 2010.
The Yorkshire Cup is the highlight of the third and final day of the festival. This Group 2 race comes with a hefty purse of £165,000 and is open to ages 4 and up.
The race has been running since 1927 and is run over a trip of 1m 5f, making it one of the longest races of the meeting. The race was originally run as a weight-for-age, meaning that older, more experienced horses had to carry more weight than their younger competitors.
In 2011 the race was introduced as part of the British Champions Series that accumulates 35 day’s worth of top racing in the UK to highlight who is the best over the series. It’s now the first race of the long distance division within this category of races.
There have been some stand out figures competing at the Dante Festival over the years and here we look at who has been the most successful riders, trainers and horses in the feature contests of the meeting.
Duke Of York Stakes
The calibre of the race is reflective of the calibre of jockey’s that have previously won the race. The leading winners are that of Lester Piggott, Steve Cauthen and Michael Hills, who’ve all rode 4 winners in the Duke of York Stakes. The leading trainer sis that of Barry Hills, who’s had 7 winners, including back to back wins in 1987 and 1988 with Handsome Sailor, who’s still the only back to back winner.
Notable winners include Harry Angel, Society Rock, Prime Defender, Invincible Sprint and Pipalong.
Leading jockey’s in the race include Steve Cauthen and Frankie Dettori, both winning the Musidora Stakes 5 times each. The leading trainer is again, Henry Cecil, with a staggering 9 wins to his name.
The most successful jockey of the race is that of Pat Eddery, who’s won the race on 6 different occasions. The leading trainer is Henry Cecil, with 7 wins in total, ranging from 1970 to his latest in 1993. Notable winners include the likes of Golden Horn, Authorized, Motivator, Sakhee and The Grey Gatsby, to name just a few.
Previous winning jockeys include the likes of Pat Eddery and Walter Swinburn, with 4 wins a piece. Sir Michael Stoute is the most decorated trainer in the race with 6 wins in total.
This race has been dominated by jockey Lester Piggott, who’s won it on 8 different occasions from 1961 through to 1982. Piggott also rode the only multiple winner of the race in the form of Ardross in 1981 and 1982. The most successful trainer is that of Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, who’s trained 7 winners in total.
History of the Dante Festival
There is documentation of horse racing taking place at York’s Knavesmire from as early as AD 208 where Roman Emperor Septimus Severus held races there outside the city walls to entertain the troops. In fact, Septimus Severus died in the city, known as Eboracum, in AD 211.
Organised racing moved to the current location in August 1731, with the first racecourse grandstand anywhere opened there in 1756. During the 19th century two principle flat meetings became regular fixtures in May and in August. The August meeting would become the Ebor Festival and the Spring meeting in May would become the Dante Festival.
In their current form, the oldest of the Dante meeting’s races is the Yorkshire Cup which was first run in 1927. The Dante Stakes itself was first run in 1958 followed by the Musidora Stakes in 1961. The Duke Of York Stakes which was originally a middle distance race was introduced as a six furlong contest in 1968 with the Middleton Stakes and Hambleton Stakes introduced later in 1981 and 1988 respectively.
Dante: Yorkshire’s Derby Winning Hero
The whole festival is named after the Yorkshire born horse that is Dante. Throughout the mid-forties, Dante was widely regarded as one of the best flat runners in the world. He was able to see success at the Middle Park Stakes in 1944, following a win at the Coventry Stakes early in the season.
But, it was the horses performance at the 1945 Derby at Epsom that propelled the horse to stardom. Dante was so impressive in the race that he won with a major eye infection. He went on to race in the 2,000 Guineas, but here suffered his one and only defeat. He ended with a record of 9 races and 8 victories, before the eye condition eventually forced early retirement for the horse and then went off to stud.
Musidora: A Double Classic Winner
Like Dante, Musidora is another hugely popular horse in Yorkshire and dominated races just a few years after Dante’s success in the late forties. She went on to win both the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks in the same and remains to this day one of few horses to have done so.
After she failed to place in her next three races, she was returned with a record of 12 races and 4 wins to her name. Whilst there have been horses with higher number of wins, there are few that can say that they’ve been able to win Classics such as the 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks just a few weeks apart.