The Ebor festival run at York racecourse is one of the most anticipated meetings of the season. Over the years it’s been able to accommodate some of the greats, such as Frankel and See The Stars. With it comes a host of quality races and normally attracts crowds of up to 50,000 across the meeting.
The Ebor Festival is held over 4 days and each day has its own array of quality races to choose from. In fact, it’s actually regarded by many as the best flat racing selection of horses of the season, which highlights the importance of the Ebor Meeting. The festival takes place at the back end of August and whilst not quite the end of the flat racing season, is one of the last major meetings of the summer, increasing popularity even more.
York Ebor Festival Major Races
When it comes to racing in the north, late August each year sees York racecourse play host to what are just about the best four days of action in the calendar year. In terms of the track itself, York is right up there with the best Britain has to offer – regularly coming at or near the top when the awards for best racecourse are dished out – and for these four days it hosts a feast of racing that truly lives up to the standards of the venue.
|Day||Race||Grade / Length||Last Winner|
|Wednesday||Great Voltigeur Stakes||Group 2 / 1m 4f||Yibir (2021)|
|Wednesday||Juddmonte International Stakes||Group 1 / 1m 2½f||Mishriff (2021)|
|Thursday||Yorkshire Oaks||Group 1 / 1f 4f||Snowfall (2021)|
|Friday||Nunthorpe Stakes||Group 1 / 5f||Winter Power (2021)|
|Friday||Lonsdale Cup||Group 2 / 2m ½f||Stradivarius (2021)|
|Saturday||Ebor Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 6f||Sonnyboyliston (2021)|
About The Ebor Festival
Whilst these types of festivals often attract the elite of the racing society from a social point, the racing on hand is the attraction for most of the horse racing enthusiasts. Over the course of the 4 days there are three Group 1 races in total, five Group 2 races and two Group 3 races.
But outside the Group races are several handicap races, with the biggest being that of the Ebor Handicap ran on the Saturday. The meeting is capped off in great style and whilst it’s not always the highlight of the festival, is definitely one that has been able to attract big name winners in the past.
The festival is often referred to as the ‘Ascot of the north’ and there are a lot of similar traits between the two meetings. One of things that most people attach the biggest link comes in the form of prize money. The Ebor Festival came with a prize fund of £4.705 million in 2021, spread over the 25 races that take place throughout the meeting. This was lower in 2020 due to the absence of spectators but was still a considerable £2.315 million.
Royal Ascot had recently risen to £7.3 million (£6 million in 2021) and whilst yes, it could be argued there is some distance between the two, it’s clear that the Ebor offers up some huge races in comparison to what’s probably the biggest and most prestigious flat racing meeting in the world.
The record prize money that was set in 2019 of £5.35 million for the Ebor Meeting making it the most valuable flat handicap meeting in Europe. It’s worth noting that prize money has increased by more than 50% at the festival over the 5 years between 2014 and 2019.
The course is situated in to the south-west of the city of York and is famous for being just a stone’s throw away from the Terry’ (think chocolate orange!) factory, which is often where cabbies will refer you to if you ask for directions, interestingly enough.
The course has been adjusted not that long ago, mainly to compensate for the running of Royal Ascot in 2005 when the Ascot Racecourse was undergoing major refurbishments. It used to be a horse shoe shape and with it offered some of the best all-round views of any racetrack within the UK. These days it’s a full ring and measures roughly 2m 4f in total length.
Horses run in a left-handed manor and the course is actually pretty flat all the way round, which is quite unusual for these types of racecourses as they’re often littered with undulation. As a result, they often favour horses that gallop strong, but to be honest, it’s a pretty fair track and often you will see the best horse on the day win the race, without obstruction.
Due to it being in the North of England, the weather can often play a fairly major role within how each race is set up. Even though it’s at the back end of August, within British Summer time, often the track is at best good to firm, if not good in places. There have been times when torrential rain has hit the meeting, seeing grounds of good to soft and even soft in places. The chart below illustrates the going on the opening day of the festival since 1990.
The course has actually won many awards, such as Racecourse of the Year in 1997, 2003 and most recently in 2017. It’s also come out on top of a survey run by The Times for the top racetrack in Britain as voted by their readers.
Format of the Festival
The meeting kicks off on the Wednesday and with it comes one of the best Group 1 races of the season in the form of the Juddmonte International. Between 2012 and 2014 the race was actually Britain’s highest rated flat race of the season and the £1,000,000 prize fund that is attached would certainly be enough to tempt the best of the best.
Ran over 1m 2f, the horses need to navigate around half of the track, but the winner has often gone on the greatness, such is the prestige of the race. Former winners have included Frankel, Sea The Stars, Sakhee, Exxoud and Authorized. Other standout races for that day include the Great Voltigeur Stakes (Group 2) and the Acomb Stakes (Group 3).
Wednesday’s Full Racecard (2021)
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:50||Sky Bet And Symphony Group Handicap||Class 2 / 5½f|
|14:25||Acomb Stakes||Group 3 / 7f|
|15:00||Great Voltiguer Stakes||Group 2 / 1m 4f|
|15:35||Juddmonte International Stakes||Group 1 / 1m 2½f|
|16:10||Sky Bet Handicap||Class 2 / 2m ½f|
|16:45||Fillies’ Handicap||Class 2 / 5f|
|16:50||Sky Bet Nursery Handicap||Class 2 / 6f|
Thursday (Ladies Day)
Race of the day on the glamourous ladies’ day is that of the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks. Whilst not as rich as the Juddmonte at a mere £400,000 prize fund, the Yorkshire Oaks is one of the most important races of the year for 3 years and older mares and fillies. It’s been running since 1849, making it one of the oldest races of the meeting as well.
Other notable races on the day include the Lowther Stakes, a Group 2 flat race run over a 6f sprint and often regarded as one of the most competitive races of the entire meeting.
Thursday’s Full Racecard (2021)
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:50||Lowther Stakes||Group 2 / 6f|
|14:25||Goffs Premier Yearling Stakes||Class 2 / 6f|
|15:00||Clipper Logistics Handicap||Class 2 / 1m|
|15:35||Darley Yorkshire Oaks||Group 1 / 1m 4f|
|16:10||EBF Stallions Nursery Handicap||Class 2 / 7f|
|16:45||Sir Henry Cecil Galtres Stakes||Listed / 1m 4f|
|17:20||EBF Fillies’ Handicap||Class 2 / 7f|
The standout race on Day 3 is that of the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, named after Nunthorpe, an area of York. The race has been running since 1922 and its 5f distance mean it’s about as fast and furious as you will find. What’s unique about the race is that it’s one of very few Group 1 races that allow 2 year old horses to pit their whit’s against their elders. The race is now part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, with the winner gaining automatic entry to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Friday’s Full Racecard (2021)
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:50||Sky Bet Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 4f|
|14:25||Lonsdale Cup Stakes||Group 2 / 2m ½f|
|15:00||Gimcrack Stakes||Group 2 / 6f|
|15:35||Nunthorpe Stakes||Group 1 / 5f|
|16:10||Convivial Maiden Stakes||Class 2 / 7f|
|16:40||EBF Fillies’ Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 2½f|
|17:10||Sky Bet Mile Handicap||Class 2 / 1m|
The final day of the meeting is all about the Ebor Handicap. It’s the richest flat racing handicap in Europe with a prize fund which stood at of £1,000,000 in 2019, but will be £500,000 in 2021. Starting in 1843, it’s the oldest and most recognised race of the festival and often one that the racing public have their eyes on over the four days. Aside from the Ebor, the Saturday also has the Group 2 City Of York Stakes, ran over just 7f.
Saturday’s Full Racecard (2021)
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:50||Strensall Stakes||Group 3 / 1m 1f|
|14:25||Melrose Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 6f|
|15:00||City Of York Stakes||Group 2 / 7f|
|15:35||Ebor Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 6f|
|16:10||Julia Graves Roses Stakes||Listed / 5f|
|16:45||Sky Bet Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 2½f|
|17:20||Apprentice Handicap||Class 2 / 5f|
As the meeting is so popular these days, it’s obvious that the best of the best are going to come out in force to showcase their horses. In terms of trainers, there have been 3 names that have dominated the festival in more recent times, coming in the form of Aiden O’Brien, the late Sir Henry Cecil and Sir Michael Stoute. You could argue that these three are the biggest and the best in the industry, so it likely will come as little surprise to hear about their success. Interestingly, these three trainers have won 7 of the last 11 runnings of the Judddmonte International Stakes.
Every top jockey who’s ever raced has been successful on the course as well, including the likes of Lester Piggott, Frankie Dettori, Willie Carson, Walter Swinburn, Pat Eddery, Ryan Moore and Joseph O’Brien, to name just a few.
Interestingly, one of the reasons why the Ebor festival is so popular is that it’s very capable of throwing up a surprise or two. In fact, some of the major bookies actually form betting markets for who will be top Yorkshire trainer and jockey for that year, such is the advantage of home knowledge. One of the local trainers who’ve done well recently, most notably winning the 2015 and 2016 Nunthorpe Stakes is that of Michael Dods, training Mecca’s Angel to consecutive wins.
The ground of the course is known as Knavesmire, which taken from the Saxon time loosely meaning of a low standing, swampy pasture for cattle. Many of the old school racegoers to the track still call The Knavesmire and was infamously the site of the hanging of Dick Turpin back in 1739.
They’ve been able to date the course back to as early as Roman Times, which is pretty incredible really. One of the more iconic races of the early days in York was set in the forest of Galtres back in 1590.
Whilst the history of the first race at York is still a little uncertain, it’s widely believed to be that of the York meeting, back in 1730. The track was used as a substitute to that of the Clifton Ings, which was often partial to flooding, with The Knavesmire being used as it’s substitute.
The first meeting of the Ebor Festival was back in 1843, which was also the first year that the Ebor Handicap was run. The first winner of the race was that of Pagan and sicne then it’s been a stalwart within the racing calendar.
The Ebor comes from the Roman name for York and originally it was known as the Great Ebor Handicap. John Orton was the founder of the race and originally it had been run over 2 miles, before eventually getting cut 2 furlongs to its current length of 1m 6f.
The International Stakes didn’t come about until 1972, but it quickly established itself as a Group 1 race. It was initially set up by a former Clerk of York Racecourse, Major Leslie Petch and had once been called the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup, in a nod to the Gold Cup run at Royal Ascot. The first winner of the race was Roberto, trained by Vincent O’Brien and ridden by Braulio Baeza.
The Yorkshire Oaks is the second oldest race of the meeting, being set up in 1849. When grading for horse races first came about in its current form in 1971, the race was given immediate Group 1 status, which it has been able to maintain ever since. The first winner of the race was Ellen Middleton, owned by the 2ndEarl of Zetland.
The Flying Dutchman v Voltigeur – The Great Match
Back in 1849, both the Flying Dutchman and Voltigeur were two of the best horses in the world. The Flying Dutchman had won the Epsom Derby and the St Leger in the same year, with the Gold Cup at Ascot the year prior. In fact, the horse was so dominant in that his jockey only had to use the whip once in the entire race of The Derby win, regarded as one of the strongest races in the world.
In 1850, Voltigeur followed the same footsteps as The Flying Dutchman, winning both The Derby and the St Leger. But, what was most impressive is that Voltigeur had beaten the time set in The Derby by over 10 seconds.
The pair actually met in the Doncaster Cup, with Voltigeur giving over 19 pounds to that of his older rival in a race that The Flying Dutchman would win by half a length. But, much unrest occurred after the race with reports the jockey was in fact drunk, ignoring trainers orders and setting a ridiculous pace at the start, which ultimately cost him the race.
The true showdown was set for the May 31st, 1851 with a reported crowd of 150,000 in attendance; still a York Ebor Festival record to date. This time the weights were a little more even, with the handicappers given The Flying Dutchman just 7 ½ pounds to that of Voltigeur.
In the end, the Flying Dutchman came out on top, by just over a length. He allowed Voltigeur to set the early pace and sprung just 2 furlongs from home, in the end having a little more left in the tank at the end of an absorbing horse race.
In the early eighties Sharpo was widely regarded as one of the best flat racing horses in the world. The British thoroughbred won seven major races in his career, winning over £230,000 in prize money.
It was at York when the sprinter felt most at home though, winning the Nunthorpe on 3 consecutive occasions from 1980 to 1982. He also went on to win several majors as well, including the July Cup at Newmarket and the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp in 1982.
Sir Michael Stoute
There are many people that have made great careers and done tons of work for horse racing, but few who’ve had the impact that Sir Michael Stoute has had. He was originally born in Barbados, where his father was Chief of Police, but quickly realised that he needed to head back to Britain if he wanted to follow a career in horse racing, which he did when he was 19, going to work for Pat Rohn.
Stoute has won pretty much everything there is when it comes to flat racing, including no fewer than 15 British Classic wins. Some of his most successful horses have been that of Shergar, Marwell, Royal Heroine, Workforce, Estimate and Ulysees, to name just a handful.
He’s had a long link to the Queen’s royal stables as well and in 2013 managed to train Estimate to Gold Cup glory at Royal Ascot, widely regarded as one of the most iconic wins given who were involved.
At the Ebor festival he’s seen similar success, winning the International stakes 6 times, the Nunthorpe Stakes twice and the Yorkshire Oaks an incredible 9 times.