With record prize money of over £3.8 million, the Ebor Festival looks set to attract the very best of thoroughbreds from Britain, Ireland, Europe, Australia and, for the first time, North America to the Knavesmire for York’s flagship meeting over four spectacular days of racing action from Wednesday 19 to Saturday 22 August.
The stellar racing action forms the centrepiece of a meeting brimming with top quality Yorkshire fashion, food and hospitality. The meeting also represents the formal completion of the £10m Northern End Development project which, over the last two years, has transformed facilities around the parade ring for horses, horsemen and racegoers.
The richest race ever staged at York will be the Group One Juddmonte International, advertised at £850,000, the showpiece of the opening day, when Gleneagles – the dual English and Irish Guineas winner from the powerful Ballydoyle stable of Aidan O’Brien – is due to take on the unbeaten Investec Derby and Eclipse winner, Golden Horn. Locally trained by Kevin Ryan, The Grey Gatsby, instantly identifiable by name and nature, is hoping to become the first Yorkshire horse to win this prestigious contest after a fast finishing second last year. Royal Ascot winner, Time Test, is carrying the hopes of the sponsor and aiming to follow in the mighty hoofprints of Frankel. The triple Group 1 winning Australian contender, Criterion, would be the first winner from the southern hemisphere. The race is currently ranked as the best race in the world by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and this renewal is already being dubbed as “the race of the season.”
On all four days, standside racegoers will be able to visit and participate in the Ebor Fashion Lawn. The eye-catching, flower-clad catwalk, set in the picturesque surroundings in front of the Edwardian Weighing Room, will offer a touch of “modern vintage.” A panel of judges will cast an expert eye over the preparations and attire before them, ready to decide the winner on each day of the “Best Dressed Lady” as well as “Best Dressed Gent, Best Dressed Child and Best Dressed Couple”. The daily winner on Ladies Day (Thursday 20 August) will also be crowned ‘Best Dressed Festival Racegoer’, and will win a short break for two to the Marriott Hotel in Dubai for the Dubai World Cup.
Appropriately for Ladies Day on Thursday, the action on the track will see the best fillies and mares come to York. Both feature races have seen an increase in prize money; with the Group One Darley Yorkshire Oaks advertised at a record £335,000 and the Pinsent Masons Lowther becoming the richest Group 2 race for juvenile fillies offering over £200,000 (from £150,000 in 2014).
The fastest race of the week looks set to be Friday’s Group One Coolmore Nunthorpe when a field of twenty will hurtle down the five furlong straight seeking to settle the debate about who is the top sprinter in the country, as well as claiming the majority of the record £310,000 prize money. It might be defending champion, Sole Power, or it could go to the fascinating entry of Wesley Ward’s two year old filly, Acapulco, who is bidding to be the first US-based horse to win the race.
From sprinters to stayers, Friday’s £160,000 Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance Lonsdale Cup over the two miles joins the Group One races as the fourth contest to be part of the British Champions Series, which culminates at the richest day of racing in this country, Qipco British Champions Day on Saturday 17 October. Additionally, winning and placed connections of Thursday’s £85,000 Clipper Logistics Stakes over a mile qualify for the valuable Balmoral Handicap on the championship day hosted for the sport at Ascot. The support of Qipco is prevalent on all four days; with the BCS racemakers in attendance to help guide less experienced visitors around the racecourse and share their knowledge.
At the Dante Festival, the recently announced Royal Patron of the course, HRH The Duke of York, opened the new Weighing Room, part of the £10m Northern End Development, that will be seen by Ebor racegoers for the first time. The new pre-parade ring, wash-down area and veterinary facilities were introduced to great acclaim for last year. A new Owners’ entrance, Moët Pavilion with roof terrace, as well a scheme to showcase the Grade II* Listed John Carr Grandstand framed by a modern single-span canopy continues to serve as a popular bar and eatery, now benefitting from faster speed of service as a result of back-of-house improvements.
The much missed Sir Henry Cecil is now remembered with a set of wrought iron gates, which stand appropriately at the Owners and Trainers Entrance. The gates carry the initials of the legendary trainer, HRAC; as well as Yorkshire roses. The gates will be officially opened by members of Sir Henry’s family on Wednesday afternoon. They will pass the newly installed statue of the mighty Frankel, the first such tribute to be displayed at York. The world’s highest rated racehorse won the 2012 Juddmonte International and is forever linked with the late master of Warren Place.
There is horsepower of a different nature on display on the Edwardian Weighing Room Lawn as the latest Maserati will be on show courtesy of JCT600.
Expect to see a host of world class jockeys competing for top honours at York, the field at York as nationwide is currently led by Silvestre De Sousa. In a fitting tribute to popular racing journalist, Ray Gilpin, who passed away last week, a special prize will be offered by Sky Bet, for the most successful rider over the twenty-five races of the Ebor Festival.
The global nature of the top quality competition is reflected with the three Group Ones all being part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series and the Juddmonte International and Darley Yorkshire Oaks attracting huge bonuses for the winner to go to race in Japan.
All races at the Ebor Festival will have speed-tracking equipment attached to runners to allow an instant relay of speed and position information to racegoers on the four giant screens around the course. In addition, the Official Race Times will be displayed as they happen on an Al Basti Equiworld supported digital stopwatch, positioned by the winning post.
Saturday’s race programme sees York’s most famous and fiercely contested race, the Betfred Ebor. The richest flat handicap in Europe, at £275,000, looks set to be another thriller with the favorites looking to land nationwide gambles. The £220,000 Group 2 Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes is the richest race of its type, so is another landmark juvenile contest. Fascinating entries abound for this race steeped in history and prestige including another US trained contender, Finnegan.
Adding a sparkle on Saturday will be the Silver Stars, the parachute display team of the Royal Logistics Corps, who are due to drop in just after lunch, on what it is hoped will be sunny day.
Broadcast partners Channel 4 Racing, Racing UK, TurfTV and GBI Racing will be covering the action and transmitting the event to over 80 countries around the world. Nick Luck will front the four days of Channel 4 coverage which will include a fascinating “Graham Bell Ski Sunday” style course ride by former top jockey, John Reid.
Away from the track, a brigade of some 80 chefs, backed by a wider raceday team of over two thousand staff, will provide the welcome, services and treats that come with a major sporting event. Seafood will be delivered from the Yorkshire coast every morning including 2,000 crab, joining Dales lamb and 3,000 homemade beefburgers, Hawes cheeses, 6,000 fresh baked fruit scones and locally made dairy ice cream on the various menus.
Those seeking musical entertainment will have their choice, as Yorkshire brass bands perform on the weighing room lawn and Murphies Marbles play their own blend of Irish foot stomping, good time tunes.
William Derby, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course concluded:
The Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival is simply the highlight of our year. With the new development, the record investment in prize money, the stellar entries and all the new initiatives and innovations, this year looks set to be a landmark event of top quality racing action as well as a tremendous social and fashion event. I very much hope racegoers, punters and viewers will enjoy the feast on offer.