York is one of the Premier tracks in Europe having recently won the Flat Racecourse of the Year Award and also came out top in The Times newspaper survey of all Britain's racecourses.
York traces a fascinating history back to Roman and Viking times. Today it is a bustling city growing as a commercial, tourist and regional centre. A fine range of restaurants, shopping opportunities and attractions, including the Jorvik Viking Centre and National Railway Museum, as well as the history of the Minster, Castle and City Walls, supplements York’s extensive selection of excellent hotel accommodation.
Horses raced at York during the days of the Emperor Severus in Roman times. However, many of the 360,000 racegoers who will visit the reigning "Northern Racecourse of the Year" this season are unlikely to realise they are taking part in a spectacle that first took place over 2,000 years ago.
York Corporation records show that the City first fully supported racing in 1530. In 1607, racing is known to have taken place on the frozen river Ouse, between Micklegate Tower and Skeldergate Postern.
The first detailed records of a race meeting date from 1709, when much work was done to improve the course at Clifton Ings which was prone to flooding. Despite this work, the flooding continued and in 1730 racing transferred to Knavesmire, where today's course remains.
As its name implies, Knavesmire was a mire with a stream running through it and a considerable amount of levelling and draining was required to create the horseshoe shaped course, which opened for its first meeting in 1731.
No permanent buildings were erected on Knavesmire until the noted York architect, John Carr, designed and built the first Grandstand in 1754. This was financed by 250 people who each paid 5 guineas. Every patron and their successors were entitled to use the stand for the period of the site's lease, and were issued with a brass token bearing their name and an image of the stand. This formed the proto-type for the late prestigious County Stand Badge. The Thoroughbred Racing Commentary documents the stands development across history here.
The York Racecourse Committee, (now part of York Racecourse Knavesmire LLP) still manages racing at York today, and was formed in 1842, to turn around a decline in the quality of racing. By 1846, the Committee had introduced the Gimcrack Stakes, which has since become one of York's most enduring races.
York's richest race, the prestigious Group One Juddmonte International is the highlight of the opening day of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, the contest was independently ranked as the best race in Great Britain by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities last season. The Thoroughbred Racing Commentary reviews the Juddmonte International's race history here.
York Races' progression has been reflected in the development of the grandstands over the years. New stands were erected in 1890 to incorporate much of the original building and a major improvement scheme, launched in 1962, led to the opening of the five-tier grandstand in 1965. The programme of development rolled on, and in 1989 the Melrose Stand opened, quickly followed by the award-winning Knavesmire Stand, with additional conference facilities in 1996. 2003 saw the opening of the Ebor Stand containing, amongst other features, the Nunthorpe Suite, kept on racedays for exclusive use by Annual Badgeholders.
In recent years York Racecourse, as well as hosting many spectacular York Races, has also played host to Royal Ascot at York in 2005 and The Ladbrokes St Leger in 2006.