Action for the 2019 season at York Racecourse gets underway with the three day Dante Festival starting on Wednesday 15 May. With a record investment across the season of over £8.8m in prize money (up c£600k), an upgraded Group Two contest, a Diamond Jubilee for the John Smith’s Cup, the first ever £1 million Sky Bet Ebor, as well as the opening of the new Premier Racing Lounge plus ongoing improvements across the racecourse; excitement is building for the summer ahead on the Knavesmire.
Prize money over the three days of the Dante Festival is £1.2m and every race is worth £20,000 or more. With a feature race on each day sitting within the top 250 contests in the world, the York season begins with a feast of top quality racing.
Wednesday’s £100,000 Tattersalls Musidora is one of twenty three races across the York season to offer at least a six figure sum to connections. A feature race for three year old fillies, the Musidora has proved to be a leading form indicator for the Investec Oaks, with six champion fillies that have gone on to achieve Classic glory. Typically, fillies from the Musidora return as older horses to contest the £125,000 Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Middleton Stakes on the Thursday of the Festival. A race set to be graced by Lah Ti Dar, who looked so impressive when winning at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.
The subsequent champion sprinter of the season is regularly seen in the fastest contest of the week, the Group Two Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes, staged over just six furlongs, expect to see the winner in the mix for all the summer’s big sprints. This year’s renewal could include Limato, another proven Group One winner.
The Dante, the race that gives the Festival its name by honouring the last Yorkshire trained winner of the Derby back in 1945, is staged on Thursday. Supported for the first time by Al Basti Equiworld Dubai, this Group Two contest, offering a prize fund of £165,000 is one of ten contests on the Knavesmire that sit proudly within the top two hundred contests anywhere in the world, according to the respected TRC Global Rankings. The Dante winner has gone on to win the Investec Derby ten times, with Golden Horn the last to achieve that double three seasons ago.
The first running under the Al Basti Equiworld banner promises to be the race of the week with leading lights of their juvenile season, Too Darn Hot (Champion 2yo of last year) and Line of Duty (winner at the Breeders Cup in the USA) set to take on horses that have already impressed this year, such as the progressive Surfman, eye-catching Telecaster, not to mention Japan from the powerful Aidan O’Brien yard.
The British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes for three year old sprinters is one of three Listed contests during the Festival with eye catching prize money of £50,000.
Friday’s principal race, The Yorkshire Cup, also boasts a new sponsor in Matchbook, with the well-known betting exchange becoming involved over the Festival. The Matchbook Yorkshire Cup has £165,000 on offer to the leading stayers over one mile and three-quarters, a valuable and highly-rated Group Two ‘Cup’ race. Friday’s renewal is part of the Qipco British Champions Series, the first of five York contests that are part of this special series of the top races in Britain. Now in its second year, it is also a part of the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers Million Bonus, an initiative to encourage the staying division that also includes the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup at York in August. Champion Trainer, John Gosden, has nominated the race as a seasonal debut for Stradivarius, the defending champion and inaugural winner of that seven figure bonus.
A Listed race on the final day showcases the star fillies of tomorrow, backed by both Langleys Solicitors and the European Breeders’ Fund, the Marygate has proven a stepping stone to contests such as the Queen Mary and Sky Bet Lowther; prize money of £50,000 makes it the richest contest of its type for juvenile fillies in the country.
The new season at York Racecourse, will see the opening of the Premier Racing Lounge, a new concept has converted the ground floor of the existing Melrose Stand into a pre booked Premier Lounge, which offers a reserved seat in a great location (adjacent to the Parade Ring) combined with the benefits of modern technology, all delivered with a touch of luxury. The project has seen the transformation of a space that was previously a back of house area behind a bank of tote windows.
Once again, the main contractor has been Lindum York, who build their connection to the course by backing a race on the opening day of the season. The Frank Whittle Partnership has also continued their roles as both advisers to the racecourse on the project and sponsors of a seven furlong handicap on Friday.
True to York’s reputation and despite the currency pressures of recent times, a bottle of champagne will be available from selected bars at £34. Other tastes are catered for with an extended range of artisan local gins such as Slingsby or Brittains as well “on trend” beers such as Birra Moretti. Across the racecourse there is availability of both Heineken 0.0 and Old Mout Cider as refreshing, zero alcohol options.
The opening race sees leading on-line bookmaker, Sky Bet, sponsors of the Ebor Handicap, continue their support by backing a valuable staying-distance handicap contest over one mile and a half. The second of the Race to the Ebor Series, the winner will be guaranteed a berth in the £1,000,000 feature in August (subject to entering, confirming & declaring in the normal manner.) Infinity Tyres also continue to back York - this time by supporting a valuable handicap race over six furlongs. Conundrum Human Resources return to the venue where they provide professional services, to use a competitive-looking handicap contest to promote a charity, Christian’s Gym. Novice two-year-olds take their opportunity in a contest under the European Breeders’ Fund banner, one of a record twenty-one contests over the season to receive the generous backing of the EBF. While Mark Dwyer’s Oaks Farm Stables step up to support a Listed contest for fillies on the final day.
As Thursday’s feature race points the way to Epsom, it is no surprise that the blue riband backers, Investec, also support a race on the Knavesmire. The Stratford Place Stud, owned by popular music impresario, Chris Wright CBE, once again supports a contest for maiden two-year-olds, the Stratford Place Stud Breeds Group Winners EBF Stakes.
Over the three days, the sprinters will be using a new set of stalls, purchased by the track so it can accommodate fields with up to twenty-two runners; making them the biggest single unit stalls in Europe. The three-year-old sprinters progressing through the handicap ranks will have their opportunity to use them, as the Yorkshire Equine Practice continue to back a race for them over five furlongs. The final contest of the Festival, is a likely full field middle distance handicap, run under the banner of Longines Irish Champions Weekend, the contest showcases the links between York and Horse Racing Ireland in promoting the showcase meeting in September at Leopardstown and the Curragh.
York will be supporting Racing Welfare in its Mental Health Awareness week activity, with a particular focus on Thursday.
Richard Fahey begins the defence of what was his ninth leading trainer title at York with competition again set to be fierce for the Charles Clinkard backed Top Trainer Trophy. Oisin Murphy bagged his first leading rider title on the Knavesmire last season; but it only came on countback of second places from Frankie Dettori, demonstrating the competitive nature of the action on the Knavesmire, as riders battle for the Living North Magazine Top Jockey Trophy.
York are pleased to be offering complimentary guided minibus trips to the start for racegoers; these will be taken by former professional flat jockey, John Murray, as another example of initiatives to further explain the sport and get racegoers closer to the action.
A pair of new giant screens have been installed overlooking the Parade Ring, set to bring both the live action and all the important data around betting and underfoot conditions to to racegoers. This increases the provision to six giant screens, permanently at York, which will join the two super screens that visit each day and the 100+ LCD flat screen televisions in showing high definition (HD) pictures of the action. Those at home can follow all twenty-one races live on Racing TV.
The appropriate use of technology is a recurring theme at the track, voted as Best in Britain by the Racegoers Club for last three seasons, in another example, credit card & contactless payment is available at all the permanent food and drinks outlets.
As well as Racegoer enjoyment, their safety remains a priority for everyone at the course. The support of North Yorkshire Police will be evident with Officers present at every fixture this season, assisted by their canine colleagues as appropriate.
For further details about the Dante Festival and the season ahead, please visit York’s website on www.yorkracecourse.co.uk