Action for the 2023 season at York Racecourse gets underway with the three-day Dante Festival starting on Wednesday 17 May. With a record investment across the season of £10.75m in prize money (up £750,000 on last year). Significantly, this is a 15% year on year increase in executive contribution to prize money by York, given that Levy Board funding will be lower this year. Further investment will also see the continuing improvements to the facilities for racegoers, connections and horses, not to mention a full programme of entertainment with bonus features across an 18-day season.

Prize money over the three days of the Dante Festival alone is £1.425m, meaning a near six-figure increase on 2022, with every race worth £25,000 or more. All eight of the Pattern grade contests see an increase to new record levels.

Despite this investment, all admission prices on the day at the Dante Festival have been frozen at their 2022 rate, meaning admission to the Clocktower Enclosure remains just £8, with further age, group and advance concessions across the enclosures.  This includes the new Club 26 in partnership with Qipco British Champions Series where racegoers aged 18 to 26 could apply for advance tickets for Boodles Yorkshire Cup day at just £10. 

Wednesday’s now £130,000 Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora is one of thirty-nine 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 Betfred Oaks, with seven champion fillies that have gone on to achieve Classic glory. Racing fans will recall that the 2022 victor, Emily Upjohn, so nearly joined that eminent list despite her stumble out of the Epsom stalls. Typically, fillies from the Musidora return as older horses to contest the £145,000 Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Middleton Stakes on the Thursday of the Festival.

As demonstrated last year by Highfield Princess, the subsequent champion sprinter of the season is regularly seen in the fastest contest of the week, the £145,000 Group Two 1895 Duke of York Clipper Stakes, staged over six furlongs.  This year’s renewal looks set to be a cracker as it could include the defending champion and Aussie raider, The Astrologist. So, expect to see the winner in the mix for all the summer’s big sprints. 

The Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante, the race that gives the Festival its name by honouring the last Yorkshire trained winner of the Derby back in 1945, is the feature race of the Thursday. This Group Two contest, offering a record prize fund of £180,000, is likely to attract colts capable of becoming the lucky twelfth thoroughbred to achieve the Knavesmire/Epsom double, with the most recent being Desert Crown, just last year.

The EBF 40th Anniversary Westow Stakes for three-year-old sprinters is one of three Listed contests during the Festival with all now at an eye-catching prize money fund of £70,000.

Friday’s principal race, The Yorkshire Cup, boasts a new sponsor in Boodles, with the leading jewellery brand being part of a boost to the £180,000 now on offer to the leading stayers over one mile and three-quarters. Already successful in a Classic in Yorkshire, Eldar Eldarov has nominated this race for his seasonal debut, which is most fitting as like the Betfred St Leger, Friday’s renewal is part of the Qipco British Champions Series.

A Listed race on the final day showcases the star fillies of tomorrow, backed by both Clipper and the European Breeders’ Fund, the Marygate has proven a steppingstone to contests such as the Queen Mary and Sky Bet Lowther; the first such contest of the season is recognised with prize money of £70,000.

The new season at York Racecourse, will see the opening of “The Flying Frankie”, a Theakston’s backed cask ale pub, to toast the success of the  Italian rider.  Set at the southern end of the John Carr Terrace for County Stand racegoers and stocked with a selection of North Yorkshire brewed ales from the famous Theakston stable, it will feature an IPA created especially for the Knavesmire racegoer. Operating as a guest ale in this new site and in the established Theakston Bar in Grandstand and Paddock, it will retail at £5.90 for a pint.

The fresh look continues with the main racegoer restaurant in Grandstand and Paddock being given a new name, the York Kitchen & Café, a clear indication of its homemade signature dishes, such as deep filled Yorkshire Puddings. The “on the go” food options in County Stand have been enhanced with a both an increased speed of service plan for the John Carr and a new menu that includes the York Philly Sandwich. Those enjoying the Champagne Lawns can now benefit from QR code technology to order drinks to be delivered to their table.

Ahead of the season, York has continued to invest in the racing surface and facilities for horses and their handlers.  A six-figure project has seen a new drainage and localised irrigation system added into the standside turf canter-down which is located adjacent to the racing surface, which should ensure horses travel to the start on the best possible surface.  The irrigation system on the whole racing surface has been further upgraded using the best in sprinkler technology from Hunter, the Californian based supplier.  The Stableside complex has benefited from ongoing investment in improved equine walkways, as well as in an upgrade to the kitchen which delivers home-cooked, complimentary meals to the racing staff caring for the horses.

Karl Burke begins the defence of what was his first leading trainer title at York with competition again set to be fierce for the Charles Clinkard backed Top Trainer Trophy; this season a cash prize of £2,500 will go to the winning stable, alongside both a complimentary Christmas Party and a fine pair of shoes. Danny Tudhope was once again leading rider title on the Knavesmire last season, demonstrating the competitive nature of the action on the Knavesmire, as riders battle for the Living North Magazine Top Jockey Trophy as well as £2,500. All 126 contests on the Knavesmire will offer at least £100 to the groom responsible for the best turned out horse.

York are pleased to continue complimentary guided behind-the-scenes tours before racing and minibus trips to the start for racegoers. These will be taken by former professional jockey and winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Robert Earnshaw, as another example of initiatives to further explain the sport and get racegoers closer to the action.

On Thursday and Friday, racegoers will get their first chance to meet the equine ambassador to the Knavesmire, Remy. Now aged fourteen, the retired racehorse will be better known to fans of the sport as Goldream, the dual Group One winning sprinter for Robert Cowell. Set to visit across the season, he will showcase the work of New Beginnings,  a local charity that helps horses with new careers once their racing days have drawn to a close.

The appropriate use of technology is a recurring theme at the track voted as Best in Britain by both the Racegoers Club and Racehorse Owners Association when last awarded in 2019, as an  example, rapid cash, credit card & contactless payment is available at all the permanent food and drink outlets.

Alongside Boodles, other new sponsors over the Festival include Darley who are supporting a valuable series of maiden contests over the summer and Lindum who have been the principal contractor on the most recent new buildings at York. In addition, Collective Green Energy, a Yorkshire company specialising in green technology and the friends of Stuey Weston, a Knavesmire regular who loved his “get out stakes” kitty support races for the first time.

The opening race sees leading on-line bookmaker, Sky Bet, sponsors of the £500,000 Ebor Handicap in August, 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 richest flat handicap of the year (subject to entering, confirming & declaring in the normal manner). Longstanding and valued supporter Churchill Tyres sponsor a valuable handicap race over six furlongs.  Conundrum Human Resources return to the venue where they provide professional services, to back a competitive-looking handicap. Novice two-year-olds take their opportunity in a contest under the European Breeders’ Fund banner, one of an impressive twenty-one contests over the season to receive the generous backing of the EBF, this time with regular co-sponsor FWP Architects.

Friday sees the firm trusted with the legal affairs of the racecourse, Knights Solicitors, take on the support of a valuable handicap for stayers. The three-year-old sprinters progressing through the handicap ranks will have their opportunity as a race for them over five furlongs is run under the banner of the Irish Champions Festival, showcasing the links between York and Horse Racing Ireland in promoting the feature meeting in September at Leopardstown and the Curragh. More locally, the Yorkshire Equine Practice continue to back a valuable handicap. While leading horse consignor Mark Dwyer’s Oaks Farm Stables continue their generous support of a Listed contest for fillies over a mile on the final day.

The Tote Guarantee scheme will be in operation on all three days, offering a strong reason for racegoers to use the pool-based betting operation that is so closely aligned with the health of UK racing. Punters will get detailed information as well as away racing on the dedicated television channel known as DAR, as it is focused on Data and Away Racing.

York will be supporting Racing Welfare in its Mental Health Awareness week activity, with a particular focus on the opening day.