The victory of Gulliver in the Coral Sprint Trophy on October 10th capped a positive season for local yards over the truncated, behind closed doors, twelve day season on the Knavesmire. It also served to secure a fourth Charles Clinkard Top Trainer title for David O'Meara.
The delayed Group Three Tattersalls Musidora (Rose of Kildare) and Group Two Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante (Thunderous), had gone to Middleham- based Mark Johnston to start off a positive run.
The first (Gear Up in the Tattersalls Acomb again for Kingsley House) and last (Acklam Bridge for Nigel Tinkler in the Julia Graves Roses Stakes) of twelve Pattern races at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, also stayed in the home county.
In between, the Skipton born though Newmarket based, William Haggas had landed the 61st running of the John Smith's Cup courtesy of Sinjaari. The team from Somerville Lodge were to record eight wins this season, only being denied the leading handler prize by countback to third places.
By the end of the year, Mark Johnston's tally stood at six, with four winners to Kevin Ryan, three to Richard Fahey and a pair to each of Tim Easterby, Nigel Tinkler and Roger Fell.
The 2020 staging of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival was certainly one of the most unusual in a history that dates back to 1843, so it was refreshing that it was the horses that were yet again the heroes.
The Group One prizes went further afield, Charlie Appleby took the Juddmonte International Trophy back to Newmarket for Team Godolphin, as York’s richest race went to the impressive favourite Ghaiyyath. The five-year-old making it three Group One wins from his three UK starts in 2020 so confirming that he is now the highest rated turf horse on the planet.The race itself looks set to be near the top of the world rankings when they are published after the International season.
Thursday would normally be Ladies Day, so it was fitting that the fabulous filly, Love, took the honours in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks; showing that her impressive performance in both the Qipco 1,000 Guineas and Oaks could be repeated on rain softened ground. Trainer Aidan O’Brien was open to the suggestion that she could be the best yet to come over from his powerful County Tipperary yard.
The final Group One, the Coolmore Nunthorpe, is usually about raw speed over the flying five-furlong trip, however this year the defending champion added a level of true grit to his talents, as the contest unfolded in gale force winds. Trained by Charlie Hills in Lambourn, Battaash, is a sprinter for Owner HH Sheikh Hamdan and the rest of the racing world to treasure. The super speedy gelding added the fastest race of the York season to the equivalents from both Ascot and Goodwood, earlier in the summer.
Saturday is always all about the Sky Bet Ebor, trying to solve the puzzle of finding the winner of what is still Europe’s richest flat handicap. As the Yorkshire weather can offer a late influence on proceedings, the new weather watching service offered by the track was a particular boon to punters, near real time rainfall and wind data is now available from the weather station at the one furlong pole, via a link on the website. This year, the answer seemed obvious after the race, as long-time market leader, Fujaira Prince, gave Owner Sheikh Obaid Al Maktoum, trainer Roger Varian and jockey Andrea Atzeni, their first win in the famous contest.
The narrative of the flat racing season will now be continued as York winners head onwards as stars like Pyledriver can look forward after taking the Sky Bet Great Voltigeur); or the QEII for Safe Voyage from John Quinn’s yard, not to mention the other feature contests of Qipco backed British Champions Day, where York form could be franked.
The Ebor Festival was the first occasion that York Racecourse was able to offer a proper meal and a glass to Owners; so it was heartening for the team to receive such positive feedback from connections who enjoyed the surroundings of a socially distanced Ebor Restaurant. York is hugely appreciative of the support of all Owners throughout the ongoing pandemic.
As they wandered to the lawns to watch their charges, they were treated to the strains of the New York Brass band. There was the opportunity to engage with the return of two on course bookies or take an SP price from the reopening of the William Hill on course shop, or the different return that can be afforded from a bet with the tote.
A deserved mention in the history of this strange year should go to the Racecourse Team at York who rose to the challenges of the unusual circumstances. Those more used to answering the phones or looking after racegoers, found themselves manning the equine gates out onto the course, escorting horses over the Knavesmire or ensuring the stable staff had the correct numbers.
Away from the course itself, the ITV Racing team and #EborAtHome social media channels brought the action and a flavour of the event to the wider world. Digital racecards were available to download free for stay- at- home race fans and exclusive behind-the-scenes content was shared on social media platforms.
Viewing figures for ITV across their eleven days of coverage were strong, with August showing a healthy 32% average increase, with near a million viewers watching the Sky Bet Ebor. They were joined by viewers of Racing TV as well as those in some 124 countries worldwide who took the international coverage.
A final day win aboard Ilaarab took defending champion, Danny Tidhope, to nine winners on the Knavesmire, enough to comfortably land his third Living North Top Jockey title.
Summing up this most unusual and unprecedented of years, William Derby, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course said: “This year was very different in many ways, notably with the enforced absence of spectators who were hugely missed.
It seems from the strong figures for ITV Racing that our wish for race fans to follow the racing action from the Knavesmire from afar was granted.
It was an honour and a privilege to welcome the world’s highest rated turf horse, best filly and fastest racehorse to York and then to see them win our flagship Group 1 races.
I hope people enjoyed the images of York and Yorkshire and we are delighted that the tremendous coverage on ITV reached a modern era record audience, to showcase the region and sport in such a compelling fashion.
It would be remiss of me not to end by thanking the Connections for sending their horses and paying tribute to all the people whose hard work and innovation sat behind a year that we would very much prefer to never repeat.”