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, seemingly oblivious to the “behind closed doors” nature of the event.
Yorkshire yards claimed the first and last of a dozen Pattern contests, as Gear Up took the Tattersalls Acomb for Mark Johnston on Wednesday, with Acklam Express landing the Julia Graves Roses Stakes for Nigel Tinkler on Saturday afternoon. In between there was another success for Kingsley House plus victories for Kevin Ryan, Karl Burke and John Quinn in another good week for racing in the White Rose County.
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.
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 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 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 leading fancies for races like the St Leger (Pyledriver 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 this season that York Racecourse has been 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 pilot opening 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 grand occasion 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 at home race fans and exclusive behind-the-scenes content was shared on social media platforms.
Viewing figures for ITV across the week showed 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.
Summing up this most unusual and unprecedented of Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festivals, William Derby, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course said: “This year’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival was very different in many ways 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 see them win our flagship Group 1 races.
I hope people enjoyed the coverage of York and Yorkshire and we are delighted that the tremendous coverage on ITV main channel reached a modern era record audience to showcase the region and sport in such a compelling fashion.”