Action for the 2017 season at York Racecourse gets underway with the three day Dante Festival starting on Wednesday. With a record investment across the season of £7.7 million in prize money (up £600k), as well as a new 18th raceday on Saturday, 1 July, and 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 has risen for the sixth year in succession, increasing by £45,000 again this year to £1.2m, with all four of the G2 contests receiving a boost of £5,000 per race and every race 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 21 races across the York season to offer at least a six-figure sum to connections. A feature race for 3-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 now £125,000 G2 Betfred Middleton Stakes on the Thursday of the Festival. One such looks set to be the 2016 champion, So Mi Dar.
Potential champion sprinters will go to post in the fastest contest of the week, the G2 Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes, staged over six furlongs. Expect to see the winner in the mix for all the summer’s big sprints. This year’s renewal looks set to include last year’s victor, Magical Memory, and a host of other proven G1 speedsters.
The Betfred 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. This G2, now offering a prize fund of £165,000, is one of ten contests on the Knavesmire that sit proudly within the top 200 contests anywhere in the world, according to the 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 two seasons ago.
The British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters is one of three listed contests during the Festival to see their prize money rise to £50,000. The then Michael Dods-trained Easton Angel campaigned at the highest level after victory at York in 2016.
Friday’s principal race is the Betway Yorkshire Cup, now with £165,000 on offer to the leading stayers over one and three-quarter miles, a valuable and highly-rated G2 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.
While this contest will feature established crowd favourites such as the most recent winner, locally trained Clever Cookie, 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; a rise in prize money to £50,000 makes it the richest contest of its type for juvenile fillies in the country.
The latest improvement to the racegoing experience at York is the extensive refurbishment of the eating area on the ground floor of the Ebor Stand. Called Eat Between Our Races, the new name seeks to capture the speed of service on offer, as well as referencing the most famous contest at the track. A range of freshly made hot and cold deli sandwiches and tasty cakes are likely to start as favourites in this particular race.
The upgraded area forms part of a rolling programme of improvements that has seen the unveiling of £10m Northern End Development in recent years. This winter has also seen an upgrading to the 'thatched head-on box', which is a recognisable landmark at York. Renovated and restored in Douglas Fir to the style of the rest of the equine areas of the course, this improvement has been kindly supported by the Calvert family.
True to York’s reputation, and despite the currency pressures of the last year, a bottle of champagne will be available from selected bars at £31. Other tastes are catered for with an extended range of craft beers brewed by Ainsty Ales just beyond the six-furlong start, the introduction of premium mixers from Fever-Tree to join the premium spirits served on the smart Moët Ice Roof Terrace, or the easy availability of Heineken 0.0 as a new, refreshing, zero-alcohol option.
The opening race sees online bookmaker Sky Bet extend their support to a valuable middle-distance handicap contest over one mile and a quarter. Infinity Tyres 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 put their name to a competitive-looking handicap contest for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs. Novice 2-year-olds take their opportunity in a contest under the European Breeders’ Fund banner, one of a record 21 contests over the season to receive the generous backing of the EBF. While racegoers continue to benefit from free, high-speed Wi-Fi, racing connections benefit from the support of its technical provider, York Data Services, as they support the final handicap of day one.
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 2-year-olds, the Stratford Place Stud Breeds Group Winners EBF Stakes.
A second listed race for fillies is prominent on the final day as 3-year-olds are catered for in the Longines Irish Champions Weekend Stakes, a contest over one mile supported by Horse Racing Ireland that has also benefited from a boost in prize money to £50,000.
The Betway Jorvik Stakes also offers a £50,000 pot and is a handicap run over one mile and a half. Three-year-old sprinters have their opportunity, as new sponsors the Yorkshire Equine Practice support a handicap race over five furlongs.
Fillies and mares face the starter in the EBF Stallions Breeding Winners Frank Whittle Partnership Fillies’ Stakes, backed by the firm that advised the racecourse team on the popular Northern End Development Project. Completing the 21-race programme is the 7IM supports Cystic Fibrosis Care Stakes, a handicap that promotes the link between the charity and the financial services firm; with £20,000 in prize money a healthy reward as the minimum return of the week.
Richard Fahey is seeking to defend what was his eighth leading trainer title at York with competition again set to be fierce for the Charles Clinkard-backed Top Trainer Trophy.
Andrea Atzeni bagged his first leading rider title on the Knavesmire last season. Crafty punters have already noted the return of former multiple champion Paul Hanagan to his northern roots, so expect a 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 new giant screen has been installed in the canopy over the John Carr Stand, bringing the action alive to racegoers enjoying the champagne lawns in the shadow of the Grade 2* listed John Carr Stand, which dates from 1755. This increases the provision to four giant screens at York, which will join the 100 plus LCD flat screen televisions in showing high definition (HD) pictures of the action; a benefit also available to viewers of Racing UK for all 21 races.