Festival set to kick off record-breaking season on the Knavesmire

The Dante Festival: three races being run there this week are among the 250 highest-rated in the world. Photo: York Racecourse

Action for the 2018 season at York Racecourse gets underway with the three-day Dante Festival starting on Wednesday 16 May.  With a record investment across the season of over £8m in prize money (up £500k), two new G3 contests, as well as the opening of the redeveloped Clocktower Enclosure 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 seventh year in succession to £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 now 23 races across the York season to offer at least a six-figure sum to connections.  A feature race for 3yo 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 G2 Betfred Middleton Stakes on the Thursday of the Festival.

The champion sprinter of last season, Harry Angel, looks set to go to post in the fastest contest of the week, the G2 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 also looks likely to include last year’s victor, Tasleet, as another that already boasts a G2 sprinting prize.

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 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 two seasons ago.

The British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes for 3yo sprinters is one of three Listed contests during the Festival with eye catching prize money of £50,000. The David O’Meara trained, Fashion Queen, proved a notable name for Yorkshire Owner, Steve Parkin, campaigning in the silks of his Clipper Logistics business, who sponsor the opening day big sprint.

Friday’s principal race is The MansionBet Yorkshire Cup, with £165,000 on offer to the leading stayers over one mile and three-quarters, 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. New this 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. Leading trainer, John Gosden, has nominated the race as a seasonal debut for Stradivarius, one of the most promising stayers around.

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 a £5m improvement scheme to the grassed infield area which runs parallel to the final furlong of the track. Along with the enhanced racegoer experience, will come a new name, The Clocktower Enclosure, which references the Listed building that enjoys an unrivalled view of the racing action, framed against the back-drop of the stands. It replaces the term “Course Enclosure”.

Main contractor, Lindum York, has delivered two large, modern toilet blocks at either end of the grass banking, twin canopies either side of the famous clocktower that offer catering and betting facilities as well as some racegoer cover, improved access for pushchairs and wheelchairs plus a refurbishment of the turnstiles.

True to York’s reputation and despite the currency pressures of recent times, a bottle of champagne will be available from selected bars at £33.  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 leading on-line bookmaker, Sky Bet, recently announced as the new sponsors of the Ebor Handicap, continue their support by backing a valuable staying-distance handicap contest over one mile and a half.  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 put their name to a competitive-looking handicap contest for 3yo, over seven furlongs. Novice 2yo 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 join the roster of racing supporters via 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 2yo, the Stratford Place Stud Breeds Group Winners EBF Stakes. 

A second Listed race for fillies is prominent on the final day as 3yo are catered for in The Longines Irish Champions Weekend Stakes, a £50,000 contest over one mile supported by Horse Racing Ireland that promotes the showcase meeting in September at Leopardstown and the Curragh. 3yo sprinters progressing through the handicap ranks have their opportunity, as the Yorkshire Equine Practice continue to back a race for them over five furlongs.  Fillies and mares face the starter in the British EBF Frank Whittle Partnership Fillies’ Stakes, backed by the firm who advised the racecourse team on both the popular Northern End Development and Clocktower Enclosure Projects.  Completing the twenty-one 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 being a healthy reward as the minimum return of the week.

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

William Haggas is seeking to defend what was his leading trainer title at York with competition again set to be fierce for the Charles Clinkard backed Top Trainer Trophy.  Danny Tudhope bagged his first leading rider title on the Knavesmire last season; but with Richard Fahey and stable jockey, Paul Hanagan, both keen to return to their title winning ways, 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 racing action alive to racegoers enjoying the champagne lawns in the shadow of the Grade 2* Listed John Carr Stand that dates from 1755, with a further large outdoor screen permanently in place in above the Roberto Lawn in the Grandstand and Paddock enclosure.  This increases the provision to five 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 twenty-one races.

The appropriate use of technology is a recurring theme at the track,voted as Best in Britain by the Racegoers Club for last two seasons, in another example, credit card & contactless payment is available at all the permanent food and drinks outlets including in the soon to open Clocktower Enclosure.

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