York Ebor Festival – Meeting History, Race Features and Memorable Moments
13 August 2019
A record £5.1 million total prize pool is up for grabs when the iconic Ebor Festival takes place at York on August 21-24. The four-day extravaganza features a trio of celebrated Group 1 races, many more Group contests and also the richest flat handicap in Europe. It is one of the most important meetings in the English racing calendar and it attracts many of the world’s finest sprinters, stayers, jockeys and trainers to York to fight it out for fame and fortune.
Ebor Festival History
The Ebor Festival was inaugurated all the way back in 1843 with the first running of the Ebor Handicap. Queen Victoria was on the throne, Robert Peel was the Prime Minister and Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol that year. The York Racecourse Committee had just been formed to turn around a decline in the quality of racing in the area, and it quickly launched the Ebor Handicap. It has gone on to become Europe’s most valuable flat handicap race, with a prize purse of £1 million.
In 1846, the Committee introduced the Gimcrack Stakes, which also remains one of the most important races held at York each year. The Yorkshire Oaks was first held in 1849, when Ellen Middleton, owned by the 2nd Earl of Zetland, stormed to victory. The meeting continued to grow in scale, prestige and fame during the Victorian era and it inspired massive renovations of York Racecourse in the 20th century.
The Nunthorpe Stakes was first run in 1922 and it now enjoys Grade 1 status, bringing the world’s finest sprinters to York. It also offers an automatic invitation to compete in the Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint, making it a highly attractive race. The Lowther Stakes was introduced in 1946, while the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes joined the party in 1972. It has gone on to become one of the world’s most important races and it is the joint richest contest of the year at York.
More recent additions include the Lowther Stakes, the Strensall Stakes and the Lonsdale Cup. The festival has been held every year apart from 2008, when the entire card had to be scrapped due to horrendous weather. It is one of the last major race meetings of the flat season and it attracts many of the finest performers of the year as they bid to end their campaigns on a high note.
Key Races at the Ebor Festival
The Ebor Festival gets underway at 1.55pm on Wednesday, August 21, with the running of the Sky Bet & Symphony Group Stakes, a £70,000 handicap. Next up is the Group 3 Acomb Stakes, followed by the Group 2 Great Voltiguer, which is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the year. It was inaugurated in 1950, named after Voltiguer, the Yorkshire-trainer winner of the Derby and the St Leger 100 years previously. It is run over 1 mile 3 furlongs and 188 yards and it is well established as the leading trial for the St Leger, so it generates a huge amount of attention among punters.
Next up is the biggest race of the entire festival. The Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes takes place at 3.35pm on the opening day and it is sure to attract a stellar field. Leading bookmakers like Marathonbet have installed Crystal Ocean as the favourite after he delivered a strong performance in finishing second to Enable in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes crown at Ascot last month. They engaged in an epic duel, and champion mare Enable only won it by a neck. Yet Crystal Ocean prevailed in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes earlier this year and he is a brilliant competitor, so it is easy to see why he is the favourite. Yet he will face stern competition from King of Comedy and Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, so it should be a fascinating renewal.
The Thursday is Ladies’ Day and it kicks off with the Group 2 Lowther Stakes, which carries prize money of $225,000. The biggest race on day two is the £400,000 Yorkshire Oaks, which holds Group 1 status. It is open to fillies and mares aged three and older, and it takes place over 1 mile 3 furlongs and 188 yards, just like the Great Voltiguer in 2017, Enable won this race, along with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Cheshire Oaks, Epsom Oaks and Irish Oaks. Last year saw Sea of Class storm to victory. Enable is expected to return for another crack at it in 2019 and she is priced at just 1/5 to triumph.
The main event on day three is the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes, which has a prize pool of £400,000. It is run over 5 furlongs and brings the finest sprinters from across the UK and further afield to York to vie for glory. Battaash triumphed at the King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last month, handing Frankie Dettori a 12th Group 1 win of the summer, and John Gosden’s star sprinter is the favourite to extend that run in the Nunthorpe Stakes, ahead of Ten Sovereigns.
Prize money for the Ebor Handicap has doubled to £1 million this year, putting it on a par with the International Stakes for the first time. It was already the richest flat handicap in Britain and now it has pulled even further away from its rivals. It takes place at 3.40pm on the final day of the festival, and it will see some of the finest runners in the business slugging it out over 1 mile and 6 furlongs in pursuit of victory. Also look out for the Gimcrack Stakes and the Lonsdale Cup on day three, and the City of York Stakes on the final day, as they are all important renewals.
Memorable Moments at the Ebor Festival
The 2012 Juddmonte International Stakes will live long in the memory thanks to Frankel’s sensational performance. The legendary son of Galileo was the highest rated racehorse in the world and he was unbeaten in 12 starts when he rocked up to York that day. Yet some commentators doubted his ability to stay the distance, but he proved them wrong in style, trouncing six-time Group 1 winner St Nicholas Abbey and subsequent British Champion Stakes winner Farhh to win by seven lengths. He retired unbeaten and he is the best racehorse ever assessed by the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee.
Another standout race was the 1990 Nunthorpe Stakes, which saw Dick Hern’s Dayjur soar to victory in a record-breaking time. That record stood for 18 years before Borderlescott broke it in 2008. Brodelescott returned to win it for a second consecutive year in 2009, cementing his status as one of the greatest sprinters around.
Roberto’s upset of Brigadier Gerard in the 1972 served as another fantastic example of this meeting’s ability to surprise, delight and thrill visitors in equal measures. It was supposed to be the venue for Mill Reef to take on the Brigadier to determined who was Europe’s best foaled colt, but in the end Mill Reef suffered a career-ending injury and could not compete.
That paved the way for Brigadier to follow up his 2000 Guineas triumph with an easy victory in the International Stakes, which was then known as the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup. He was the heavily backed 1/3 favourite to win the race, but nobody accounted for Roberto, who clearly had not read the script. Under an unknown Panamanian jockey, Roberto cruised to a three-length victory in course record time.
There have been many more great moments at this festival over the years, from Mill Reef’s Gimcrack triumph in 1970 to Kingsgate Native seizing the Nunthorpe in 2007, and it is certain to deliver further magic in the years ahead. The overall prize money keeps rising each year and its prestige endures, so it is sure to retain its important place at the top table of British flat meetings.