York Racecourse Guide

The Track at York
The Track at York (Peter Church / geograph.org.uk)

York Racecourse welcomed 360,000 racegoers through its gates in 2015 so it’s fair to so it’s a very popular venue. With only 17 days of racing per year, it doesn’t have a packed schedule but when the racing is on, it’s a place people love to visit.

The racecourse, which sits in the south east of the very popular Yorkshire city, also boasts a high standard of racing. £6.7m in prize money was given out in 2015 which makes it one of the most lucrative racing destinations, per meeting, on the British calendar.

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The Course

York’s left-handed course was made into a circuit in 2005 and while most races feature at last one bend, races between five and six furlongs are run on a straight track. The course is suited to long-striding gallopers who are able to stretch their legs on the wide track that lacks sharp bends or undulations. The lack of draw bias also makes it a very fair track compared to some others.

York once had a reputation for having a course that suited front runners but this has proven not to be the case, especially in the longer races which can sometimes exceed two miles. With a lot of ground to cover, those in the lead are often picked off by the chasing pack mounting an attack later on. With the middle of the course often the favoured place to run, horses can approach from either side so defending a lead down the run in is tough.

Major Races

York has a fairly long list of Class 1 races running from May to August but the key events falls between its two festival meetings, the Dante Festive and the Ebor Festival. The Dante Festival, which takes place in May, includes races such as the Dante Stakes and the Musidora Stakes which are key trials for the Epsom Derby and Oaks respectively. The three day festival also includes the Yorkshire Cup which is one of seven Long Distance races in the British Champions Series.

The Ebor Festival is the bigger of the two meetings though and the four day festival includes all of York’s three Grade 1 races. These include two middle distance events, the Yorkshire Oaks and the prestigious International Stakes, as well as the Nunthorpe Stakes, one of the top sprint events around. Alongside this, there are big juvenile races, the Lowther Stakes and Gimcrack Stakes, plus the most valuable flat handicap in Europe, the Ebor Handicap that gives the meeting its name.

Such is the quality of York’s course that it was chosen as the stand-in venue to host Royal Ascot when Ascot was undergoing redevelopment work in 2005. Not only this, but it also hosted the St Leger the year after when Doncaster Racecourse underwent major work.

Visiting

York Racecourse Stands
York Racecourse Stands (John M / geograph.org.uk)

York Racecourse has previously won the Flat Racecourse of the Year Award and topped The Times’ survey of all British Racecourses, so you won’t find too many racing venues so highly regarded.

Useful Info

Dress Code

In both the Grandstand & Paddock and Course Enclosure, there is no dress code to adhere to. Only common sense applies, so just avoid any offensive clothing or bare chests.

In the County Enclosure, there are a few rules to follow. Gents must wear a jacket, collared shirt and tie. Smart shoes and trousers are encouraged to complete the look but aren’t compulsory. Even shorts (smart) are permitted if racegoers think the weather calls for it.

Ticket Prices

The cheapest tickets are for the Course Enclosure and these range from a mere £5 to £12. Advanced booking is not available for these and they are issued on a first come first serve basis on the day. Grandstand & Paddock early bird tickets start at £9 but increase to £30.50 during the Ebor Festival, with most other tickets being around halfway in between.

Tickets on the day are typically around £1 or £2 higher. As for the County Stand, admission here varies from £23 to £56 for early bird purchases, with on the day prices between £2 and £4 greater. Over 65s can purchase discounted tickets in the Course Enclosure and Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and youths aged 18-20 are eligible for small discounts in the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and big savings in the County Stand. Concessionary tickets must be purchased on the day and cannot be bought in advance.

For both the Dante Festival and Ebor Festival, a ticket to cover all the days can be purchased at a discounted rate. For the Dante Festival a three day ticket costs £15, £43 or £82 in the Course Enclosure, Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and County Stand respectively. Ebor Festival four day tickets are either £28, £88, or £186 and three day tickets £22, £71 or £147 depending on the enclosure.

For each meet, limited tickets are available for the exclusive Melrose Club Lounge and Parade Ring Restaurant with prices ranging from £85.50 to £139 and £125 to £275, respectively.

Membership

Being an Annual Badgeholder at York costs £380 for adults (£645 for dual adult membership) and £125 for juniors (17-25 years). Benefits include access to the Nunthorpe Suite with its unrivalled views, a spot in the premier car park, £40 cashback in on-site restaurants, use of the VIP Lawn Bar and access to nine reciprocal meets.

Getting There

If driving to York, you now have the option of a park and ride service from Askham Bar, a mile away from the racecourse and further out from the middle of the city. From here a bus will collect you for £2 one way or £3 return. The same bus service also collects from the York Station for any racegoers travelling by train.

The bus is by no means a necessity though as the racecourse is around a 25 minute walk from the station. Direct trains arrive regularly at York from all over the country including London (Kings Cross), Manchester, Newcastle and Hull.

Parking

There is plenty of free parking at York Racecourse on all racedays.

History

York Racecourse Station
York Racecourse Station (Ben Brooksbank / geograph.org.uk)

Befitting such an old and historic city, York’s racing background must be one of the most interesting in Britain, with signs of racing taking place as far back as Roman and Viking times. Evidence stretches back to the time of Emperor Severus over 2,000 years ago. Skip forward a few centuries and you’ll find that York Corporation records showed that the City first supported racing in 1530 and in 1607 horses competed across a frozen River Ouse.

A little over a hundred years later, in 1709, York hosted its first race meeting with much work being done to improve the course at Clifton Ings in preparation. The work was not able to prevent persistent flooding in the meetings that followed, so the racing was eventually moved to the Knavesmire. As the name suggests, this is far from the driest patch of land and a lot of effort was put in to level and drain the flat to make it fit for its first meeting in 1731.

The Knavesmire had to wait 23 years for its first permanent building which came in the form of a Grandstand designed by one of the leading architects at the time, John Carr. A total of 250 people chipped in five guineas each to pay for the new building and as a result they, and their successors, were given access until the end of the site’s lease.

York Racecourse Committee

An important moment in York Racecourse’s history came in 1842 with the formation of the York Racecourse Committee, which still runs today. At the time, the standard of racing was decreasing but they helped to fix this problem and introduced races such as the Gimcrack Stakes just four years after their formation.

Renovations

In order to meet an increasing demand, new stands were erected in 1890 and a five-tier grandstand was opened in 1965. Fairly regular development since has been a key theme at York. In 1989 the luxury Melrose Stand opened, followed by the highly regard Knavesmire Stand and conference facilities in 1996. More recently, in 2003, the Ebor Stand, which includes the Nunthorpe Suite, a place designed for the use of Annual Badgeholders only, opened its doors. York is a delightful, modern facility and with an array of top class action, it’s well worth a visit.