Discover York Races
The city of York is steeped in history, from its rich Viking past – broadcast at the Jorvik Viking Centre – to its deep-rooted associations with British horse racing. That’s right, originating in the area around the 16th Century, horse racing in York is not just an annual sporting event, but a tradition that captures the elegance of a bygone era.
“It is reasonably believed there had always been some form of horseracing from the very earliest moment at which there were two horses and two Yorkshiremen in the county of Ridings.”
York Races, with a capacity of 60,000 and numerous quality restaurants, bars, and viewing platforms, is considered the premier track in the region. Located just under a mile from York city centre, the venue was first used in approximately 1731 and since then has grown to become the third biggest racecourse, according to prize money offered. Under the management of York Racecourse Committee (now part of York Racecourse Knavesmire LLP) York Races has been voted Racecourse of the Year – most recently in 2019 – nine times, firmly entrenching it as a very well-respected venue in the British horse-racing community.
York Racecourse as a Venue
“The place has no equal in Great Britain.”
The venue itself – residing on turf that was originally referred to as The Knavesmire – is one of the oldest and most revered racecourses in Britain. The turf upon which York Races resides was originally common pasture, referred to as The Knavesmire. ‘Knave’ stemming from the Anglo-Saxon reference to a man of low status and ‘mire’ meaning swampy land for cattle. Initially, the marsh-like quality of the turf caused some issues; in 1776 the horses had to race through 50 yards of knee-deep water.
Today the land is of impeccable character and provides one of the finest Flat only tracks in Britain. As well as great sporting entertainment for over 350,000 racegoers annually, May through October; with its charming listed buildings, award winning grandstands, and immaculate lawns the venue is the perfect setting to enjoy the high-class racing experience.
The First Grandstand in the World
Traditionally, permanent buildings had no place in horse racing culture. However, with the growing popularity of York Races there became a need for one. This led to the creation of not just the first grandstand in York, or in horse racing, but in the whole world. The two-story grandstand with a rooftop viewing platform, designed by local architect John Carr, was sanctioned in 1753 and opened in 1756. The architecturally classical building became a space wherein to both socialise and view the races in comfort and style; setting York Racecourse apart, tactically, from other tracks.
The Track at York Racecourse
Simply put, York Races is a very fair track, meaning that most horses tend to race well. Its vast, sweeping nature lends itself to the long-striding galloper and provides spectators with excellent views of the action. Furthermore, although it is not the biggest racing site in Britain, it is widely agreed that the intimacy only adds to its charm.
In 2005, the flat, left-handed track was remodelled, making it a complete circuit. Now the wide turns allow for an even gallop. The field has also begun coming down the middle of the track on the ½ mile home straight, giving the horses even more of a fair chance. Due to its swampy heritage, the ground is soft in parts – an added challenge to the course and real test of stamina.
The Main Events at York Races
York Races host several meetings throughout the year, with the highlight being the prestigious Ebor Festival. This four-day event, typically held in August, features the most coveted races on the British racing calendar. The festival, first held in 1843, attracts top-class horses, trainers, and jockeys from around the world, making it a must-see for racing enthusiasts – of which around 90,000 people attend each year. The main races include:
The Grade 1 Juddmonte International Stakes: This is York’s richest race with a total prize fund for the day of £1 million+ and is the highlight of the opening day Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.
The Grade 1 Yorkshire Oaks: The Yorkshire Oaks occurs on the Thursday of the Ebor Festival and is open to previous runners in The Oaks.
The Grade 1 Nunthorpe Stakes: This sprint originated as a humble low-selling race but is now considered one of the best in Europe.
The Ebor Handicap: The Ebor Handicap, hosted on The Knavesmire since 1843, is one of Europe's richest handicap races, amassing £1 million in prize money.
Horse Racing and the English Monarchy
Horse racing has been closely tied to the English monarchy for generations. King after king, after queen has cultivated the sport into what it represents today. Over time, attending a racecourse like York has become a celebration of expression and sophistication. Eager racegoers, resplendent in their finery, create an atmosphere of refined elegance. While the trackside is abuzz with excitement, visitors also have the opportunity to explore a myriad of hospitality options, from private boxes to champagne terraces, where they can savour gourmet cuisine and fine wines. A day at the races truly is a chance to explore England’s cultural traditions and become a part of their history for an afternoon of anticipation and style.
A Day at the Races
Attending York Races is an experience that transcends the sport. It's a chance to soak up the lively social scene of a British summer, complete with traditional picnics on the lawn, live music, high fashion, and the thrill of placing a bet. The camaraderie among racegoers, whether they are seasoned punters or first-time visitors, is palpable.
As you stand by the rail, cheering for your chosen steed and soaking in the excitement of the crowd, you'll understand why York Races has earned its pedigree amongst British racecourses.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Trails in York - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of York.