The midsummer delights of Glorious Goodwood and Newmarket’s July course have been and gone for another year. Now York and Doncaster are ready to take centre stage with their two showpiece meetings of the calendar.
For those of us this side of the Trent, York’s Ebor Festival remains one of racing’s jewels in the crown. It might have been tampered with in recent years, and there remain those who question the decision to work Saturday into the schedule. But the four days and 25 races ooze quality, offering the enticing blend of betting opportunities and the excuse for socialising and a holiday!
Next week’s beanfeast has latched on to this year’s trend for boosting prize money, with an extra £140,000 added to the coffers. The big race, the Group One Juddmonte International, which promises the return to the track of Derby hero GOLDEN HORN and a mouthwatering showdown with top miler and dual Guineas winner GLENEAGLES, is now worth £850,000. While the two main juvenile events, the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes and the Pinsent Masons Lowther Stakes, now boast whopping purses of £220,000 and £200,000 respectively. What’s more, every single race will be worth at least £50,000, with prize funds down to at least sixth place.
Of course, money isn’t everything. But it demonstrates crystal-clear commitment to a meeting that is firmly ingrained in the psyche of all serious racing fans. Given that York is such a well-run, well-received track, the Knavesmire has to be the place to be next week.
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The Juddmonte and Betway Great Voltigeur kick off proceedings on the opening day (Wednesday), with Thursday’s Ladies’ Day offering more Group One action, courtesy of the Yorkshire Oaks.
The sprinters blaze a trail on the Friday, with the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes featuring a daring bid by two-year-old ‘monster’ ACAPULCO to become the first juvenile winner of the race since KINGSGATE NATIVE in 2007.
And the meeting wraps up on the Saturday with the Betfred Ebor itself. Iconic, historic handicap that dates back, amazingly, to the 1840s and still generates a buzz among York locals.
Throw in a cluster of other interesting Pattern races and a posse of richly competitive handicaps, and you have the ingredients for four perfectly balanced cards.
If you’re thinking of staying the week, finding a hotel in York at this late stage might be difficult. Finding one that doesn’t crank up its prices to coincide with the Ebor Festival is, at any time, even more difficult.
But there are lots of other feasible, affordable options, urban, rural or even seaside, ranging from towns and cities such as Leeds, Harrogate and Scarborough to charming villages dotted across the North Yorkshire countryside.
The entries and the markets for all races will become clearer by the weekend, and while heavy rain is expected on Friday, the long-range weather forecast suggests York is in for a fine few days next week.
Once you’ve collected your Ebor winnings, it’s time to move the Yorkshire bandwagon a few miles south for the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival on Donny’s Town Moor between September 8 and 11.
I get increasingly tetchy about the emphasis the track places on its Music Live racedays through the summer of the Flat season. But at least nothing gets in the way of the racing at the the four-day Leger extravaganza.
The Wednesday-to-Saturday format is familiar, underpinned by a ladies’ day on the Thursday and by the enduring and endearing 1m6f Classic on the Saturday. It has also been enhanced by the Leger Legends charity race on the opening day which, this year, is set to feature the return to the saddle of AP McCoy. However, as at York, quality is to the fore, coupled with the constant of races etched in the sport’s history .
Doncaster might have needed Human League, UB40, Madness and Spandau Ballet to tempt the locals to Town Moor this summer. But attractions like the Doncaster Cup, the Park Hill Stakes, the Flying Childers, the May Hill Stakes, the Champagne Stakes and the Portland Handicap will get them there next month.
Racing’s White Rose is all set to bloom.