York Racecourse

Coordinates: 53°56′19″N 1°5′51″W / 53.93861°N 1.09750°W / 53.93861; -1.09750
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York Racecourse
A view of the Ebor stand at York Racecourse
LocationYork, North Yorkshire
Owned byYork Racecourse Knavesmire LLP
Screened onRacing TV
Course typeFlat
Notable racesDante Stakes, Ebor Handicap, International Stakes, Nunthorpe Stakes
Official website

York Racecourse is a horse racing venue in York, North Yorkshire, England. It is the third biggest racecourse in Britain in terms of total prize money offered, and second behind Ascot in prize money offered per meeting.[1] It attracts around 350,000 racegoers per year[2] and stages three of the UK's 36 annual Group 1 races – the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.


The course is located in the south-west of the city, next to the former Terry's of York factory, The Chocolate Works. It is situated on an expanse of ground which has been known since pre-medieval times as the Knavesmire, from the Anglo-Saxon "knave" meaning a man of low standing, and "mire" meaning a swampy pasture for cattle.[3] For this reason, the racecourse is still sometimes referred to as "The Knavesmire". The Knavesmire was originally common pasture, belonging to the city.[4] It was also the scene of the hanging of Dick Turpin in 1739.[5]


Racing in York dates back to at least Roman times, with some archaeological evidence[6] suggesting that there may have been equine activities that could have included forms of racing on the site of the Knavesmire as early as neolithic times. The city corporation is known to have given its support to the sport from 1530 and, in 1607, racing is known to have taken place on the frozen River Ouse, between Micklegate Tower and Skeldergate Postern.[7] A famous yearly race for a golden bell was taking place in the nearby Forest of Galtres in 1590.[8]

There is some uncertainty over when racing first arrived at the current site. The official stance of York Racecourse itself is that racing was first held on the Knavesmire when York's race meeting was moved in 1730 from a previous site at Clifton Ings which was prone to flooding.[2] This is the line taken by the early racing historian, Pick, who maintained that the first race run over the Knavesmire course was the King's Guineas of 1731.[3] There are multiple attestations to this previous racecourse at Clifton Ings, where racing can be traced back at least as far as 1709 and where, in 1714, "such was the concourse of nobility and gentry that attended York races that one hundred and fifty coaches were at one time on the course".[9] The uncertainty lies in the period 1709–1731 and on this, early sources are confusing.

Orton's Turf Annals of York and Doncaster, which records the results of races at this time, has them taking place at "Clifton and Rawcliffe Ings" in the period 1709 and 1731[10] which would support the official view. However, Sheahan and Whellan, 19th century York historians, have racing taking place in both places in 1709 – "a regular race meeting on Clifton Ings" and, in the same year, a collection taking place among the citizens to purchase five plates as prizes for a meeting on the Knavesmire. Drake's Eboracum, another early history, when talking of York's races says, "Clifton-ings was for several years the place of trial; but upon a misunderstanding with the owner of that ground, or great part of it, the race was altered; and Knavesmire, a common pasture belonging to the city, was pitched upon for that purpose."[11] Since, Drake was writing in 1736, it is deemed unlikely that he would write in such a manner if the move to Knavesmire had been so recent.[12] There is also some slight confusion arising from the running of Royal Cups at nearby Black Hambleton.[13] A Royal Plate was raced for "at York" from 1711, but the Black Hambleton Cup was older still.[14]

The Saunders & Co. History, using all these sources concludes "the races were held annually on both courses – at Clifton Ings previous to and for some years subsequent to the year 1709, and at Knavesmire at and from that date; and that most probably in or about the year 1731, the races were done away with at the former place and transferred to the latter."[15]

What is clear, whenever races were first run on the Knavesmire, is that York was the first centre after Newmarket to formulate a structured race programme, starting in 1751 with the Great Subscription Purses.[16]

The Knavesmire course, as the name suggests, was often very swampy, and in 1776, heavy rains meant that horses had to race for about fifty yards up to their knees in water.[17]

By the 19th century there were two main meetings at York – the Spring Meeting in May and another in August. These were supplemented by the Yorkshire Union Hunt Meeting in October, and a steeplechase meeting in April. At the August meeting in 1804 Alicia Thornton, who as a result has been called the "first female jockey", took part in a horse race at the racecourse]] at Knavesmire.[18]

At the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, the local military commander General Sir John Byng was absent because he had two horses running at York that day, and delegated command to his deputy, who failed to control the dangerously large crowd.

On 31 May 1982, Pope John Paul II visited York racecourse and drew a reported audience of 190,000.[19]

On 22 September 1984, the racecourse hosted its first music concert headlined by Echo & the Bunnymen. In recent years, concerts have been arranged after race meetings in June and July and since 2015 it has hosted the Yorfest.[20]

The second day of the 2014 Tour de France started from the racecourse.


In 1754, at the instigation of the Marquess of Rockingham the first grandstand was built at a cost of £1,250 by the architect John Carr.[21] New stands were erected in 1890, incorporating much of the original building. The late 20th century saw progressive development of the facilities. A new five-tier grandstand was opened in 1965, the Melrose Stand was opened in 1989 and this was quickly followed by the award-winning Knavesmire Stand, with additional conference facilities in 1996. 2003 saw the opening of the Ebor Stand.[2] The course now has a spectator capacity of 60,000.


In the 18th century the racecourse was horseshoe in shape and was "judged to be the best race[course] in England for seeing the diversion."[4] In 2005 the track was extended from the end of the home straight to make a full round course, this was to host the 2 m 4 f Gold Cup for the Royal meeting which was moved from Ascot to York that year. This meant 2 mile races were run on the round course, starting just before the winning post. The old 2 mile start was discontinued. The previous layout change occurred in the early 1970s, when to accommodate the York ring road (A64), opened in 1976, the straight course was reduced from 7 furlongs to 6 furlongs and the new 7 furlong chute was built.

Important meetings[edit]

York's most important meeting is the Ebor Festival held annually in August. The feature of this meeting is the Ebor Handicap, one of Europe's premier handicap races.

The Juddmonte International meeting is another significant date in York's racing calendar, home as it is to the Juddmonte International Stakes. The 2012 renewal of this race, won by Frankel was the second highest rated race of the year in international ratings.[5]

In 2005, York Racecourse acted as a replacement host to the Royal Ascot meeting, due to its usual home at Ascot Racecourse being closed for a £185 million redevelopment, attracting a 5-day attendance of over 224,000.[22] It also hosted the St Leger in 2006.[2]

York also has its own radio station 'York Raceday Radio' (1602 kHz, medium wave) which can be received up to 10 miles from the course.


The track won the Racecourse of the Year title in 1997,[23] 2003[24] and 2017,[24] and came out on top in The Times newspaper survey of all Britain's racecourses.[citation needed]


Notable races[edit]

Month Meeting DOW Race Name Type Grade Distance Age/Sex
May Spring Festival Wednesday Duke of York Stakes Flat Group 2 6f 3yo +
May Spring Festival Wednesday Musidora Stakes Flat Group 3 1m 2f 88y 3yo only f
May Spring Festival Thursday Middleton Stakes Flat Group 2 1m 2f 88y 4yo + f
May Spring Festival Thursday Dante Stakes Flat Group 2 1m 2f 88y 3yo only
May Spring Festival Friday Yorkshire Cup Flat Group 2 1m 6f 4yo +
May First Saturday Saturday Brontë Cup Flat Group 3 1m 6f 4yo + f/m
June June Meeting Saturday Grand Cup Flat Listed 1m 6f 4yo +
July July Meeting Friday Summer Stakes Flat Group 3 6f 3yo + f
July July Meeting Saturday John Smith's Cup Flat Handicap 1m 2f 88y 3yo +
July July Meeting Saturday York Stakes Flat Group 2 1m 2f 88y 3yo +
August August Meeting Thursday Galtres Stakes Flat Listed 1m 4f 3yo + f
August August Meeting Friday City of York Stakes Flat Group 2 7f 3yo +
August August Meeting Saturday Roses Stakes Flat Listed 5f 2yo only
August Ebor Festival Wednesday International Stakes Flat Group 1 1m 2f 88y 3yo +
August Ebor Festival Wednesday Great Voltigeur Stakes Flat Group 2 1m 4f 3yo only
August Ebor Festival Wednesday Acomb Stakes Flat Group 3 7f 2yo only
August Ebor Festival Thursday Lowther Stakes Flat Group 2 6f 2yo only f
August Ebor Festival Thursday Yorkshire Oaks Flat Group 1 1m 4f 3yo + f
August Ebor Festival Friday Lonsdale Cup Flat Group 2 2m 88y 3yo +
August Ebor Festival Friday Strensall Stakes Flat Group 3 1m 208y 3yo +
August Ebor Festival Friday Nunthorpe Stakes Flat Group 1 5f 2yo +
August Ebor Festival Saturday Gimcrack Stakes Flat Group 2 6f 2yo only
August Ebor Festival Saturday Ebor Handicap Flat Handicap 1m 6f 3yo +
September September Sunday Garrowby Stakes Flat Listed 6f 3yo +


  1. ^ "Racecourse League Tables". Racehorse Owners Association. 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "History". York Racecourse. Archived from the original on 10 July 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b Saunders 1863, p. 124.
  4. ^ a b Drake 1736, p. 141.
  5. ^ a b c "10 things you didn't know about us". York Racecourse. Archived from the original on 28 July 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  6. ^ York Archaeological Trust
  7. ^ Drake 1736, p. 133.
  8. ^ Camden 1722, p. 913.
  9. ^ Whyte 1840, p. 389.
  10. ^ Saunders 1863, p. 125.
  11. ^ Drake 1736, p. 241.
  12. ^ Saunders 1863, p. 127.
  13. ^ Saunders 1863, p. 128.
  14. ^ Whyte 1840, p. 402.
  15. ^ Saunders 1863, p. 129.
  16. ^ Whyte 1840, p. 400.
  17. ^ Saunders 1863, p. 131.
  18. ^ "Object No. 2: England's First Female Jockey". Fairfax House. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  19. ^ "Pope John Paul II at Knavesmire Racecourse". Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  20. ^ "Yorfest". Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  21. ^ Saunders 1863, pp. 131–132.
  22. ^ "Royal Ascot at York". Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  23. ^ West 2000, p. 7.
  24. ^ a b Appleyard, Ian (15 June 2017). "York Racecourse voted 'best in the country' ahead of two-day meeting". The York Press. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  25. ^ "Royal Ascot at York". Retrieved 2 July 2017.


External links[edit]

53°56′19″N 1°5′51″W / 53.93861°N 1.09750°W / 53.93861; -1.09750