York is one of the premier tracks in Europe.
It attracts around 350,000 racegoers a year and stages three of the UK’s 31 Group One races – the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.
The Knavesmire course is located in the south-west of the city, next to the former Terry’s of York factory, The Chocolate Works.
York, the city, traces a fascinating history back to Roman and Viking times. Today it is a bustling place growing as a commercial, tourist and regional centre. A fine range of restaurants, shopping opportunities and attractions, including the Jorvik Viking Centre and National Railway Museum, as well as the history of the Minster, Castle and City Walls, supplements an extensive selection of excellent hotel accommodation.
Horses raced at York during the days of the Emperor Severus in Roman times over 2,000 years ago.
York Corporation records show that the City first fully supported racing in 1530. In 1607, racing is known to have taken place on the frozen river Ouse, between Micklegate Tower and Skeldergate Postern.
The Knavesmire site was originally a swampy mire with a stream running through it and a considerable amount of levelling and draining was required to create the horseshoe shaped course, which opened for its first meeting in 1731.
Formed in 1842, the York Racecourse Committee, now part of York Racecourse Knavesmire LLP, still manages racing at York today. By 1846, in a bid to improve quality, the Committee had introduced the Gimcrack Stakes, which has since become one of York’s most enduring races, taking place during the Ebor Festival, a prestigious four-day meeting held in August.
York Races’ progression has been reflected in the development of grandstands over the years – the first designed and built by architect John Carr in 1754 and financed by 250 people who each paid five guineas.
New stands were erected in 1890 to incorporate much of the original building and a major improvement scheme, launched in 1962, led to the opening of the five-tier grandstand in 1965. The programme of development rolled on, and in 1989 the Melrose Stand opened, quickly followed by the Knavesmire Stand, with additional conference facilities in 1996. 2003 saw the opening of the Ebor Stand containing, amongst other features, the Nunthorpe Suite, kept on racedays for exclusive use by annual badgeholders.
There are a host of bars, lounges and places to eat.
The wine list at the track has won awards – responding to customer requests for a high quality, affordable rosé wine, a member of the team even visited the vineyards to help blend a rosé for the popular Duc de Richelieu range of house wines.
A few interesting facts you may not know are:
- York has boasted many distinguished visitors, including Pope John Paul II, who said open-air mass for more than 200,000 pilgrims during his visit to Britain on May 31, 1982.
- The course has seen many climactic finishes, but few as memorable as that of legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, who was hanged on the Knavesmire on April 19, 1739.
- The Princess Royal won the Queen Mother’s Cup on Insular on June 11, 1988.
York’s highest attendance for a race meeting was recorded in 1851, when a crowd estimated at 150,000 saw The Flying Dutchman, winner of the Derby and St Leger in 1849, beat Voltigeur, who took both races the following year, in the so-called Great Match. The modern era record is the 42,586 who attended one July Saturday in 2010.
The picturesque course is particularly charming in the summer sunshine.
With an extensive array of flower beds, hanging baskets, flower boxes and feature displays, it comes alive with colour, scent and beauty.