York Racecourse is the best in Britain – and here are 10 winning reasons why

It's time to get back in the saddle for the new racing season. Photograph: York Racecourse
3 May 2016 @ 9.32 am
| Entertainment, Sport

They’re under starter’s orders at York Racecourse for the start of the new season.

Dante Festival 2016

York Racecourse

Wed May 11-Fri May 13

£7-£105

More details

It kicks off (insert relevant racing term here) at Knavesmire on Wednesday (May 11) with the three-day Dante Festival.

Our own tipster Dick Turpin will be on hand to help you pick a winner (or, very occasionally, a complete donkey) but in the meantime, while you check the form and brush the dust of your best hat, here are ten reasons why we think the course is a racing certainty for a great day out.

1. It’s Britain’s most popular track

The people's favourite - York Racecourse gets the racegoers' vote for 26 years in a row. Photograph: York Racecourse
The people’s favourite – York Racecourse gets the racegoers’ vote for 26 years in a row. Photograph: York Racecourse
York starts the new racing season as The Racegoers Club’s favourite flat racecourse – a title it has won for a record 26 years.

The club is the the longest established supporters organisation for the sport and surveys its members every year.

In case you were wondering, the 5,000 members picked Cheltenham as their number one jumps course, giving it the prestigious Racecourse of the Year title for the 12th year in a row.

2. The Queen likes it

The procession arrives during Royal Ascot at York in 2005. Photograph: York Racecourse
The procession arrives during Royal Ascot at York in 2005. Photograph: York Racecourse

The Queen enjoyed a day at the races in 2005 when Royal Ascot headed north while its usual Berkshire home was given a £185m revamp.

She was among more than 220,000 punters who decamped to Knavesmire. Although she was the only one who had her own horse-drawn carriage.

At the time, the Duke of Devonshire, the Queen’s representative at Ascot, said:

Royal Ascot at York will live in many memories for all the right reasons. We have been overwhelmed by the way the event has been embraced in the region and the welcome we have received.

It has been one of the most significant racing events in living memory, something very special and a moment of history, and I say that with no exaggeration.

Crowds were down on usual Royal Ascot figures but York surpassed its own attendance record twice during the week with more than 50,000 racegoers present on Ladies’ Day.

3. And so does Tom Jones

In explosive form… Sir Tom Jones at York Races Music Showcase. Photograph © Becky Fitzgerald on Twitter
In explosive form… Sir Tom Jones at York Races Music Showcase. Photograph © Becky Fitzgerald on Twitter

International superstar and Welsh demigod Sir Tom Jones is just one of the many music stars to have performed at York Racecourse in recent years but he’s by far the most twinkly (and we’ll fight anyone who says otherwise).

At least 36,000 people were there last July, making it a York Music Showcase record and the largest crowd for an evening race meeting in Britain.

Among the other music stars to have performed at the racecourse are Kaiser Chiefs, Olly Murs, McFly, Little Mix, Blondie, Madness and The Beach Boys.

4. It’s the home of sporting firsts

A young Lester Piggott, then known as “the 18-year-old wonder-boy jockey”, rode out at York in 1954 wearing the Queen’s colours for the first time.

He was the rising star of the sport after winning the Epsom Derby on Never Say Die, but only bagged fifth at Knavesmire on Perambulator.

5. And sporting greats

Frankel, trained by the late, great Sir Henry Cecil, secured its place in the history books with a sublime victory in the Juddmonte International Stakes in York in 2012, bringing 30,000 racegoers to the point of hysteria with his seven-length romp.

Writing a few days after the race, journalist and former Grand National winning jockey Marcus Armytage said:

Forget ratings, handicappers’ assessments or any other method by which you measure one racehorse against another, it is unlikely that the world in either this or any previous generation has ever seen a better racehorse than Frankel.

What makes him unique is his ability to go a top class sprinter’s pace over distance. He is a lightning strike of genetics which may not be repeated for 100 years.

6. It’s part of our heritage

York’s fascination with racing can be traced back to Roman times when, apparently, Emperor Severus liked the occasional flutter.

York Corporation records show that the city first fully supported racing in 1530 and, in 1607, racing is known to have taken place on the frozen Ouse between Micklegate Tower and Skeldergate Postern.

The first detailed records of a race meeting date from 1709, when much work was done to improve the course at Clifton Ings which was prone to flooding.

The flooding continued, however, so, in 1730, racing transferred to Knavesmire.

This evocative British Movietone film shows gentlemen racegoers enjoying the Ebor Handicap in 1910 (it was won by Claretoi).

7. You can win big at the Ebor Festival

Jockeys line up ahead of the race during the Ebor Festival of 2014. Photograph: York Racecourse
Jockeys line up ahead of the race during the Ebor Festival of 2014. Photograph: York Racecourse
The Ebor is one of the racing calendar’s oldest, richest, fastest and most famous festivals, providing ample opportunities to make (and quite possibly lose) oodles of cash over four fabulous days.

The traditional highlight of the York season, this year’s event starts on Wednesday August 17 with the prestigious Juddmonte International, rated as the best race in Great Britain by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities last season.

Darley Yorkshire Oaks & Ladies Day follows on the 18th, when the best dressed racegoers will have the chance to win a trip to Dubai courtesy of Marriott Hotels on the Ebor Fashion Lawn.

Then, on the 19th, it’s the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, the fastest race of the season and, on the 20th, the Betfred Ebor, the oldest race at York and the richest flat handicap in Europe.

8. It’s a fashionable favourite

Raising the style stakes at the Ebor Fashion Lawn. Photograph: York Racecourse
Raising the style stakes at the Ebor Fashion Lawn. Photograph: York Racecourse
Fashionable fillies and colts with an eye for couture can strut the catwalk (shouldn’t that be horsewalk?) on the Ebor Fashion Lawn throughout the four-day August festival.

Standside racegoers can show off their finest race day fashions and poke fun at other people’s dodgy style choices while taking a short break from the day’s sport on the Weighing Room lawn.

9. It’s racing green

Buildings around the course - including the weighing room - are designed to be energy efficient
Buildings around the course – including the weighing room – are designed to be energy efficient
Obviously the ten hectares of race track and surrounding lawns are literally green but York Racecourse also has pretty impressive environmental credentials.

For starters, it’s installed solar panels to heat the water in the Knavesmire Stand and dug a borehole to provide up to 6,300,000 gallons of sustainable water to irrigate the course.

As a green bonus, it’s switched to recyclable glass and biodegradable cardboard for its drink and food packaging; uses a natural seaweed product as a bio stimulant; stables 70% of the horses using bedding made from recycled paper; and even uses ecological washing-up liquid in the office kitchen.

10. And finally, if it’s good enough for Peppa Pig…

Peppa Pig likes jumping in muddy puddles and having a sly bet at York Races
Peppa Pig likes jumping in muddy puddles and having a sly bet at York Races
York’s annual Family Sunday brings an eclectic crowd to Knavesmire, including children’s favourites Peppa Pig and Paddington.

This year’s event, on September 4, will feature seven thoroughbred races, a pony race, fairground rides, a bouncy castle and lots of lovely grub. And best of all, it’s free for under 18s.