York is perhaps the highest quality and most famous racecourse in the north of England. Situated in the southwest of the city, it has the capacity to hold 60,000 spectators. It hosts some of racing’s biggest meetings, where its visitors can see the most famous jockeys, trainers and owners in the world of horseracing. It has seen some of the best racehorses in history.
Referred to as "The Ascot of the North" (after hosting the 2005 Ascot Festival), York racecourse is located on a large area of land known as the Knavesmire, thus explaining the name of the Knavesmire Stand (now the County Stand). The original racecourse stand dates from 1964, with a part of John Carr’s Grandstand from 1754 still standing.
As a flat racecourse with no jumps, it is only open to racing for a brief period of the year, with numerous meetings between May and October.
The first race meeting in York dates back to 1709. Because of its high susceptibility to flooding, the course at Clifton required a large amount of work done in order to make it raceworthy. However, the flooding continued and no amount of work could put an end to the problem. In 1730 racing moved to Knavesmire, the site today’s racegoers know and love. Knavesmire was originally a mire, through which a stream ran, so a significant amount of levelling and draining was undertaken during the building of the course. The course at Knavesmire, well-known for its horseshoe shape, held its first meeting in 1731.
York is renowned for the quality of its racing, and the horses and jockeys on show, but it wasn’t always like this. The York Racecourse Committee, the ruling body of York’s racing to this very day, was formed in 1842 in an attempt to improve the quality of York’s racing. In 1846, it established the Gimcrack Stakes, since gaining the status as one of York’s most enduring races.
Times of Change
From the early days, York Racecourse has changed drastically. Numerous developments have taken place. Before the work of York architect John Carr, there were no buildings on the course. Then, financed by 250 people contributing 5 guineas each, the very first Grandstand was constructed by Carr in 1754. The Grandstand was then developed further in 1965, and the construction of the new five-tier Grandstand was completed. This wasn’t the end of the developments, though, when in 1989 the Melrose Stand and in 1995 the award-winning Tattersalls Knavesmire Stand opened their turnstiles for the first time. Not only were these new stands a fantastic facility for racedays, but also for high-quality, non-racing conference events. Another addition to the racecourse was the Ebor Stand, which opened in 2003. From the days when its racing was generally poor, York has since gained the reputation as not just any old Northern racecourse, but arguably the biggest stage in the top half of the country.
Certainly the most famous race, the showcase event, to be held at York is the Ebor Handicap, run during the three-day Ebor Festival every August. Also held during the Ebor meeting, the International Stakes, the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks are another three of the UK’s 31 Group One races.
In June ’05, York was chosen to host the most-celebrated flat meeting, Royal Ascot, while Ascot Racecourse underwent its £185 million redevelopment. After a hugely successful meeting, York was deservedly given the name Ascot of the North. It then hosted the St. Ledger in 2006, another top-class racing event, while Doncaster also began redevelopment.
Also held at York is the May Festival, an event which never fails to attract all the big name horses, trainers and jockeys, with meetings in June and July also very popular.
One Of The Best
York has seen some of the most famous horses grace its turf over the years, perhaps the most popular of which was Sea Pigeon. Winner of the Chester Cup in 1977 and ’78, he won the renowned Ebor Handicap in 1979, at a record weight of 10 stone. He then triumphed in the Champion Hurdle in 1980, after fierce competition with Monksfield the previous two years, and in 1981 became the oldest ever winner of the same race.
After years of exciting developments, the track was voted Racecourse of the Year in 2003, and came top of the pile in a survey of all Britain’s racecourses in The Times. While York continues to attract the most recognised names in the world of horseracing, it’s no wonder it requires a capacity of 60,000.
For all enquiries please contact:
Tel: 01904 620911
Fax: 01904 611071
As there is such a wide range of race meetings and also non-racing events, there is a wide range of pricing structures. For full details please see the website.
Prices range from as little as £2 for the May Spring Weekend (concessions) to £50 for the Ebor Festival (full price). For a plan of York racecourse, follow this link.
- There is plenty of free car & coach parking around the racecourse, except for John Smith’s Cup Saturday and the Ebor festival, when a £5 fee is charged.
The racecourse is located just outside the city centre, with good motorway links on the M1 and A1. When approaching the city, follow the A64 and the A1036, whether coming from the south, east or west. From the north, use the A19 and A59, followed by the York Ring Road to avoid the city centre.
- For John Smith’s Cup Saturday and the Ebor Festival in August, a special traffic plan will apply.
Rail services serving York are quick and regular. Trains take around 2 hours from London Kings Cross, 2 hours 30 minutes from Edinburgh, and services are also direct from Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. The course is 1 mile away from the station.
City Centre and a First Bus raceday shuttle run every 20 minutes.