The York Ebor Festival begins today, and is set to be a cracker.
Taking place over four days, the meeting is one of the most eagerly anticipated in the Flat racing calendar, with York recognised as one of Britain’s leading racecourses. With feature races on each day, the meeting attracts many of the best thoroughbreds in training.
On the opening day, the Group 1 Juddmonte International takes centre-stage. Worth over half a million to the winner, the 10-furlong event has been won by seriously good horses in its time. Sea The Stars was successful during his dominant 2009 campaign which culminated in a victory in the Arc at Longchamp. In 2012 it was Frankel that thrilled the Yorkshire public, with a devastating display in defeating Godolphin’s classy colt Farhh by seven lengths. The Group 1 winner St Nicholas Abbey was back in third.
The main support on day one is the Great Voltigeur Stakes, a Group 2 that is often seen as a trial for the St Leger. Interestingly, the race was won last year by Postponed, the favourite for today’s Juddmonte. On winning the race, his trainer at the time, Luca Cumani said: “He could be supplemented for the St Leger but my inclination would be to not stretch him that far. He's a mile-and-a-half horse.” Roger Varian will be hoping he’s also a mile and a quarter horse.
Thursday’s showpiece is the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, yet another that has an illustrious roll of honour. Originally restricted to three-year-olds, the race was opened to older fillies and mares in 1991. Sir Michael Stoute is joint leading trainer in the event with nine winners, including the classy mare Islington, who took the race in 2002 and 2003. She also won the Nassau Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, during a sparkling career.
Aidan O’Brien has a strong record in the race, with three victories in the last 10 renewals. Other outstanding mares to have taken the race in recent times, include Dar Re Mi and The Fugue, for John Gosden, and the multiple Group 1 winner Midday for Sir Henry Cecil.
The juvenile fillies also play a starring role on Thursday in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes. The Roger Charlton trained Fair Eva looks sure to be favourite for this year’s renewal. Daughter of the mighty Frankel, she has looked exceptional in her two outings to date, including a four length romp at Ascot last month.
On Friday it’s the turn of the sprinters to strut their stuff in the Nunthorpe. Blink and you’ll miss it, with the winner likely to complete the five furlongs in a rapid 57 seconds. This is one of a few races where juveniles can compete against their elders, with the last two-year-old to win being Kingsgate Native, back in 2007.
The youngsters hope to take advantage of a huge weight for age allowance, and two or three are set to take up the challenge on Friday. The Molecomb Stakes winner Yalta is fancied to go well for Mark Johnston. And the Scot may also send fellow juvenile The Last Lion into battle. Robert Cowell knows a thing or two about training speedsters, and he clearly holds Prince Of Lir in high regard. The race has been won by sprinting giants over the years, including Dayjur, Lochsong, Oasis Dream and more recently Sole Power.
From one extreme to the other on Friday, as the two mile Lonsdale Cup plays the supporting role. The most recent renewals of the Group 2 have gone to a pair of Ireland’s finest trainers, in Dermot Weld and Willie Mullins. Wicklow Brave may well be in attendance for the latter on Friday, taking on the Goodwood Cup runner up Pallasator, and possibly last year’s St Leger heroine Simple Verse.
The final day sees the running of the famous handicap from which the meeting takes its name. The Ebor has been run since 1843, and is the most valuable Flat handicap in Europe. You can expect a big priced winner from this hugely competitive race, as five of the last eight were successful at 20/1 or greater.
The York Ebor meeting is a truly mouth-watering event. It’s likely to deliver a number of shocks along the way, as well as exceptional performances from numerous highly touted thoroughbreds. Who could forget last year’s Juddmonte, when the Epsom Derby hero, Golden Horn, lost out in a thrilling finish to the 50/1 shot, Arabian Queen. The meeting is also likely to herald the arrival of potential stars. Ribchester was a promising second in last year’s Gimcrack Stakes, at odds of 25/1, and has developed into one of the best milers in the business.