York – the story of seven iconic races
York racecourse is steeped in history, as are the iconic races run at the four-day Ebor Festival – here’s the story behind the most famous races, the conditions and notable winners
Juddmonte International Stakes
Wednesday 18 August: Juddmonte International Stakes (British Champions Series) (Group 1) (3yo+) 1m2½f
This race was the brainchild of Major Leslie Petch, a former clerk of the course at York, and was first run in 1972 as the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. That inaugural running saw Derby winner Roberto inflict the only defeat on Brigadier Gerard, who ran in 18 races.
The tobacco brand’s sponsorship ended in 1985 and the race was then supported by a bloodstock company and became the Matchmaker International. Juddmonte Farms became the sponsors in 1989.
The race was ranked number one of all thoroughbred horse races in the world after last year’s high-quality field, with Gaiyaath the winner followed home by Magical and Lord North.
Great Voltigeur Stakes
Wednesday 18 August: Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes (Group 2) (Colts & Geldings) (3yo) 1m4f
Voltigeur was the Yorkshire trained winner of the 1850 Derby at Epsom and St Leger at Doncaster. It was 100 years later in 1950 that the Voltigeur Stakes was introduced at York to commemorate the classic winning colt.
In a field of 24, Voltigeur was 16/1 to win the Derby, a generous price after some indifferent pre-race training. He went into the lead one-furlong out, and won by a length.
In the St Leger he encountered a rough ride as rival jockeys attempted to block his progress. His jockey, Job Marson, took him out wide and went for home once they’d turned into the home straight.
He was caught on the line by Russborough and the judge declared a dead-heat. The owners, including Voltigeur’s Lord Zetland, couldn’t agree on sharing the prize-money, so a match re-run took place later the same afternoon.
With just the two runners, Marson was able to sit in behind Russborough and took the lead inside the final furlong and won by a length.
Two days later Voltigeur took on the previous year’s Derby and St Leger winner, The Flying Dutchman, who’d won all 13 of his races. Amid speculation that the older rival’s jockey had had a drink or two, The Flying Dutchman set off at a fast pace but Marson bided his time and caused an upset when winning by half-a-length.
They met again the following Spring, and the tables were turned when The Flying Dutchman passed Voltigeur, who this time was ridden by Nat Flatman who dropped his whip during the course of the race, to win by a length.
As a five-year-old, Voltigeur won his first race of the season, named after The Flying Dutchman. In subsequent races, at Ascot and then at York twice on the same day, first in the Ebor Handicap and then in a 5f race, he was nowhere near his peak, and didn’t race again.
Seven years after the first running of the Voltigeur Stakes, the race name was changed to the Great Voltigeur Stakes and, over 1m3f, the Group 2 contest has become an established St Leger trial.
Thursday 19 August: Darley Yorkshire Oaks (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Fillies & Mares) (3yo+) 1m4f
The feature race on Ladies Day. Originally a race for three-year-old fillies, the Yorkshire Oaks made its debut in 1849. Older fillies and mares were able to run from 1991.
Runners in the Oaks at Epsom often take part in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, and the first filly to achieve the Epsom/York double was Brown Duchess in 1861. Enable (pictured) achieved the same feat in 2017 and went on to be a dual winner of the race.
Last year’s winner was the Galileo filly Love who had previously won the Epsom Classic.
Thursday 19 August: Sky Bet Lowther Stakes (Group 2) (Fillies) (2yo) 6f
The Lowther Stakes was first run in 1946 and commemorates Hugh Lowther, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, who died in 1944, aged 83.
The title had been in existence since 1874 and was created for the Lowther family, which had built its wealth through coal mining.
Lonsdale was profligate with his money, invested unwisely, and was the subject of a scandal due to an affair with a married actress, Violet Cameron, with whom he fathered two children. He was already married, and his pregnant wife had lost their first baby in a hunting accident and, after the accident, was invalided and unable to bear children.
Lonsdale entertained the kings of Europe at Lowther Castle, and was a keen huntsman.
After the First World War, he gave up hunting and became ever more involved in horse racing, becoming a senior steward of the Jockey Club. In 1922 he won the St Leger and the Irish St Leger with his colt Royal Lancer.
His continued recklessness with money meant his heir, brother Lancelot, had to sell off the contents of Lowther Castle in 1947
Friday 20 August: Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (2yo+) 5f
The Nunthorpe name first appeared in a York race title in 1903 as a lowly seller, before it became a much more prestigious event in 1922. It now has Group 1 status and the winner receives automatic entry to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
As the race is run over the shortest distance of 5f, it is one of the few top-level events where two-year-olds can compete with older generation horses. The last time a 2yo achieved victory was in 2007 with the John Best trained Kingsgate Native.
The race has a history of dual winners and the now retired Battaash won the last two runnings.
The Nunthorpe name comes from an area of York, between the racecourse and the city centre.
Friday 20 August: Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Gimcrack Stakes (Group 2) (Colts & Geldings) (2yo) 6f
First run in 1846, the race is named after the grey horse Gimcrack who won 27 of his 36 races in a career which bridged seven seasons, winning his last race, aged 11, in 1771.
As well as having the race named after him, the Gimcrack Club was founded in York and, to this day, the Gimcrack Stakes winning owner is invited to give a speech at the Gimcrack dinner and often deals with key issues of the day relating to the turf.
Gimcrack has become even more famous through his depiction, painted in 1765, by George Stubbs on Newmarket Heath along with trainer, jockey and stable hand.
Friday 20 August: Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup Stakes (Group 2) (British Champions Series) (3yo+) 2m½f
The race was originally called the Lonsdale Stakes and, for a period, it was run over one-mile-seven-furlongs and 198 yards.
For several years it was a Listed race, and gained Group 3 status in 1998.
The race was renamed the Lonsdale Cup Stakes and received a further upgrade to Group 2 level in 2004. It was extended by 78 yards in 2007 to its current distance.
Six horses have won the race twice, most recently Stradivarius in 2018 (pictured) and 2019.
Saturday 21 August: Sky Bet Ebor Handicap (Heritage Handicap) (4yo+) 1m6f
Ebor is the shortened form of Eboracum, the Roman name for York and the earliest known record of Eboracum dates from around 100AD, about 60 years after the Roman conquest.
Arboretum’s strategic importance meant that it was eventually the northern capital under the Romans, and was one of Empire’s most important cities.
It continued to be developed by the Romans into the fifth century before the Empire fell into decline.
The Ebor Handicap was introduced in 1843 by clerk of the course, John Orton, and was initially run over two-miles before becoming a 1m6f event. It is now Europe’s most valuable handicap. From 2019, three-year-olds were excluded from the race.
There has only been one horse to win the race twice when Flint to the honours in 1922 and 1923. In 1979 Sea Pigeon took the carrying 10 stone.
The last time a favourite won was in 2007.