A look ahead to the Yorkshire racing season
Yorkshire’s world famous racecourses are the favourite for horseracing fans — or those who just want to soak up a lavish spectacle. Tony Greenway reports. Photographs by Jeremy Phillips.
There is a school of thought — championed by film critic Mark Kermode — that Steven Spielberg’s classic movie Jaws isn’t really about a shark. Sure, there’s a shark in it (quite a big one, in fact); but that’s just a cover for the other themes the movie is exploring.
Well, I’d like to take this idea further and suggest that Yorkshire’s major horseracing meetings aren’t really about horseracing, per se. (Bear with me.) That’s because Yorkshire’s nine racecourses — Beverley, Catterick, Doncaster, Pontefract, Redcar, Ripon, Thirsk, Wetherby and York — really know how to put on a show.
These include family days, fun days, themed days and some meetings that are so spectacularly flamboyant — with gents dressed up to the nines, ladies in big hats, live music (from the likes of Sir Tom Jones) and free-flowing champagne — that the horseracing element becomes almost secondary.
Almost. That’s because the racing in Yorkshire is undeniably outstanding; which is why it attracts the best horses and jockeys from around the country and around the world.
The big event of Yorkshire’s equine calendar is undoubtedly August’s Ebor Festival at York Racecourse. This gets underway with the Juddemonte International (August 17th), which is ranked top of all thoroughbred horse races on the planet (and was won in 2012 by Frankel, one of the best — if not the best — thoroughbreds in history). August 18th is York’s famous Ladies’ Day, when the great and the good get dressed up in not very much to go to the gee-gees; while August 19th is the date of the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, a fast race over five furlongs. This is all just a preamble, however, for August 20th and the oldest race in York — the Ebor Handicap — which was first run in 1843 and is regarded as one of Europe’s top handicap races.
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Yet long before the Ebor Festival, York will be pulling in the punters with its other glitzy fixtures: the Dante Festival (May 11th-13th); the midsummer raceday (June 10th) and Macmillan Charity Raceday (June 11th); the John Smith Cup on July 8th and 9th (won by Master Carpenter last year, ridden by Phillip Makin) and the Music Showcase Weekend, when The Corrs will be the headline act on Saturday 23rd. (Mind you, York is used to attracting big names that aren’t associated with racing: it can’t be stated enough that The Beach Boys — yes, really — played the racecourse’s Showcase Weekend in 2014.) Races during the day will include the middle distance Sky Bet York Stakes and the Sky Bet Dash.
This month, at the specialist National Hunt course at Wetherby, the Family Day (April 17th) features the Mascot Gold Cup, the largest organised charity mascot race in the world. It’s called Family Day for a reason, by the way: the Centre of Course Enclosure features the National Festival Circus, Inflatable Fun, Petting Farm and Barrel Train. Ladies’ Evening — on May 24th — is Wetherby’s season finale before the summer break.
Beverley Racecourse — which has had more than £650,000 invested in its hospitality facilities of late — opens the East Yorkshire flat racing season this month (April 13th) before closing it again on September 20th. In between there’s A Very British Raceday (May 28th), the Laurent-Perrier Evening of the Horse (June 14th — the first of Beverley’s summer’s evening meetings), Party on the Pasture (July 1st — new for 2016) and The Big Saturday Raceday (July 2nd).
Doncaster, meanwhile, has gone megastar crazy with the line-up for its 2016 meetings, with original Pop Idol Will Young (May 14th), Eighties funk-pop band Level 42 (June 4th), Sir Tom Jones (June 25th) and Simply Red (August 13th) all performing after the racing. And topping it all off in September is the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival, featuring the St Ledger Stakes, the world’s oldest Classic.
There’s more. This year, Thirsk racecourse hosts 17 days of competitive racing on the flat, four Family Days, three evening meetings and a Sunday afternoon meeting for the first time — plus the James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small Family Day on August 15th. Catterick, meanwhile, hosts racing all year round and prides itself on being the busiest racecourse in the north.
Yorkshire boasts more top racecourses than any other part of the UK, hosting 180 days of racing so it is no wonder the British Horseracing Authority has said that, on a visits per capita basis, Yorkshire’s courses are the best attended in the country. So if you like placing a bet or two, the county is the place to be. And if you don’t, don’t worry, because at Yorkshire’s racecourses, it’s not really about the racing — not if you don’t want it to be, anyway. So just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. w