York – dazzling jewel in racing’s crown

York – dazzling jewel in racing’s crown

York. Population in excess of 200,000. In existence as a city from soon after AD kicked BC into the long grass. History on every street corner, every field. Oh, and a racecourse to die for.

Quite literally back in the day, as notorious highwayman Dick Turpin was among many sent to meet their maker on the Knavesmire, where sits the present-day track configuration. It’s in action this coming week for the first time this season, as the fabled Dante meeting helps provide Epsom clues and fabulous, high-octane, equine entertainment.

Dante was a horse trained at Middleham, about 50 miles from York. He won the Derby, staged at Newmarket given the wartime difficulties, in 1945. He was the last northern-trained winner, and is remembered especially courtesy of the Dante Stakes, centrepiece of the meet.

It’s proved to be a most accurate trial for those looking to emulate the great horse and win the Derby – at Epsom, of course. In only the race’s second year it was won by St Paddy, a subsequent Derby hero under a certain L Piggott no less.

In more recent years the likes of North Light, Motivator, Authorized and Golden Horn (above) have won York’s Dante Stakes before scoring in the big one on the Downs.

York’s three-day meet this week (Weds, Thurs, Fri) will also feature a leading Epsom Oaks trial on Weds, the Musidora Stakes, while on Friday it’s the turn of the stayers in the Yorkshire Cup, with Stradavarius and Trueshan still among those declared to run.

It’s a wonderful start to York’s racing season which of course has as its centrepiece the peerless Ebor Festival, in August.

First time I ever went to York, in my late teens, the coach driver set off for home the wrong way up the A1 and we’d nearly reached Scotch Corner before anyone noticed. I’d never even been to the city before, but prior to racing we strolled around the historic old buildings, streets, and walls. Marvelled at the watery delights (Foss, Ouse). I was spellbound.

It’s a love affair that persists to this day, and I can happily now say I’ve been hundreds upon hundreds of times. Visiting, and racing. To combine the two is heaven.

On the track I’ve seen Lester, Frankie, Pat Eddery, Steve Cauthen; the likes of Troy, In The Groove, Dayjur, Halling, Sharpo, Frankel, Sea The Stars; and just marvelled at the place, and its friendliness. It’s a scrupulously fair course, rewarding the best horses. That’s not always the case elsewhere.


My daughter first attended in her pushchair. Now we relish every opportunity to be there (above), reminiscing about the old Punch and Judy man, the Colts and Filles creche, fish and chips on the grass, ice creams ….. priceless memories of a wonderful ‘theatre’ staging top-flight sport with passion, and heart.

I’ll be there for the Dante on Thursday. Saying hello to my dear friend York.

It’s in great hands (William Derby, Chief Exec/Clerk of the Course for nearly 20 years). Gloriously appointed. The very best thrive here – notably the great Sir Henry Cecil. On ‘Frankel’ day, 2012’s Juddmonte, with the wonderful gentleman in obvious poor health, tears fell like rain. Two legends of the sport put on an unforgettable show that day. York brings out the best in us all.

If you’ve never been, please try, one day. They’ll be pleased to see you, and most importantly, you’ll know. Enjoy superb racing this week.

Alan Firkins

York’s Dante meeting


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Author: Lucille White