Welcoming around 360,000 spectators every year, York Racecourse is one of the leading sporting venues in the whole of Yorkshire. Exclusively a flat racing track, visitors come to the course between May and October every year hoping to see some thrilling racing action.
This they inevitably do witness, all while enjoying some truly superb facilities from this multi-award-winning racecourse. Well-located and boasting a large capacity, York Racecourse may be a premium racing destination but getting inside is not a difficult task.
Despite its reasonably central location, York Racecourse, situated on the Knavesmire, finds itself located beside a residential part of the city, rather than a tourist hot-spot. As such, options within the immediate vicinity of the course are lacking when it comes to hotels but travel a little further and the choice becomes plentiful. Just note that for any weekend meetings during the summer, hotel prices may be inflated somewhat due to the number of visitors York will attract.
Within Walking Distance
There are no hotels on the doorstep of York racecourse but you can reach a small number in less than 20 minutes by foot. Located to the northeast, beside the Winning Post pub, you have the Staymor in the City and the Diamonds Guest House. A little further to the west, close to the far end of the racecourse’s longest chute you can find the St George’s Hotel, the Elmblank hotel, the Wheatlands Lodge, the Mount Royale Hotel and the Ibis York Centre. Most of these options do not have a large choice of rooms with the exception being the Ibis.
Round the Back of the Racecourse
It is a shame racegoers cannot simply walk across the Knavesmire turf and hop over the rails because if they could, there would be a pair of large and very accessible hotels. Both the York Marriott and the Holiday Inn York are situated close to the back straight of the course to reach the entrance you need to walk all the way around. At around 25 to 30 minutes on foot, it is still reachable within a relatively easy walk but those options are not as close as any of the options mentioned above. Within the same spot, you will also find the racecourse’s own accommodation, the Stableside. This hostel was built to provide comfortable and affordable accommodation to racegoers and non-racegoers.
The City Centre
Unsurprisingly, the closer you move to the heart of York, the more hotels appear. The city centre has a wide range of options including familiar names like the Hampton, a Best Weston, a Hilton, two Travelodges, a Novotel, another Holiday Inn and a Radisson. On top of this, you also have a few smaller, independently run establishments like the highly-rated The Grand or the Principal. At approximately one and a half miles from the racecourse, most of these hotels are still walkable for many. Should your level of fitness or lack of suitable footwear mean this isn’t your preferred option, then public transport or a taxi will get you to the course in next to no time.
About the Racecourse
The quality of York Racecourse has long been recognised by those in the industry. In 2019, it collected a number of awards including the ‘Racehorse Owners Association Gold Standard Racecourse of the Year’ and the Racing Post Readers Award. The same year the racecourse was also voted the ‘Best in Britain’, for the 10th time, by members of the Racegoers Club. As the largest organisation of its type in the country, York scooping such an accolade yet again speaks volumes about what the course has to offer.
We could go on and on telling you about the many honours York Racecourse has claimed but really it is better to see for yourself how good it is. Doing so is far from a difficult task whether coming by car or by public transport. In the case of the former, there is never any need to drive through the centre of York, which with its narrows streets is not the most straightforward experience. This is because York itself is encircled by the A64 and the A1237. No matter which direction you come from, you can simply drive around York until you reach the A64, with the Askham Bar exit your best option. Upon arrival, you will find there is ample parking which comes completely free of charge.
If arriving by train, York station is slap bang in the middle of the city centre and it is an extremely well-connected stop. As a popular northern hub, it is served by direct trains coming/going from Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, London Kings Cross, Sheffield, Manchester, Doncaster and Hull just to name a few. The station itself is a mile and a half from the racecourse and if you do want to walk this it will take around half an hour. There is no obligation to take a stroll though as the 197 shuttle bus runs back and forth between the station and the racecourse. A return ticket costs just £3, making it an inexpensive way to quickly arrive at the Knavesmire.
One aspect shared by many of the top racecourses in the country is that they are considered to be very ‘fair’. York is no exception to this and what it means, essentially, is that every horse competing is given an equal opportunity to impress. As such, the best horse (on the day) usually ends up winning on the spacious and very flat Knavesmire turf. Speaking of spacious, the width of the track at York allows the place to host races with a large number of runners, for example the Ebor Handicap.
One extra thing to be aware of, and the clue is in the name, is that the KnavesMIRE can get extremely testing should York end up being hit by an extended period of rain. As racing only takes place here between May and October, such boggy conditions are rare but when they do arrive they can be quite extreme.
No formal dress code applies to any visitors located within either the Clocktower Enclosure or the Grandstand and Paddock. Many people do choose to wear something fairly smart but you are more than welcome to pick comfort over style in these areas. Fancy dress is also acceptable, providing it is unlikely to cause any offence.
It is only within the County Stand where York imposes rules on what you need to wear. The dress code, which applies to gents, stipulates wearing a jacket, a collared shirt and a tie. This includes short sleeves shirts, bow ties, cravats and dress shorts so there is some flexibility involved. There are no specific requirements for what ladies must wear in the County Stand but ‘wedding guest’ attire is the general recommendation. Many racegoers rock up wearing dresses, high heels and a hat/fascinator.
York Racecourse has a variety of stands available, but only three possible ticketing options. One of the ticketing options, the Clocktower Enclosure, allows patrons to view the action at a reduced cost due to the limited facilities. Located inside the racecourse itself, it is an informal part of the course often popular with families or anyone looking to bring a picnic. Food and drink options are available but as there is no stand, you have extremely limited wet-weather protection. This is fully reflected in the price though as a place in the Clocktower usually costs a mere £7.
The next ticket up from this is a Grandstand and Paddock ticket. This unlocks access to a sizeable amount of the course including the parade ring and pre-parade ring. It also comes equipped with a wide, albeit fairly basic grandstand and access to the lower floors of the more impressive Knavesmire Stand. In this building, you will find a number of quality food and drink outlets. At around £15 to £20 a ticket, opting for the Grandstand and Paddock gives a good balance between facilities and cost.
For the best views possible at York Racecourse though, you will need to purchase a County Stand ticket, something that will usually set you back £25 to £30. This provides an abundance of protection from the elements as you unlock access to the upper levels of the Knavesmire Stand, the Ebor Stand, the Melrose Club Stand, the Gimcrack Rooms and the Moët Pavilion and Roof Terrace. With all these options providing some outstanding hospitality options, there are so many ways to enjoy the racing.
One thing to note about York is that the place prefers to have larger meetings/festivals that feature two, three or even four days of consecutive action. Only three days of its full 18 calendar are run as single-day events. There is also a strong preference for scheduling racing later in the week with only four days taking place outside of Friday to Sunday (and none on Monday or Tuesday).
York’s usual schedule also features three race meetings that feature live music after the racing. One performance is scheduled for June and then there’s a back-to-back showing in July. With the venue regularly able to secure a top artist or band, you can enjoy an extended period of entertainment on these days, albeit at an increased cost.
This long-running festival first began in 1843, the year the Ebor Handicap was founded. Featuring four consecutive days of high-class flat racing action, it can be seen as the North’s alternative to Royal Ascot. Although you will not find any royalty here, you will encounter a range of top horses and trainers with this being one of the last big meetings of the flat season. Much like Royal Ascot, it is not a festival that needs time to warm up as the opening day sees one of Britain’s most valuable races, the International Stakes.
Although this is the most prestigious race on offer, it is Saturday’s Ebor Handicap that perhaps provides even more of a pull. Britain’s richest handicap is a wonderful betting spectacle as it always attracts a large field. Between 2010 and 2019 the average price of the winner of this race was 16/1 so if you can call it correctly, expect to be very well rewarded. All in all, this is a hugely popular meeting and one that boasts an electric atmosphere throughout.
As York’s first meeting of the season, there is bound to be plenty of hype. A return to the racecourse with its wonderful views and the smell of freshly cut grass in the air is all the richer after some time apart. Needless to say, there are plenty of people desperate to step back onto the course and York ensures those that do are treated to a fantastic festival.
The Dante Festival is three days long, starting on Wednesday and running through to Friday. Rather than saving the show-stopper for the finale day, the main event, being the Dante Stakes, runs at the mid-way point. Still, you cannot go wrong with any of the three days as there is a real buzz throughout what is a very sociable meeting.
John Smith’s Meeting
In terms of on-course action, this is not the best meeting York has to offer but it is their informal ‘party’ highlight of the season. Held in the middle of summer, in mid-July, this meeting is a real hit among people looking to enjoy a fun afternoon or two. On the 60th anniversary of the John Smith’s Cup, a hugely popular handicap race, it is estimated that over 30,000 people attended the Knavesmire to see the action. The large crowd were treated to an exciting day of racing too as every single race was decided by no more than one horse length.
Many of you will know that the city of York has a fascinating past dating back to the Roman era. Few, however, know that horses were raced at York during the reign of Emperor Severus. Skipping forward to slightly more modern times, York Corporation records tell us that the city officially approved of racing in 1530. There is evidence of a race taking place in 1607 on a frozen river Ouse, of all places. Fortunately, there is nothing to indicate the ice had any trouble coping with the weight of galloping horses.
1709: First Official Race Meeting
As for when an official race meeting took place, the history books tell us this first happened in 1709. Initially, racing took place at Clifton Ings, despite it being a place rather prone to flooding. Efforts were made to improve drainage but as flooding remained all too frequent, the course moved to the Knavesmire in 1730. It is on the very same site where York Racecourse has lived ever since.
The job of turning a mire into a level and well-draining horse-shoe shaped course was an arduous one but one that was successfully pulled off. This allowed the Knavesmire course to hold its first meeting in 1731. There were no permanent buildings at the course at this time but this changed in 1754 when the first grandstand was erected. Interestingly, the build was financed by 50 people who paid five guineas each. In return, they were given full access to the stand for the duration of the site’s lease.
Construction of the Grandstands
The group that still manages the course today, the York Racecourse Committee, emerged in 1842 to help reverse dwindling attendance. Two of their big early successes including launching the Ebor Handicap in 1843 and the Gimcrack Stakes in 1846, both of which still run today. Under their leadership, they approved the construction of new stands in 1890 and the five-tier Grandstand in 1965. This was later followed by the Melrose Stand in 1989, the Knavesmire Stand in 1996 and the Ebor Stand in 2003.