August is the time of year when flat racing starts to come to a climax. We’ve had the 2,000 Guineas, the 1,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the Oaks, with only the St Leger to come of the Classics. Royal Ascot has been and gone, Glorious Goodwood is but a fleeting memory and all roads now point to the Breeders Cup, which, in 2015, will be held in Keeneland on October 30th and 31st. And between now and then, we also have the Arc meeting at Longchamp to keep us interested.
But for British flat racing fans, this time of the year is exciting, because the two year-olds are finally flourishing, and those exciting, late-progressing 3 year-olds are finally coming to the fore and we have three-quarters of a season’s information under our belts to hopefully make some informed decisions. And with that information, we can head to York for the course’s biggest meeting of the year, the Ebor Festival.
This year, the Ebor Festival takes place from the 19th of August until the 22nd of August and if you are in the United Kingdom, you can watch the racing live on Channel 4 or on Racing UK. Like many of the big horse racing festivals, such as Cheltenham or Royal Ascot, each race day tends to have one feature race that everything else is built up around, and the Ebor Festival is no exception.
Day One is when the Juddmonte International will be run, which is the festival’s richest race and attracts some of the best middle-distance horses from the UK, Ireland and sometimes even further afield. Of course, not only is the Juddmonte International run on the first day of the Ebor Festival, but the Acomb Stakes, one of the biggest races for two year-old horses, and the Great Voltigeur, are also run.
Day Two is all about the fillies, as the Yorkshire Oaks and the Lowther are both run. It is also the traditional ladies’ day of the meeting, too, which is no coincidence. It is a slightly more low-key day than Day One, but there’s still lots of action in the supporting races, too.
Day Three is more about the sprinters than anything else, with both the Nunthorpe and the Gimcrack being run. If sprints aren’t your thing, the other big race of Day Three of the Ebor Festival is the Strensall, which is run over a mile.
Finally, the culmination of four days of horse racing at York sees the 2-mile Lonsdale Cup take second stage to the most valuable flat racing handicap in Europe, the Ebor, which is run over a distance of 2 miles and will see some of the best handicappers in horse racing try and claim a share of over a quarter-of-a-million pounds in prize money.
So it is fair to say that York comes to a proverbial standstill for those four days in August. Now, let’s have a look at some of the races that will be captivating your attention over the four days.
For a lot of horse racing fans, this is the most important race of the entire Ebor Festival. Yes, the Ebor is what the meeting is all about, but the Juddmonte is where the best horses come to play. It is run over a distance of 1 mile, 2 furlongs, has a prize pool this year of £850,000, and is open to colts and fillies aged 3 years or older. Three year-old colts get an 8lb allowance, while three year-old fillies get 11lbs.
This Group 1 is always a highlight of the festival, and this year looks like being no exception, with Epsom Derby winner Golden Horn looking likely to take on this year’s 2,000 Guineas winner Gleneagles in the feature race of Day One of the meeting.
Gleneagles missed a big outing in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood due to the ground ending up too soft for his liking, and he appears unlikely to make the trip to France for the Prix Jacques le Marois this Sunday, so the Juddmonte is looking very, very likely.
So Golden Horn, currently odds-on to maintain his unbeaten record, might just have a bit of a fight on his hands. And with Royal Ascot winner time Test in the mix, along with potentially The Grey Gatsby, the race is sure to be a cracker.
The race has had its fair share of famous winners, and you only have to look back to 2012 to see the name Frankel on the winner’s list, while the amazing Sea The Stars won this race in 2009. Giant’s Causeway, Singspiel and In The Groove are all other notable winners of the race. It does read like a Who’s Who of horse racing, and no doubt the winner of the 2015 renewal will be looking to make the same mark that those great did.
As the name suggests, this is a race for three year-old or older fillies only, and is run over a distance of 1 mile, 4 furlongs. Although Oaks races are traditionally for three year-old fillies only, the race was opened up to older horses in 1991, giving the race a bigger reach. The prize pool for this year’s Yorkshire Oaks is £335,000, making it the richest ever running of this race and ensuring a high-class field will line up on Day Two of the Ebor Festival.
Many fillies that compete in the Epsom Oaks go on to run in the Yorkshire Oaks (and/or the Lancashire Oaks, which is run at Haydock Park), and there have been horses that have completed the double of both races, with the great Alexandrova doing just that in 2006. Other notable recent winners of the Yorkshire Oaks have been Midday, Lush Lashes, Islington (twice, in 2002 and 2003) and Only Royale. So it is safe to say the race attracts some star fillies to the Knavesmire.
All eyes are on Aiden O’Brien to see just which fillies he laves in, as the interesting Found is still declared among his current field of 8 entries. Miss Marjurie will be an interesting runner, after showing some solid form in 2015 for Denis Coakley, and Ribblesdale winner curvy also holds an entry for David Wachman, so expect another high-class renewal of the Yorkshire Oaks on Day Two, ladies’ day, of the Ebor Festival.
The biggest sprint race of the four day Ebor Festival, the Nunthorpe Stakes is run over 5 furlongs and is over in the blink of an eye. It is open to horses aged 2 year-old and up, with two year-olds carrying 8st 1lb, three year-olds carrying 9st 9lbs and the rest carrying 9st 11lbs, with fillies and mares getting a 3lbs allowance.
It’s rare to see a two year-old race against older horses, so trainers have to be confident in the ability of the youthful horses, as exposing them to such stiff opposition so early in their career can sometimes be detrimental. What’s interesting is that the juveniles had to wait until 1953 to get their first win in the Nunthrope, while Kingsgate Native was the last to win in 2007. So it’s safe to say it takes a really classy two year-old to make its mark in the Nunthorpe, and, boy, do we have one in 2015.
Looking at the previous winners, a lot of classy sprinters have won the race, Borderlescott winning back-to-back in 2008 and 2009, Lochsong in 1993, the amazing Sharpo three times in 1980, 1981 and 1982, and the brilliant Abernant in 1949 and 1950.
This year we could see one of the greatest sprinters of all time take to the Knavesmire in the shape of Acapulco. This American monster trounced the field in the Queen Mary and she looks like showing no signs of slowing down. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing this two year-old race, get onto YouTube and check out her Queen Mary victory. The sheer size of this filly is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. She has a physical advantage over his peers which will not be as noticeable against older horses, but she will still be a sight to behold.
At the time of writing, Acapulco is a 2/1 shot, which is plenty short enough for a two-year-old running against a huge field of older horses. But you know what, she is a classy, classy sprinter and if she continues to train on, there’s going to be a lot of prize money in Acapulco’s future. In fact, even if she can just push the older horses close, there will be no shame in defeat. The fact she will be carrying a feather weight just makes things even more exciting for Acapulco fans. Could she disappoint? Sure. But if she wins, it’s going to be a spectacle, and she’ll be getting prepped for a big run at the Breeders Cup in October.
And so finally, on Day Four, it is time for the richest flat racing handicap in Europe, the Ebor. At the time of writing, there are 115 entries for the 1 mile, 6 furlong race, which will be whittled right down to a field of 20, with a couple of reserves should any horse be declared a non-runner before the day of the race.
The race is a handicap, with each horse’s weight going according to its official BHB rating. Top weight is 9st 10lbs. Once the final declarations of the race are made, the handicap will be finalised, with the top rated horse carrying the heaviest weight of the field. Traditionally, it’s tough for the top weights to go well in the Ebor, with a spell during 1995 and 2003 that saw horses carrying a light weight dominante, with 8st 8lbs the heaviest weight carried to a win during that time. Mutual Regret won last year’s race with a weight of 9st 4lbs, and you have to go back to 1979 to find a winner carrying 10 stone.
Historically, as with many of the big, valuable handicap races, the Ebor is a tough race to call, and it can take days studying form to find the right angle for the race. Since its inception in 1843, only one horse has won the race more than one; Flint Jack in 1922 and 1923, which is proof that it is a tough race to win once, never mind twice.
The list of horses to have won the race might not be as impressive as some of the other races during the Ebor Festival, but there are a few that stick out, most notably the great Champion Hurdle winner Sea Pigeon, which won the Ebor in 1979, the year before he won the first of his two Champion Hurdles. Brown Jack, the winner of the 1928 Champion Hurdle, also won the Ebor in 1931. In the past, it was a race which suited National Hunt horses more than flat horses, but the tables have turned, especially with the race being reduced by 2 furlongs.
The Ebor has a history of big price winners, with Mudawin winning the 2006 renewal at the fancy price of 100/1. Mutual Regard won the 2014 race at a price of 20/1, while Moyenne Corniche won the 2011 race at 25/1. Yes, Tiger Cliff won in 2013 at a price of 5/1 and Purple Moon won in 2007 as 7/2 favourite, but the race, like a lot of the big handicaps, tends to provide a lot of value if you’re shrewd enough to find it.
This year, the field is wide open, so it would pay to spend a bit of time analysing the field, working out your own handicap and searching for that value. Of course, you could always just stick a pin in your form guide and back the selection each way, which can often be just as good.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, the Ebor Festival gets its name from Eboracum, the Roman name for the city of York.