York Racecourse occupies a lush, green 200-acre site on the southwestern outskirts of the City of York, in North Yorkshire. However, the modern racecourse complex is a far cry from the humble tract of wet, swampy ground on the Micklegate Stray – a large area of common land – known historically as ‘Knares Myre’ and, later, the ‘Knavesmire’, on which horse racing first took place in 1731.
The first grandstand was built in 1754 and, later, under the auspices of the York Racecourse Committee – which was formed in 1842, but still exists – further stands were erected in 1890. More recent additions, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, include the Melrose Stand, Knavesmire Stand and Ebor Stand.York Racecourse was originally a dual-purpose venue, patronised by the Yorkshire Union Hunt, but National Hunt racing ceased in 1885.
Originally, the track itself was horseshoe-shaped but, prior to the staging of ‘Royal Ascot at York’ in 2005, during the redevelopment of the Berkshire course, the horseshoe was completed to create a round course, two miles in circumference, and therefore suitable for the running of the Gold Cup, over two-and-a-half miles. The round course is left-handed, galloping in character and features a sweeping turn into the long home straight. Like the separate straight course, on which sprint races, over five and six furlongs, are run, the round course is very wide, with no pronounced undulations, and is considered a fair test for all types of horse.
Notable races run at York include three Group One races, the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks, all of which are staged during the four-day Yorkshire Ebor Festival, held annually in August. The Ebor Festival takes its name from the Ebor Handicap – the oldest and most famous race run at York, inaugurated in 1840 and, from 2019, worth £1 million in prize money – which, in turn, takes its name from ‘Eboracum’, the Roman city from which the City of York evolved following the decline of the Roman Empire.