York Racecourse’s ruling classes in quest for upgrades all around

York Racecourse’s ruling classes  in quest for upgrades all around

Declaration of War ridden by Joseph O’Brien, left centre, beats Al Kazeem ridden by James Doyle, far left, and Trading Leather ridden by Kevin Manning to win the Juddmonte International Stakes at York Racecourse last year

Record-breaking Frankel ridden by Tom Queally wins the Juddmonte on day one of the 2012 Ebor Festival

First published in Sport Gazette & Herald: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

WE’VE had the first million pound raceday at York, how long before the first £1 million race?

York Racecourse’s announcement last week, that overall prize money on Knavesmire will crash through the £6 million barrier for the 2014 season, was just the latest step in a concerted effort to boost the amount on offer.

Having the best part of doubled since 2002, when the pot stood at £3.6 million, only Ascot and Newmarket, which has twice the number of fixtures as York, now hand over more cash to the connections of winning and placed horses.

In August, the Juddmonte International, York’s flagship race, will be worth £800,000 – the richest ever race staged.

Do the maths.

At this rate, it won’t be long before seven figures are on offer for the course’s stellar mile-and-a-quarter feature.

They are not focused at York on a single figure, though, says chief executive William Derby.

There is a wider aim at work.

“What we want to do is to continue to invest in prize money to attract the best horses to race at York,” he said.

“We’ve been rewarded in the past with Sea The Stars and Frankel and the very best of horses have got the Juddmonte International on their radar.

“It’s a very prestigious race – rated in the top ten in the world – and one has to offer prize money to attract the best worldwide to compete at York. We aspire to continue to build the race with Juddmonte and take it forward.”

“I am sure it will happen at some point,” added Derby when asked about the prospect of a £1 million race at York.

“Ten years ago, the race was worth £460,000. It’s our flagship race, it’s a race of which we are very proud. We want to be competing on the international stage and we want the best horses to consider coming to York.”

With the total fund for the Dante Festival breaking through £1m this year, and with further investments in the Ebor Handicap and the City of York Stakes among others, a further £200,000 has been pumped into the track’s 17 race days in 2014 compared with last year.

But while prize money levels at York are on a par with the world’s best tracks, it is still, in this column’s opinion, neglected at the highest levels of the Pattern by the British Horseracing Authority.

York has three Group 1 races throughout the season – all in August at the Ebor Festival and comprising the Juddmonte International, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Nunthorpe Stakes.

By contrast, Ascot has three on the opening day of the Royal Meeting and nine across the season. Newmarket also enjoys nine of racing’s premier events during the Flat year.

Surely the balance must be redressed.

“That’s something we are working very hard towards improving,” added Derby.

“In terms of pattern races overall, we have had 12 upgrades over the last ten years.

“There are certain races we would like to see upgraded. It’s a complicated process involving the ratings of the first four horses to finish over the last three years.

“We have three Group 1 races. We would love to see the Gimcrack become a Group 1 race along with the Lowther Stakes. We have invested significantly in the prize funds of those races and they carry Group 1 levels.

“We have invested in 2014 in the City of York Stakes, which is a highly regarded Listed contest. Our long term strategy is to push for that to be upgraded.”

York has twice won a national industry award for showcasing the racing experience on Knavesmire as being “all about the horse”.

“It is what York is about,” Derby insisted. “We’ve invested in prize money and that’s hopefully being rewarded by York having the second highest average field size for races after Ascot.

“We have had great support from the big racing yards throughout Europe. That’s something of which the wider city and region can be proud. Everyone who brings their horses comments on the enthusiasm of the York crowd.

“John Oxx said bringing Sea The Stars to York was his favourite overseas trip. When you consider he won the Arc, the Guineas and the Derby, that’s quite an accolade.

“We know the late Sir Henry Cecil had similar feelings.

“Now the northern end development is taking place and that will hopefully improve the experience even further for people who come racing. We are very excited about how that will help in the long term.”

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