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  • Writer's picturePeter McNeile

York set to reclaim summer centrepiece role as crowds flock back to the Knavesmire

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

After the Covid crisis forced substantial reductions to prize funds for the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival on the Knavesmire at York last year, the relaxation in restrictions has allowed the racecourse's forward-thinking executive to release the brakes once more on this most distinctive of summer flat festivals. Over £5.7m in prize funds, including the £1m Juddmonte International is spread over the 28 races.

And this year's feature event, the Juddmonte International, is shaping up to be everything the world's top ranked race of 2020 should be. But sadly, this will be the first year for over 40 years in which the originator of the fantastic bloodlines propagated by the Juddmonte organisation won't be here to witness what he has helped create. And Prince Khalid's champions have delighted York's crowds on many a year: Dancing Brave, Enable and the peerless Frankel being just three of his very best. Prince Khalid Abdullah died in January this year at the age of 83.

Meanwhile, Pyledriver, winner of this year's Coronation Cup, was pulled out of Ascot's King George & Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at the end of July due to a minor setback, but is due to meet King George runner-up Mishriff, and Coolmore's St Mark's Basilica, already a winner of four Group Is on the bounce, including most recently the Irish Derby in this year's Juddmonte International on the opening day, Wednesday August 18th.

However, this is no three horse race. The Gosden stable has entered top miler Palace Pier, winner of the Lockinge and Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, whilst Ballydoyle also has last year's Oaks winner Love entered, most recently a 3/4l winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes before finishing 3 1/2l third to Adayar in the King George last month, and Bolshoi Ballet, a winner of a Grade I at Belmont 3 weeks ago.

Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney represents Jim Bolger, but has been found wanting over longer distances at the highest level, and there may be more to fear from Alcohol Free from the in-form Andrew Balding yard, provided she can show the same speed over the extra 1/4 mile that she's shown to date in the Coronation Stakes and Sussex Stakes at Goodwood last week.

The one they all have to beat also hails from Ballydoyle. Snowfall is unbeaten this season, with an Irish-English Oaks double, winning comprehensively. However, Both Snowfall and Love are more likely to swerve this for a tilt at the Arc and Breeders' Cup respectively. Nevertheless, York Ebor Festival results time and again illustrate this 4 day fixture as a jewel in the crown of British racing.

Nor is York's Ebor fixture a one race wonder. After Stradivarius' reputation has been punctured at Royal Ascot, there is a tussle on for the stayers' crown, which will manifest itself in the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup on Friday August 20th. Trueshan has shown this last week at Goodwood how versatile a trainer Alan King can be; a man who can train both a Champion Hurdle winner, a top 2 year old sprinter and stayers at the highest level on the flat and over jumps. Can he see off the world's best stayers on summer ground to which he's less well suited?

And of course, to conclude it all, the £500,000 Skybet Ebor Handicap on Saturday. Saeed bin Suroor's Live Your Dream is currently 7/1 favourite for the hottest handicap of August, and a race in which you should never underestimate the fierce desire of Yorkshire trainers to see off imposters from outside the county boundary.

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