York’s Ebor Festival: what and when to watch

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August 16th, 2016

From Wednesday’s Juddmonte International (G1) through Saturday’s eponymous Ebor Handicap, the four-day Ebor Festival caps the British summer racing festivities. Thoughts will turn afterward to such fall highlights on the European calendar as the St Leger Festival at Doncaster, Irish Champions Weekend, Arc weekend, and British Champions Day. This week at York can thus be viewed as a hinge between those segments of the season.

The Ebor derives from the ancient Latin name of the town founded by the Romans, Eboracum. Called “Jorvik” only after the Vikings showed up, the placename evolved into “York.” In more recent centuries, the site earned the nickname “Knavesmire,” for criminals were executed on the oft boggy terrain.

Its old reputation notwithstanding, the racecourse promises to offer ideal good-to-firm summer ground for Wednesday’s opener.

Here are the notable races to watch (all times EDT):


9:30 a.m. (EDT) – The seven-furlong Acomb (G3) for juveniles marks the Godolphin debut of Best of Days, who was snapped up after romping in his Sandown unveiling. Lockheed, second to highly regarded Frankel colt Seven Heavens in his first start, comes off a Glorious Goodwood maiden score, while Bear Valley just blitzed a nursery at the same venue. Aidan O’Brien relies on Courage Under Fire, a maiden by War Front who was best of the rest behind Caravaggio in the five-horse Phoenix (G1).

10:05 a.m. – The Great Voltigeur (G2), a 1 1/2-mile stepping stone to the St Leger (G1), has a red-hot favorite in Idaho. The O’Brien pupil has a massive class edge as the close runner-up to Harzand in the Irish Derby (G1), an even stronger effort than his third to the same foe in the Derby at Epsom (G1). A full brother to Highland Reel, Idaho will be joined by stablemates Housesofparliament (successful in the Bahrain Trophy [G3] at Newmarket’s July Festival) and The Major General (who just missed in the Gordon [G3] at Glorious Goodwood). Epsom also-ran Across the Stars rebounded in the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, and Imperial Aviator goes on a retrieval mission after flopping in the French Derby (G1).

10:40 a.m. – The Juddmonte International (G1), a “Win and You’re in” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), features Postponed versus Highland Reel, Wings of Desire, The Grey Gatsby, Mutakayyef, Dariyan, and Hawkbill in a loaded field.


8:55 a.m. (EDT) – The Goffs Premier Yearling race for juveniles cataloged in last August’s DBS Yearling Sales isn’t a black-type event, but the six-furlong dash is worth a look. In addition to the intrigue furnished by a 20-strong field, it could serve as a form pointer.   

9:30 a.m. – The Lowther (G2) is the latest target for unbeaten Frankel filly Fair Eva, who bolted up by four lengths over Kilmah in the Princess Margaret (G3). Frankel has another prospect in Queen Kindly, whose only loss was a half-length third to Brave Anna in Royal Ascot’s Albany (G3). Roly Poly was last seen edging Magical Fire, Nations Alexander, and Kilmah in the Duchess of Cambridge (G2). Clem Fandango, third in the lucrative Weatherbys Super Sprint and to Lady Aurelia in the Queen Mary (G2), tries six furlongs for the first time.

10:40 a.m. – The Yorkshire Oaks (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), is headlined by reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found and her stablemate from the O’Brien yard, last-out Irish Oaks (G1) star Seventh Heaven. That’s just half of the Ballydoyle battalion, which also includes Ribblesdale (G2) heroine Evensong and Munster Oaks (G3) scorer Pretty Perfect (seventh and 10th, respectively, in the Irish Oaks). Found, who reverts to female company for the first time in more than a year, was denied narrowly in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot. As one of a quintet of older distaffers (along with Godolphin’s Lancashire Oaks [G2] vixen Endless Time, John Gosden’s Chilean import Furia Cruzada, and Luca Cumani’s pair of Koora and Loving Things), Found must spot the sophomores 10 pounds. Queen’s Trust just finished a bold second to Minding in the Nassau (G1), and Harlequeen has placed in both the Epsom and Irish Oaks.

11:20 a.m. – The Galtres Stakes is contested over the same 1 1/2-mile trip as the Yorkshire Oaks, but is restricted to EBF-eligible fillies and mares who haven’t won a Pattern race or placed in a Group 1 (since their juvenile days). Abingdon and Tiptree, recently second and third to Yorkshire Oaks runner Fireglow; Lillie Langtry (G3) third Twitch; and Gosden’s well-bred maiden winner To Eternity are in the mix.


9:30 a.m. (EDT) – The about 2 1/4-mile Lonsdale Cup (G2) figures to have Melbourne Cup (G1) implications. Among the top stayers engaged are last year’s St Leger victress Simple Verse; 2015 Ascot Gold Cup (G1) hero Trip to Paris; Pallasator; Sheikhzayedroad; Wicklow Brave; Quest for More; and Clever Cookie.

10:05 a.m. – The seven-furlong City of York (G3) has attracted some eye-catching early entries, led by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and Coronation (G1) runner-up Nemoralia, Sir Michael Stoute’s progressive Forge, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) third Birchwood, Adaay, and O’Brien’s Cougar Mountain.

10:40 a.m. – The Nunthorpe (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), sees outstanding July Cup (G1) winner Limato shorten up to confront five-furlong specialists. Prominent on that list is King’s Stand (G1) victor Profitable, only fourth to Limato over an extra furlong last time, but now back at his pet distance. The Nunthorpe may not lure a title defense from Mecca’s Angel unless the ground rides a bit softer. But her sophomore stablemate Easton Angel is an able deputy on firmish ground, having finished a rattling fourth to Take Cover, Washington DC, and Goldream in the King George (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. As many as three juveniles could turn up versus their elders, the most dangerous being Yalta, fresh off a juvenile course-record victory in the Molecomb (G3).


Since final declarations won’t be announced until Thursday, the possibles as of this writing are numerous.

9:15 a.m. (EDT) – The Strensall (G3) produced a dynamic finish between Mondialiste and Mutakayyef last year. Both have gone on to bigger and better things this season, so the nearly nine-furlong test could once again serve as a launching pad.

9:50 a.m. – The Melrose, a 14-furlong handicap for three-year-olds, can unearth some promising young stayers.

10:25 a.m. – The Gimcrack (G2) showcases juveniles over six furlongs. Godolphin’s Blue Point looms large in the wake of his clueless second in the Richmond (G2), which should have toughened him up going forward. O’Brien’s Intelligence Cross, runner-up in the July (G2) and third in the Richmond; Rose Bowl winner Mokarris; Global Applause; The Last Lion; Ardad; and the undefeated dual winners Sutter County and Mubtassim are other significant names at this stage.

11:00 a.m. – The historic Ebor Handicap lends its name to the entire festival, and the rich 1 3/4-mile prize may yield a Melbourne Cup hopeful. The antepost favorite in the bulky field is Ivan Grozny, a dual-purpose performer who’s crushed his last two by a total of 25 lengths. His trainer is none other than Willie Mullins, whose Clondaw Warrior (unplaced as the co-favorite in last year’s Ebor) was a hard-charging second in the American St Leger (G3) on Arlington Million Day.

11:35 a.m. – The Roses Stakes, a five-furlong dash for juveniles, has some cross-entries with the Gimcrack at the moment. 

Photo of Found copyright and courtesy of Breeders' Cup Ltd.