David Ord speaks with York’s top official William Derby about their 2023 racing season

There is a fleeting tantalizing view of York’s straight track and grandstand as you go east on the A64 toward the attractions of Malton, Scarborough, and Whitby. You envision powerful ships like Dayjur, Battaash, Oasis Dream, and Highfield Princess rumbling into that area.

There is also the roadside sign. It delivers news about the upcoming big event, the next chance to take advantage of one of the best racetracks in the nation, throughout the summer. But the 2023 season came to an end when 2/1 favorite Star Ahoy carried home the field in the Coral ‘Committed To Safer Gambling’ Finale Handicap.

 

The 2024 Dante Festival and chances for Christmas parties will temporarily replace the promotion on the board.

Before then, there will be a lot of water to cross and a lot of work to be done at the course. The crew in charge of offering the next stage in the continuing expansion of the amenities on offer is welcomed inside the gates 36 hours after the final race of 2023.

This time, the track’s southern end is undergoing a makeover. A place where fans of racing have long been welcomed by the Theakston Bar, where generations have watched performers like Frankel and Sea The Stars light up the track.

 

“It’s south of the Knavesmire Stand, where the quality of the amenities previously kind of declined. Customers who use the grandstand and paddock will have a fresh experience because it will significantly spruce up that area. Under a lovely canopy that will keep visitors dry, there will be new catering, restroom, and betting options available. We built the canopy such that the lawn will continue to grow beneath it to maintain the summer vibe. Spiffing up the place will it do.

“This project has our full attention. The picnic area, the clocktower, and the northern end extension were completed in 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. This is the inevitable next step, remarked William Derby, chief executive and clerk of the course, after the track’s final race.

 

And it’s not to increase the number of people who can attend. That will not change. The only purpose of it is to make the race fan’s visit to York more enjoyable; there is no hospitality involved.

Work will begin on Monday.

The builders moved in on Monday after we received planning approval on Tuesday, according to Derby. By the important days the following summer, we shall provide it. Given that a lot of it is still in the ground, it most likely won’t be finished by the time we begin racing at the Dante Festival; however, we are optimistic that by John Smith’s Cup Day, it will presumably be ready. It’s a lot of fun.

The activity on the track in 2023 can also be summed up in one word: exciting. The campaign got off to a fast start.

“It’s simply been a great season. Since the Tattersalls Music Hall, where Soul Sister blasted home with us to kick off his incredible summer, Derby said.

She went on to win the Oaks at Epsom and became the ninth filly to do so. Of course, Highfield Princess finished second to Azure Blue in the 1895 Duke of York Stakes on the first day as well.

“The racing stories through the year have been fantastic. Continuous finished third in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes and went on to win the Sky Bet Great Voltigeur and Betfred St Leger. We’ve had some great racing on the track from the moment our gates opened.

“Our flagship fixture is the Sky Bet Ebor Festival and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the big races there.

 

In addition to Warm Heart’s outstanding performance for Aidan O’Brien in the Pertemps Network Yorkshire Oaks and Live In The Dream’s victory in the Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes, Mostahdaf, the highest-rated racehorse outside of Equinox in Japan, won the Juddmonte International. ResidentThe  Sean Kirrane is the rider, fairly unknown Adam West is the trainer, and the horse’s outstanding owners are Steve and Jolene De’Lemos. Before Sky Bet Ebor Day, there was a genuinely fantastic tale that focused just on Frankie.

 

City of York is projected to gain status

This week, Dettori told Lee Mottershead in the Racing Post that his Super Saturday at York was the moment he realized he had to continue riding after this fall. A major race he won may have also contributed to a lasting transformation.

The racetrack has long desired to elevate the Sky Bet City of York to a Group One competition. It required effort, money, and successful competitors. The argument has now been made.

“The City Of York, a race we have invested so much effort into putting prize money up to £500,000 and we needed a great race for it this year,” said event organizers and sponsors Sky Bet.

With Kinross leading home a first four that provided us the necessary Group One criterion, we couldn’t have scripted the conclusion any better, added Derby.

“After that, Frankie paraded in front of the crowd, claiming to have ridden the track’s final victor. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, he wins the Sky Bet Ebor by winning another incredible race on Absurde a half-hour later.

“What a way to end your career at York. There was a great audience, an incredible atmosphere, and a soaring dismount. It was a wonderful day.

 

What happens next for the seven-furlong highlight?

“They advised us to have Group One prize money and Group One ratings for the principals when we first began this trip four or five years ago. By that, they mean that both your winner and your placed horses must have a three-year average rating of Group One horses. However, it is quite difficult to achieve so if you are a Group Two.

 

“The last year you’re aiming for it needs to have a Group One rating as well, and I’m sure when they told it to us years ago they thought ‘well, they’ll never reach that’ but miraculously, astonishingly, and through hard work, perseverance, and investment, we have accomplished those requirements.

 

 

“We have fulfilled all of the requirements. The British Flat Pattern Committee is in favor of us becoming a Group One nominee from Great Britain. The final barrier, if you will, is that it must be approved by the European Pattern Committee when it goes before them in January. We are hoping against hope that it will be improved as we send it off with our very best wishes and a bow on top. Since the Foret in October is the only European Group One race for horses three years old and older running seven furlongs, we believe it deserves to be. We believe that these horses deserve the chance, and we are optimistic that we can make it happen.

 

And if the go-ahead is granted, Derby recognizes there

“Kinross has been successful in it for the past two years, and, perfectly, we are making the application following his most recent triumph. He is a fantastic horse and will travel the world this fall. I doubt he will return to see it as a Group One player next year, but he’s been a fantastic assistance,” he added.

“This is a fantastic race, and this year’s form has been franked at Doncaster and Paris-Longchamp subsequently. Although I am prejudiced, I believe it deserves to be in the Group One category. Additionally, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Group One race on each day of the Ebor Festival?

Off-track challenges in 2023

 

In other places, the year has been good.

“On the track, it’s been terrific. The racing surface has been meticulously maintained by the ground crew. I’m quite happy with them because they were nominated for an all-industries groundstaff award for their efforts, and our head gardener, Zac Rafferty, earned an RHS Yorkshire In Bloom Gold Award, which is amazing.

That’s what York Racecourse is all about. We’ll have a record number of runners in 2023 and likely the greatest average field size of any racetrack in the UK, and that terrific activity on the track, well, it felt quite special. Record prize money of £10.75 million was rewarded by fantastic field numbers.

But all of it was accomplished despite significant economic obstacles. Despite all of the success on the track, it has been difficult to work off of it.

“It’s been difficult. The crew has put in a tremendous amount of effort, and racegoers have been quite supportive. We are quite happy that attendance has increased since 2022, and if you had told me that would be the case at the beginning of the year, I would have chewed your hand off,” Derby added.

“Because we are a rail-connected city and so many people like arriving here by train, it didn’t help that there were train strikes on two of our big summer Saturdays.

“Of course, we’ve been struggling with the economy as well, and we’ve had a few rainy days, which are never helpful, so there you are, but I’m not making excuses,” the speaker said. We’re thrilled to be a few months ahead of 2022, and while we haven’t yet reached the pre-COVID levels, we hope momentum is growing and that those who came here had a nice experience and will return. We have made investments in the racegoers’ and horsemen’s and horses’ facilities, so we are entering the winter months with a great sense of pride in the season we’ve produced and excitement for the future.

 

The main difficulties the sport faces

Yes, I’m anticipating that, but I’m also well aware of the difficulties racing currently confronts.

The sport faces obstacles and dangers. Checks for affordability are one. We’re proud of this connection and cognizant of it in everything we do since a significant portion of the sport’s revenue comes from wagering, he continued.

 

“This is having an effect on our business, and as all of the money we make is invested back into the sport, it will have an impact on our capacity to act in the future, just as everyone will be feeling the effects,” the author said.

“That is a difficulty, and we as a sport must continue to emphasize taking good care of our horses and, maybe more significantly, showing others how to take good care of their horses. We people in this country take that enormous region extremely seriously. We are extremely proud of our connections to Racing Welfare and New Beginnings, and we are also acutely conscious of the need to highlight the fantastic work being done by the industry as a whole in terms of horse welfare.

York will host one fewer game in 2024. Even though Derby and his staff support the BHA’s plans, it must be upsetting.

Our track can handle it, but we’re a part of a huge industry, a big sport, and we accept it. “We would say that with our prize money and average field size we justified having an 18-race day program.”Although we accept our fate for the time being, we’ll be checking to see whether we can grow in the future. We are strong proponents of “premierization,” or the sport drawing attention to its best races, whether they take place in York or elsewhere. We believe that the finest of what we have should be displayed, but racing at lesser levels still has a significant role.

It sometimes happens that we hold competitions that aren’t at the top of the sport, but having a hierarchy is important. We hope it succeeds and we will continue to support it.

I’m looking forward to the racing excitement in 2024, Derby says as he sees the last racegoers leave on a lovely early fall evening and get ready to welcome the construction crew in their place. It has a lot to live up to, but I see the world as half full, not half empty, and I’m eager to see what happens.

It will be amazing if recent history is any indication.

 

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