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York Races

York Races

York Races

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York Racecourse: Where History and Horses Meet

The exact chronology of racing at the current site is a subject of some debate. The prevailing belief is that racing shifted to the Knavesmire in 1730 from a previous site at Clifton Ings, which was prone to flooding. The first race run on the Knavesmire course, according to official records, was the King’s Guineas of 1731. Nonetheless, historical sources offer varying accounts, with mentions of racing at both Clifton Ings and the Knavesmire in 1709. Regardless, York was among the first centers, following Newmarket, to establish a structured race program in 1751 with the Great Subscription Purses.

Challenges and Changes Over Time

The Knavesmire course’s name reflects its historical character. In 1776, heavy rains left horses racing through water up to their knees. In the 19th century, York featured two main meetings – the Spring Meeting in May and another in August, along with the Yorkshire Union Hunt Meeting in October and a steeplechase meeting in April. An interesting note from history is the participation of Alicia Thornton in a horse race at Knavesmire during the August meeting in 1804, earning her the title of the “first female jockey.”

By the 1830s and 40s, support from noble families like the Fitzwilliams had waned, and the future of the racecourse seemed uncertain. Changes in transportation had diminished the need for rural landowners to maintain townhouses in York, impacting the significance of August race week. As a result, many races were reduced to matches or walkovers.

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Notable Moments: A Papal Visit and Music Concerts

York Racecourse has witnessed its share of unique events. On May 31, 1982, it played host to Pope John Paul II, drawing a reported audience of 190,000. In a different form of entertainment, on September 22, 1984, the racecourse hosted its first music concert, headlined by Echo & the Bunnymen. More recently, the venue has arranged concerts following race meetings in June and July. Since 2015, it has become the site for Yorfest.

Tour de France and Beyond

The significance of York Racecourse transcends horse racing. The second day of the 2014 Tour de France started from this iconic venue, underlining its importance as a cultural and historical landmark in the city of York.


York Racecourse is celebrating the green light from the City of York Council’s planning authorities for its exciting development project set to revamp the southern area of the racecourse adjacent to the Knavesmire Stand. This marks a significant step forward in the ongoing mission to uphold York’s status as one of the world’s premier racecourses.

This substantial £5 million investment will bring about a host of improvements geared toward enhancing the race day experience for avid fans. These enhancements include expanded lawns, additional seating, new catering outlets, upgraded restroom facilities, bars, betting services, and larger viewing screens. All these elements will be thoughtfully landscaped to embody the venue’s summery atmosphere.

The project is slated for completion in the summer of 2024, with work commencing shortly to take full advantage of the favorable autumn weather conditions.

Crucially, the racecourse aims to preserve the ability for racegoers to enjoy live race action from both the Bustardthorpe Stand and Knavesmire Stand. The latter, in particular, remains a modern and comfortable grandstand, continuing to cater to the needs of race enthusiasts.

The vision for this development involves the creation of racegoer lawns, centrally located under an impressive high-level canopy, akin to the John Carr canopy that has shielded racegoers at the Northern End since 2015. This comprehensive plan also encompasses extensions and improvements to food and beverage offerings, restroom facilities, betting services, and screen viewing. Additionally, it includes a transformation of the back-of-house facilities for the raceday team, which can number up to 1,500 individuals, aligning with the standards of a world-class venue.

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Key highlights of this project include:

  1. Refurbishment and enhancement of the 1913 Bustardthorpe Stand, providing prime live race viewing.
  2. Replacement of the existing 1950s single-story extension behind the Bustardthorpe Stand with a high-quality extension designed to complement the architectural work of the renowned York architect, Walter Brierley.
  3. Improvements to Theakston’s Bar, William Hill betting shop, restroom facilities, and food outlets.
  4. The introduction of two new racegoer lawns, featuring an overarching canopy reminiscent of the one on the John Carr Terrace.
  5. A more welcoming arrival experience, complete with a refurbished entrance featuring a striking gateway and improved accessibility.
  6. Continuation of York Racecourse’s award-winning landscaping, including flowers, herbaceous borders, hedges, and tree planting.
  7. The conversion of the temporary Roberto Village Bar facilities into a permanent single-story building, offering food, bars, and betting.
  8. The incorporation of environmental and sustainability features, such as solar panels, sustainable water provisions, green living roofs, and infrastructure to support the Racecourse’s recycling initiatives, in alignment with York’s “Green Knavesmire 300” Environmental Strategy, striving to be carbon neutral by 2040.

This ambitious project was developed by Yorkshire-based Dawson Williamson Architects and focuses on enhancing the experience for racegoers in the Grandstand and Paddock areas. It follows recent multimillion-pound initiatives aimed at improving the experience for County Stand racegoers in the Northern End Development (2014-15) and the Clocktower Enclosure (2018). The primary goal is to elevate the visit to York for race enthusiasts, visitors, and the home team, rather than expanding attendance.

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With all necessary permissions now secured, the main contractor, York-based Lindum, along with a team of local trades, will initiate the major construction work immediately after the October Meeting, with the intention of being fully operational for the busy race days in the 2024 season. This will entail some operational changes during the final meeting, with racegoers being served at the Dayjur Bar in the Knavesmire Stand while the Theakston Bar undergoes redevelopment.

In recognition of the impact on both new and long-standing neighbors, a comprehensive plan will be implemented in collaboration with the trusted local contractor to ensure efficient site traffic management and timely delivery of the project.

William Derby, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course, expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “With the green light now given to what is both an exciting and carefully considered scheme, I am delighted that work can get underway to further improve the experience of racing on the Knavesmire. It is only right to thank the team involved in getting us to this stage, I look forward to working with them to deliver it. These improvements are another sign of the clear vision held by the York Race Committee to ensure we remain one of the world’s best racecourses. The Committee has a track record of investing in the facilities, race program, and visitor experience.” This latest chapter aims to improve the facilities for racegoers in the Grandstand and Paddock area, following similar recent investments elsewhere. As a summer venue, we want to provide lawns to enjoy, however, we are mindful of the Yorkshire weather, so we are looking to repeat the success of the canopy that sits above the John Carr Terrace. Practical concerns around a better arrival experience, more restrooms, easier access to both food and drinks, and how we better support our raceday team all form part of this ambitious scheme. Having launched our Green Knavesmire 300 Environmental Strategy earlier this year, this application embeds key sustainability aspects, notably solar panels, green roofs, and sustainable water provision. We are pleased that planning has been granted, with many positive comments on the application, so the focus now switches to delivering these improvements for the busy race days of 2024.

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