The City of York has a long and rich history which dates back to Roman and Viking days. One of the focal points of the city is the racecourse based on the Knavesmire which attracts over 250,000 visitors to the York each year swelling and benefitting the local economy.
However, we doubt if many of that throng of visitors each year realise that they are taking part in an activity that has its roots in the city from well over 2,000 years ago – racing taking place in Roman times when York or Eboracum as it would have been known then was under the control of the Emperor Severus.
Looking at relatively more modern history shows that there was racing taking place in 1530 within the city and in 1607 there are records of a meeting taking place on the River Ouse which was frozen at the time. More conventional surroundings for horse racing saw the sport move to Clifton Ings, although that venue was prone to flooding despite extensive work being done in an attempt to secure the venue as a permanent home for York races. In the end that proved impossible and racing was permanently transferred to today’s home of York Races at the Knavesmire.
That’s not to say that the problems with flooding and wet ground were over for horse racing in York and a large amount of work had to be done to produce a course that was fit for racing, this was done though and the sport commenced in 1731 at the site of its current home.
It took nearly another 25 years for any stands to appear on the Knavesmire though, York architect John Carr being responsible for the first Grandstand in 1754 which was financed by donations from 250 York patrons who were entitled to use the stand for the period of its lease. The very much set the template for the way the course is run today, with the York Racecourse Committee taking responsibility for all racing matters in 1842. Under their guidance the course went from strength to strength with many improvements made not only to the standard of racing but also the racing surface and stands and those looking at the York Dante odds today should be grateful for their efforts.
In recent years York Racecourse, as well as hosting many spectacular York Races, has also played host to Royal Ascot at York in 2005 and The Ladbrokes St Leger in 2006 and remains one of the finest racecourses in the UK.