Racing Festivals to look forward to in 2020

 Horse racing festivals – that is, major multiple-day events featuring the crème de la crème of equine talent – are staged throughout the length and breadth of United Kingdom between March and December. We’ve previewed a few selected highlights, just to whet your appetite for the coming year.

Cheltenham Festival

Tuesday, March 14 – Friday, March 17

Known in some quarters as the ‘Olympics of horse racing’, the Cheltenham Festival is the undisputed highlight of the British National Hunt season. Extended to its current, four-day format for the first time in 2005, the Festival includes four major ‘championship’ races – namely, in chronological order, the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup – plus a full supporting card of 24 high-quality races.

Aintree Festival

Thursday, April 12 – Saturday, April 14

Following hot on the heels of the Cheltenham Festival, the Aintree Festival understandable revolves around the most famous steeplechase in the world, the Grand National, run on the third and final day. However, the Aintree Festival also includes two more races – the Foxhunters’ Chase and the Topham Chase – on the celebrated Grand National Course and no fewer than ten prestigious Grade One contests in various disciplines and over various distances.

Epsom Derby Festival

Friday, June 2 – Saturday, June 3

As the name suggests, the Epsom Derby Festival centres on the running of the most valuable race in Britain, the Derby, which is run on the second day. However, the Derby is preceded, on day one, by the second fillies’ Classic, the Oaks, and the Coronation Cup – a Group One contest open to older horses and both sexes, both of which are run over the same course and distance as the Derby itself.

Royal Ascot

Tuesday, June 20 – Saturday, June 24

Ascot Racecourse, a favourite with YesBets visitors, was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, the first recognisably modern Royal Meeting took place in 1768 and Ascot Racecourse has enjoyed Royal patronage ever since. Nowadays, the Royal Procession drive up the Straight Mile serves as a prelude to five days of world-class horse racing action, including eight Group One races, at least one of which is staged every day. Highlights include the Queen Anne Stakes, King’s Stand Stakes and St. James’s Palace Stakes on day one, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes on day two, the Gold Cup – the traditional highlight of the whole week – on day three, the Commonwealth Cup and Coronation Stakes on day four and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes day five.

Goodwood Festival

Tuesday, July 28 – Saturday, August 1

Horse racing at Goodwood was the brainchild of Charles Lennox, Third Duke of Richmond, in 1802. In the intervening centuries, the Goodwood Festival, often referred to ‘Glorious Goodwood’, has evolved into a five-day bonanza of horse racing action on the Sussex Downs. Three of the 13 Group races staged during the week – namely the Sussex Stakes, Goodwood Cup and Nassau Stakes – have been awarded Group One status and, as such, form part of the British Champions Series.

Nunthorpe Stakes

 The Nunthorpe Stakes is a Group One race run over 5 furlongs at York Racecourse on the third day of the four-day fixture, known as the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’, staged annually in August. The Nunthorpe Stakes is open to colts, fillies and geldings aged two years and upwards and, as such, is not only one of the few races in which juveniles can compete against older horses, but the only Group One contest in Britain open to juvenile geldings.

Established, in its present guise, in 1922, the Nunthorpe Stakes takes it name from Nunthorpe, an outer suburb of Middlesbrough, on the edge of the North York Moors National Park, 50 miles or so north of York Racecourse. Since 2007, the Nunthorpe Stakes has been sponsored by the prestigious Coolmore Stud – headquarters of the largest thoroughbred breeding operation in the world – in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. In 2019, the Nunthorpe Stakes offered total prize money of £400,000.

Two horses – namely Tag End, in 1928, 1929 and 1930, and Sharpo, in 1980, 1981 and 1982 – have won the Nunthorpe Stakes three times. The leading trainer in the history of the race remains Australian-born Captain Oswald ‘Ossie’ Bell, who saddled five winners in the Twenties and Thirties. Flat racing legend Lester Piggott rode seven winners between 1958 and 1978 and is the leading jockey in the history of the Nunthorpe Stakes.

According to the ‘weight-for-age’ scale, which is designed to compensate younger horses for their lack of physical maturity, juveniles competing in the Nunthorpe Stakes carry just 8st 1lb. By contrast, three-year-olds carry 9st 9lb and four-year-olds and upwards carry 9st 11lb. However, despite a generous weight concession, of 22lb and 24lb, respectively, from the older horses, the last two-year-old to win the Nunthorpe Stakes was Kingsgate Native in 2007.

The 2019 renewal of the Nunthorpe Stakes proved pivotal, insofar as the winner, Battaash, trained by Charles Hills, recorded a time of 55.90 seconds and, in so doing, broke the five-furlong course record set by Dayjur 29 years earlier. Dayjur, trained by Dick Hern and owned, like Battaash, by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, was billed in his heyday as the ‘fastest horse in the world’; his winning time of 56.16 seconds was widely considered to be unbeatable.

Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp

 The Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp or, in English, ‘Prize of the Abbey of Longchamp’, is a Group One race run over a straight 1,000 metres, or 4 furlongs and 213 yards, at Longchamp Racecourse, in the Bois de Boulogne, west of Paris France. The race is open to colt, fillies and, since 2001, geldings aged two years and upwards. However, since 1972, just one juvenile – the Habitat filly Sigy, trained by Christiane ‘Criquette’ Head-Maarek and ridden by her brother, six-times French champion jockey Freddy Head – has won the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp.

As the title suggests, the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp was named after a thirteenth century priory which, prior to the French Revolution, occupied an area on the northern boundary of the modern racecourse. The race was inaugurated in 1957, when it was added to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe fixture, staged on the first Sunday in October, to celebrate the centenary of Longchamp Racecourse. Following the introduction of the European Pattern race system in 1971, the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp was assigned Group Two status, but subsequently upgraded to Group One status in 1976.

Yves Saint-Martin, the darling of the French racing public in the Sixties and Seventies, is the leading jockey in the history of the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp, with five winners between 1962 and 1975. François Mathet, perennial French champion trainer between 1957 and 1982, did better still, saddling a total of eight winners between 1957 and 1974.

The Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp is regularly contested by the crème de la crème of sprinting talent from the other side of the English Channel. Since the turn of the century, various British and Irish trainers, including David Nicholls, Clive Brittain, Roger Charlton (twice), Kevin Ryan (twice), Sir Mark Prescott and Charles Hills, among others, have tasted success in the Longchamp showpiece. Other illustrious ‘foreign’ winners down the years have included Sharpo, trained by Jeremy Tree, in 1982, Habibti, Timeform Horse of the Year, trained by John Dunlop, in 1983, Dayjur, European Champion Sprinter, trained by Dick Hern, in 1990 and Lochsong, Cartier Champion Sprinter twice, trained by Ian Balding, in 1993 and 1994.

St. James’s Palace Stakes

 The St. James’s Palace Stakes is a Group One race run over 7 furlongs and 213 yards on the Old Mile course at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, South East England. The race is named after St. James’s Palace, a former royal residence built by King Henry VIII, in the City of Westminster, London and is staged on the opening day of the Royal Ascot meeting, held annually in June. The St. James’s Palace Stakes established in 1834 and, following the creation of the European Pattern in 1971, was initially assigned Group Two status before being upgraded to its present Group One status in 1988.

The St. James’s Palace Stakes is open to three-year-old colts only, so naturally attracts horses that previously contested the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh and the Poule d’Essai des Poulains – a.k.a. the French 2,000 Guineas – at Longchamp. Indeed, the roll of honour for the St. James’s Palace Stakes features some of the highest-rated racehorses of all time, according to Timeform.

The 1947 winner, Tudor Minstrel, rated 144, had previously won the 2,000 Guineas by eight lengths and, according to some observers, could have done so by double that margin, or more. The 1971 winner, Brigadier Gerard, also rated 144, had also won the 2,000 Guineas, famously defeating subsequent Derby winner Mill Reef in the Newmarket Classic. The 1979 winner, Kris, rated a ‘mere’ 135 by Timeform, had suffered a narrow, shock defeat by Tap On Wood – ridden by a youthful Steve Cauthen – in the 2,000 Guineas, but would go on to win 14 of his 16 races. Much more recently, the 2011 winner, Frankel – whose rating, of 147, was the highest ever awarded by Timeform – arrived fresh from an impressive six-length victory in the 2,000 Guineas, but came as close as he ever did to losing his unbeaten record, but held on to win by three-quarters of a length.

The ‘Master of Balldoyle’, Aidan O’Brien, is the leading trainer in the history of the St. James’s Palace Stakes, with eight wins since the turn of the twenty-first century. Michael ‘Mick’ Kinane, erstwhile stable jockey at Ballydoyle, remains the leading rider, with six wins between 1982 and 2004.