The Dante Festival, which is staged annually, on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in May, is the opening fixture of the season at York Racecourse, a.k.a. “The Knavesmire”, in North Yorkshire. The Dante Festival takes its name from the feature race, the Dante Stakes, which, in turn, is named after Dante, who won the so-called ‘New Derby’ at Newmarket, less than a month after Victory in Europe Day, in 1945.
The Dante Stakes, run over 1 mile 2 furlongs and 56 yards and open to three-year-old colts, geldings and fillies only, is the highlight of the second day of the Dante Festival. Currently sponsored by leading equine products provider Al Basti Equiworld, the Dante Stakes was inaugurated in 1958. The race was initially designated Group 3 status when the European Pattern Race System was introduced in 1971, but elevated to its current Group 2 status in 1980. The Dante Stakes is a recognised trial for the Derby and ten horses have won both races. The late Sir Henry Cecil, who completed the Dante Stakes/Derby double with Reference Point in 1987, remains the most successful trainer in the history of the Dante Stakes, with seven wins between 1970 and 1993.
The feature race on the opening day of the Dante Festival is the Musidora Stakes, run over the same course and distance as the Dante Stakes, but open to three-year-old fillies only. Inaugurated in 1961 and currently sponsored by leading international bloodstock auctioneer Tattersalls, the Musidora Stakes is, and always has been, a Group 3 contest. The Musidora Stakes is, nonetheless, a recognised trial for the Oaks and, all in all, six fillies have won both races. Once again, the late Sir Henry Cecil, who trained two of them – Diminuendo in 1988 and Reams Of Verse in 1997 – remains the most successful trainer in the history of the Musidora Stakes, with nine wine between 1985 and 2010.
The feature race on the third, and final, day is the Yorkshire Cup, originally established in 1927, but first run in its current guise, over 1 mile 5 furlongs and 188 yards, in 1966 and designated Group 2 status by the European Pattern Committee in 1971. Currently sponsored by Mansion Bet, the sports betting arm of online casino operator Mansion, and worth £165,000 in prize money, the Yorkshire Cup is the first race of the season in the British Champions Series Long Distance Category.