Many of the biggest festivals may be over and done with by the time we reach late August each year, with Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood having been consigned to the record books. However, on the Northern racing scene, two of the biggest events are still to come. The fifth and final Classic lights up the four-day St. Leger Meeting at Doncaster in September, but before that, we have the standout fixture of the year at one of the finest tracks on the British mainland, as York plays host to the historic Ebor Festival. Another four-day affair, events get underway on Wednesday the 23rd of August in 2023, running through to Saturday the 26th.
Highlights abound at this cracking feature, with the Group 1 trio of the Juddmonte International, Yorkshire Oaks, and Nunthorpe Stakes invariably attracting the superstars of the game. However, here we take a look at the signature handicap which takes place on the closing Saturday and gives the meeting its name.
First run all the way back in 1843, the 1m6f Ebor Handicap – and its bumper £500,000 purse – draws the top staying handicappers from both sides of the Irish Sea and is one of the best events of its type to be found anywhere in the racing world. But what does it take to prevail? Here we take a look at the underlying trends presented by the results of the 23 editions to have taken place in the current century.
Open to all runners aged three and older, the youngsters have managed only two successes in the current century, with four to six years of age representing the sweet spot. The one outlier at the top end of the age spectrum is Litigant, who, when coming home in front under Oisin Murphy in 2015, became the oldest winner of the race since the dual Champion Hurdle hero, Sea Pigeon, who scored as a nine-year-old in 1979.
The minimum weight for the Ebor is set at 8st2lb, whilst the maximum weight is 9st12lb for runners rated 110. Any horse with a higher rating than 110 will have the relevant amount added to that 9st12lb total. Other than the poor performance of those at the two extremes of the weight range, there don’t appear to be any overwhelming trends in evidence here. However, it is perhaps worth noting that 12 of the past 23 winners have shouldered 9st-9st5lb on the day.
There is also an interesting split in evidence in the pattern of results. In the 10 editions held between 2000 and 2009, the winner carried less than 9st on seven occasions, but since 2010, 12 of the 13 winners have carried 9st or more. This pattern is most likely a result of the improved quality of the race – particularly since the prize money was significantly increased in 2018- resulting in fields which are becoming increasingly compressed towards the top end of the handicap.
Rating of Winner
The theory that the overall quality of the race has improved over time is supported by the upward trend in evidence regarding the Official Rating of the winner. Between 2000 and 2009, the winners were spread across a range of 86-101, with four 100+ rated winners. Since 2010, that range has decreased to a narrower 98-109 window, with 10 100+ rated winners.
You might not expect to find a strong draw bias in a handicap over such a stamina-sapping distance, but the evidence from the current century strongly suggests that high is the place to be. Discounting the 2008 renewal, which took place at Newbury due to a waterlogged Knavesmire, the past 22 editions at York have been won by a runner emerging from stall 10 or above on no fewer than 18 occasions.
Why this should be the case isn’t entirely clear. One theory is that those drawn wide are best placed to obtain an advantageous position by avoiding the scrimmaging towards the inside rail around the first bend, before tracking over to the favoured stands side rail in the home straight.
Odds of the Winner
A 22-runner handicap is rarely an easy puzzle to solve – a statement which is particularly true of this event. In the 23 editions since 2000, the market leader has come home in front just once, with the Luca Cumani-trained Purple Moon being the horse to reward jolly backers in 2007. A £1 level stakes bet on the favourite over this period would have returned a loss of -£18.50.
What’s more, only seven winners have returned a single-figure price over this time, with eight priced between 10/1 and 16/1 and eight sent off at odds of 20/1 or higher. The biggest shock of all came in 2006 when the Jane Happle-Hyam-trained Mudawin got up in the shadow of the post to score at the massive odds of 100/1.
Finishing Position on Previous Start
Recent form has proven to be a hit-and-miss as a guide to the Ebor, with a roughly even split between runners who had won or finished in the placed positions on their most recent outing, and those who had finished unplaced.
- 18 of the past 23 winners had nine or fewer previous starts in a flat handicap.
- Four trainers have won the Ebor on more than one occasion over this period, namely, John Gosden (2018, 2022), Johnny Murtagh (2014, 2021), Luca Cumani (2004, 2007, and Saeed bin Suroor (2008, 2012)
- Frankie Dettori (2012, 2022) and Jamie Spencer (2007, 2010) are the only jockeys with more than one win to their name in the current century
- This isn’t the strongest race for fans of breeding trends, with each of the past 23 winners having been sired by a different stallion.