Turf Talk: Spotlight on the million-pound handicap at York’s Ebor Festival

This week, Harrogate Advertiser horseracing correspondent Jeff Garlick’s column focuses on the most lucrative handicap race held in Europe – one that is staged in Yorkshire.

Monday, 11th May 2020, 12:28 pm
Updated Monday, 11th May 2020, 12:30 pm
Yorkshire trainer Brian Ellison with Moyenne Corniche, winner of the Ebor Handicap in 2011

The Ebor Handicap, which is run at the York Ebor Festival in August, is the handicap race that everyone wants to win.

This desire for victory escalated last year when the total prizemoney on offer was raised to £1million.

Credit must go to the Leeds-based bookmaker, Sky Bet, who put up this amazing prize, which included £600,000 to the winner.

The event is named after the shortened form of Eboracum, the Roman name for York. It was first run in 1843, and it was originally known as the Great Ebor Handicap.

The race was initially contested over two miles, but its distance was later cut to the one mile six furlong race that it is today.

All the top jockeys love to win the Ebor and the best of all, Lester Piggott, is the most successful rider in the race with five triumphs.

Piggott’s first victory was on Gladness in 1958 and his last win, as a 48-year-old, came aboard Jupiter Island in 1983.

Everyone’s current favourite jockey, Frankie Dettori, didn’t ride the winner of the race until he was 41.

But his success on Willing Foe in 2012 was followed by his trademark flying dismount, much to the delight of a packed York crowd.

It’s such a hard race to win that none of the more recent champion jockeys have tasted success.

So the likes of Silvestre De Sousa, Ryan Moore, Paul Hanagan and Richard Hughes are still awaiting their first triumph in the Ebor Handicap.

All trainers love to win the Classic races like the Derby and the Oaks, but the big handicap they will want on their CV is definitely the Ebor.

Sir Michael Stoute has won the race three times but his last win was with Clerkenwell in 1996.

Sir Henry Cecil triumphed twice, but there were emotional scenes when Tiger Cliff won the race in 2013 for Lady Cecil, who had taken over the licence from Henry, who had died two months earlier.

The all-conquering Aiden O’Brien may have trained 35 English Classic winners but he has only had one Ebor victor , Mediterranean in 2001.

His fellow Irish trainers have had more luck recently with the prize going across the Irish Sea five times in the last 11 years.

Top Irish National Hunt trainers specifically target the race with Tony Martin, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott all successful in this period.

Yorkshire trainers have struggled to win the race recently such is the challenge from Ireland and Newmarket, though Malton’s Brian Ellison did saddle Moyenne Corniche for victory in 2011.

My favourite memory of the Ebor is in 1979 when Sea Pigeon won the race carrying 10 stone, which is still the record weight-carrying performance.

Due to a strike by ITV there is no recorded footage of this race, much to his rider Jonjo O’Neill’s delight.

Thinking he had the race won, Jonjo dropped his hands 50 yards from the post, only for Donegal Prince to fly at the finish.

He was subsequently called into the steward’s room to explain his actions and was shown the photo-finish print indicating success by just two inches.

O’Neill asked for a copy of the print and now as a successful trainer warns his riders not to celebrate too soon!

Favourites have a poor record in the race with only four winning in the last 40 years and there was a massive shock in 2006 when Mudawin triumphed at 100/1.

The race is known for big gambles with most such as Stratum (3/1 in 2018) and Pallastor (9/2 in 2014) going astray.

Purple Moon did win at 7/2 in 2007 to send punters home happy but that was the last victory by a favourite.

The 2008 Ebor was run at Newbury due to a waterlogged track and was called the Newburgh Handicap, a reference to the town’s original Norman name.

But there is only one place to run the most prestigious, valuable handicap in Europe and that’s at York Racecourse in August.