PRIZE MONEY for York’s historic Ebor Handicap will rise to £1m – and rival the Grand National – following a massive cash injection by Leeds-based bookmaker Sky Bet in a five year deal.
Worth £285,000 last year when Europe’s richest Flat handicap was sponsored by Betfred, there will be a £500,000 prize fund this August – and £1m up for grabs in the 2019 running.
First run in 1843, the Ebor remains an iconic race despite losing some of its lustre in recent years, not least the switch from its traditional midweek slot to a Saturday in 2011.
Though last year’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival attracted 80,000 spectators over four days, the final day has still to attract the crowd numbers anticipated by tourism chief Sir Gary Verity who has always hoped the race could become this country’s equivalent of Australia’s famous Melbourne Cup.
However the boost comes after last year’s Juddmonte International, a 10-furlong Group One contest previously won by many of the Flat’s all-time great horses, saw its prize money increase to a landmark £1m and become Yorkshire’s most valuable race.
As Sky Bet extends its 15-year association with York, conditions of entry for the Ebor will change to exclude three-year-old horses from competing in the one mile, six furlong race.
The intention, say officials, is to attract more top class staying horses to remain in training – and this is further reflected by a £1m bonus that will be paid to connections of any horses that wins four top races for stayers.
The series ends with the Lonsdale Cup at the Ebor festival.
“Sky Bet is proud to be based in Yorkshire and we are excited to be part of the future of such a great race,” said the bookmaker’s chief executive Richard Flint. “Today is only the first phase of an exciting partnership which, I hope, will mean fantastic things for Yorkshire racing.”
York Racecourse chairman Teddy Grimthorpe welcomed the announcement. “The Ebor has been a feature of my racing life and I think these plans set it on a firm course for future success,” he declared. “This great race encapsulates ambition, innovation and heritage, all of which are very much a part of York’s ethos.”
Sky Bet is also to sponsor the Melrose Stakes, regarded as being the “three-year-old’s Ebor” and prize-money there increases by 20 per cent to £125,000, and the £170,000 Great Voltigeur Stakes, a trial for Doncaster’s St Leger.
Significantly, leading trainers backed the investment as York looks to counter the increased competition posed by Goodwood and other leading summer racing festivals.
“It’s always been a special race to win – but the prize money boost will make it extra special now!” said Malton’s Brian Ellison whose Moyenne Corniche won the first Saturday Ebor.
“Hats off to York and Sky Bet – this will really secure the Ebor’s place as the staying handicap everyone wants to win.”
Meanwhile Ellison’s Malton rival Richard Fahey, the eight-time leading trainer at York, said: “It’s always been a great race but this is a real boost, there wouldn’t be many places prepared to offer this sort of money.”
And Middleham’s Charlie Johnston – assistant to his father Mark who won the race in 1992 with Quick Ransom – added his support.
“It’s a fantastic announcement. York, and in particular the Ebor Festival, has been on an upward curve in recent years, especially in terms of prize money,” he said.
Meanwhile Iain Jardine, whose Nakeeta won last year’s Ebor under an inspired ride by apprentice jockey Callum Rodriguez, hopes his horse can become the first horse to win successive renewals of the race since Flint Jack prevailed in 1922 and 1923.
A second tilt at the aforementioned Melbourne Cup is also on the cards after last November’s fine fifth.
His stable star will kick off his season in next month’s Chester Cup and the Scottish-based trainer said: “We will probably be aiming for the Ebor, but the plan is to run in the Chester Cup and we will see where we go from there.
“We’ll work towards the Ebor, but we could look again at Melbourne after that. It was a great experience, they looked after us so well.
“It was good racing and they make a big deal of it, rightly so given how good the prize-money is there.
“He ran a great race there and it really suited him.”