York Racecourse’s Chief Executive has said he is “excited and proud” about Doncaster’s decision to transfer the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival to York.
Officials working on behalf of the Doncaster Racecourse Management Company (formed by operator Arena Leisure to manage the South Yorkshire track for its owners, the metropolitan borough council) examined several alternative homes when it became clear the £55m redevelopment planned on Town Moor would prevent the meeting containing the world’s oldest Classic being staged on home turf in 2006.
Doncaster today announced the normal four day fixture would be held over two days at York, Friday 8 and Saturday 9 September, the racing programme containing many famous contests from the traditional meeting and facilities on offer being similar to those at the host’s Ebor Festival in August.
In addition to the £475,000 Labrokes St Leger itself, racing fans will be able to enjoy the six Group Two races in the festival - the Doncaster Cup and Park Stakes, Champagne Stakes, May Hill, Park Hill, and Flying Childers. Also transferred will be the Sceptre Stakes and Heritage handicaps, such as the Ladbrokes Mallard and Portland Stakes.
These will be augmented by the Group Three Strensall Stakes, normally run at York in September, with the two-day programme set to be televised by Channel Four and digital station Racing UK.
William Derby, Chief Executive at York, said: “Our course is run for the good of racing and we’re excited to be staging this showpiece festival offering over £1.2m in prize money. We’re proud of our role in Yorkshire racing and understand the St Leger is a highlight of the season for fans in the county, so we’re delighted the fixture is staying within its boundaries.”
Mr Derby said everyone at York was already a great fan of the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival, and pointed out the Knavesmire had played host to the autumn Classic in 1945, whilst Town Moor was being used in the war effort.
He said: “We're delighted and honoured by this decision, which promises another great racing summer for people in York and the surrounding region. There has been a lot of excitement and positive comment in the area since the move became a possibility.”
Mr Derby added the York executive was working with the City of York Council and other agencies on the details of the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival and the two rescheduled York days. He said: “We know this announcement will prompt queries from frequent attendees at York and Doncaster keen to buy tickets or obtain boxes for the Festival and I am pleased to announce that public enclosure tickets are on sale from today through the York sales office with an early bird offer of saving 10% on the 2005 rate until 27 January 2006 (01904 620911 or website www.yorkracecourse.co.uk). Regarding York and Doncaster annual badgeholders, box holders and sponsors then we will be writing to them shortly to explain the plans. Practical issues such as raceday operations, staffing, and travel management are all being planned.
Commenting on behalf of the sponsors, Chris Bell, Chief Executive, Ladbrokes Worldwide, said
"We are delighted that The Ladbrokes St Leger is to stay in Yorkshire, its rightful home. We look forward to working closely with both York Racecourse and Arena Leisure to ensure the successful second running of the race under the Ladbrokes banner"
Minister of Sport Richard Caborn endorsed Bell’s comments. “it is wholly appropriate that the St. Leger will stay in Yorkshire. York is the ideal venue to stage this great race until it’s return to Doncaster”
Nicholas Wrigley, Chairman of York Race Committee, said he wanted to thank his team and recognise the role of outside organisations, such as City of York Council, North Yorkshire Police, the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, and course caterers, CGC Events, all of whom would be important partners in staging the festival.
He said: “I have no doubt the continuing goodwill, co-operation and professionalism of all concerned will enable York to build on the considerable success enjoyed when it staged the Royal Meeting in June and I believe we’ll host a hugely successful Ladbrokes St Leger Festival here, which will bring substantial benefits to the area.
”The reputation of York was on a long-term upward curve before the excitement of staging the Royal Meeting and the fact such a prestigious further event as the Ladbrokes St Leger is to be held at the Knavesmire can only enhance the regard in which it is held.”
In a related announcement, Mr Derby confirmed St Leger sponsors, Ladbrokes, would extend their links with York by supporting the Group Two Great Voltigeur Stakes, run at the Ebor Festival. The £135,000 contest is widely considered a major indicator of subsequent St Leger performance, boasting a dozen dual winners between Premonition (1953) and Rule of Law (2004).
Mr Derby said York would stage its own traditional meetings throughout next season, so racegoers could continue to enjoy highlights, such as the May and Ebor Festivals and 47th running of the John Smith's Cup, in the normal way.
He added, however: "Because we’re staging a Classic meeting, which takes place at a set time in the sporting calendar, there will have to be a gap after our Ebor Festival, as we’ll have to prepare our buildings and course to stage it. The popular Wednesday and Sunday fixtures usually held at York in the week preceding the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival will therefore have to be moved to earlier in the season.”
Mr Derby said one of these meetings, the Evening Press Sunday raceday, would next year be held on 18 June. His team had been in contact with the York-based newspaper, whose involvement in the meeting since its inception in 2000 had helped create a very popular local event, throughout its discussions with Doncaster.
He said: “The paper is a fantastic supporter of York Racecourse and I’m delighted they have agreed to sponsor the rescheduled day. Their flexibility has helped us maintain this opportunity for racing in the north and particularly the City of York. The special family-friendly atmosphere that’s the hallmark of Evening Press Sunday will form the conclusion of a three day programme that includes the 36th Timeform Charity Saturday.”
Completing the York schedule for 2006 will be another innovation, as the course’s first modern era evening fixture is set for Thursday 27 July. The meeting will adopt the successful formula of racing being followed by a live music event.
Although the race programme and band remain to be confirmed, Mr Derby was quick to point out Music Showcase Days, which originated last year, had already become firm favourites.
He said: “This year, the crowds really got into the spirit with their enthusiastic support of the horses and then of tribute bands to Abba and Queen. I’m already looking forward to watching the sun set whilst the crowd relax with a bet and then a bop.”
LADBROKES ST LEGER FESTIVAL
ORDER OF RUNNING 2006
(TO BE CONFIRMED)
Friday 8th September
Gates open 11.15 am
Race Title Age Prize Fund Distance
Ladbrokes Mallard Stakes (Handicap) 3+ £30,000 One and three quarter miles