Dante Festival

The York Dante Festival runs for three days in mid-May at York Racecourse and features important trials for the Epsom Derby and the Oaks.

The Dante Stakes for three-year-olds over a mile and a quarter often produces a leading contender for the Derby. Shahrastani (1986), Reference Point (1987), Benny The Dip (1997), Authorized (2007) and Golden Horn (2015) are among those to win both races.

The Musidora Stakes is a key trial for the Oaks where previous winners include Diminuendo (1988), Reams Of Verse (1997) and Sariska (2009).

The meeting also features further Group race action in the Duke of York Stakes, Middleton Stakes and Yorkshire Cup.

Dante Festival

York Dante Festival Day 1

The first day of this leading fixture at York racecourse looks like this:

Duke Of York Stakes

The Duke of York Stakes is the first Group race of the season at the Knavesmire, a Group 2 all-aged sprint over six furlongs.

It was first run in 1895 over a much longer distance, being shortened to a sprint handicap in 1950 and becoming a conditions race in 1968. It was promoted to Group 2 status in 2003 and is now established as a stepping-stone to the big sprints at Royal Ascot.

Handsome Sailor (1987 and 1988) is the only horse to win the race twice. He provided two of a record seven winners for trainer Barry Hills between 1974 and 2010. Top sprinters to win the Duke of York Stakes include Thatching (1979), Indian Ridge (1989), Hamas (1993), Amadeus Wolf (2007) and Harry Angel (2019).

Musidora Stakes

The Musidora Stakes is a Group 3 contest for three-year-old fillies over ten furlongs and an important trial for the Epsom Oaks.

It is named after the 1949 1000 Guineas and Oaks winner who was trained in Yorkshire.

Six fillies have gone on to win the Oaks, the most recent being Sariska in 2009. The 2015 winner Star of Seville won the French Oaks. Other top class winners include Islington (2002), Lush Lashes (2008) and The Fugue (2012).

York Dante Festival Day 2

The second day looks like this:

Dante Stakes History & Famous winners

The Group 2 Dante Stakes is named after the Yorkshire-trained winner of the 1945 Derby.

The inaugural running in 1958 was won by Bald Eagle and the race quickly became established as a Derby trial.

The race is over an extended ten furlongs and the first horse to complete the double was St Paddy in 1960.

The Dante has continued to provide a steady flow of top class winners ever since. Rheingold (1972) was beaten a short-head by Roberto in the 1972 Derby but won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe the following season. Shirley Heights (1978), Shahrastani (1986), Reference Point (1987), Erhaab (1994) and Benny The Dip (1997) all won the Derby.

More recently, North Light (2004), Motivator (2005), Authorized (2007) and Golden Horn (2015) have triumphed in the Epsom Classic. Other top class winners include Environment Friend (1991), Sakhee (2000) and Roaring Lion (2018). The 2020 renewal took place in July due to the Covid pandemic but the fixture is expected to revert to its usual date in 2021.

Middleton Stakes

The Middleton Stakes is a Group 2 race for fillies and mares aged four and upwards over a mile and a quarter.

The race was first run in 1981 with victory going to Pipina. The race was elevated to Group 2 level in 2010 when it was won by 2009 Oaks winner Sariska.

The following season Midday won for Sir Henry Cecil and Tom Queally, a three-time winner of the Nassau Stakes and the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf in 2009.

Sir Michael Stoute has a tremendous record in the Middleton Stakes with six winners; Nearctic Flame (1989), Hellenic (1990), Bathilde (1996), Zee Zee Top (2003), Promising Lead (2008) and Crystal Capella (2009).

York Dante Festival Day 3

The third day’s races are:

Yorkshire Cup History & Famous winners

The Group 2 Yorkshire Cup over a mile and three-quarters is one of the most prestigious staying races of the season.

It was first run in 1927 over two miles with victory going to Templestowe.

The distance was cut in 1966 and the race acquired Group 2 status in 1971.

In 2018 and 2019 the Yorkshire Cup formed part of a £1 million bonus for any horse that won this race, the Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Cup. John Gosden’s Stradivarius scooped the jackpot for successive seasons. Stradivarius became only the second horse to win this race twice following Ardross (1981 and 1982). The bonus prize was withdrawn in 2020 with the Yorkshire Cup lost to the pandemic.

Other notable Yorkshire Cup winners include Moon Madness (1988), Moonax (1995), Classic Cliché (1996) and Sergeant Cecil (2007).

Ed Dunlop’s Red Cadeaux won here in 2012 and is remembered for finishing runner-up three times in the Melbourne Cup. Tragically, he suffered a fracture at Flemington in 2015 and could not be saved.

Best Trainers & Jockeys at York Dante Festival

Locally based Richard Fahey and Mark Johnston invariably saddle winners at the York Dante Festival.

Roger Varian also has a good recent record here and runners from the stable of William Haggas are always worth noting.

Jockey James Doyle has an excellent record at York while supporting PJ McDonald has proved profitable, particularly in handicaps.

Betting on York Dante Festival 2021

The Dante Stakes has only been won by one favourite in the past ten years, Roaring Lion in 2018.

Libertarian produced a 33-1 shock in 2013 and Telecaster upset the odds-on Too Darn Hot in 2019.

The result of the Dante often sends shockwaves through the Epsom Derby market.

The Musidora is rarely so influential on the Oaks betting but both races are very informative. Aside from the trials, there are some very competitive handicaps and listed races so plenty of betting opportunities over the course of the three days.

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Summary of The Dante Festival

The York Dante Festival is eagerly awaited, often in the hope that it establishes a new Derby favourite and is an amazing three days of racing held at that stunning York racecourse.

Although many reputations have been dented here, the Dante (currently sponsored by Al Basti Equiworld) has heralded the arrival of new stars like Motivator, Authorized and Golden Horn.

Familiar names often make their seasonal reappearance in races like the Duke of York Stakes and the Yorkshire Cup and the Knavesmire always provides very competitive handicaps.