The 2019 meeting of the European Pattern Committee (EPC) has resulted in a number of upgrades for the Flat Black Type programme in Great Britain.
These are headlined by the upgrade of the City of York Stakes, held each year at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, from Group 3 to Group 2, which hopefully represents another step towards the long-held aspiration for Great Britain to hold an all-age Group 1 contest over seven furlongs.
The City of York has consistently performed to Group 2 level over the past three renewals since being upgraded to Group 3 in 2016 and warranted an application for further promotion in 2019.
The City of York’s promotion to Group 2 may cause some short-term imbalance in the seven-furlong Pattern in relation to the Group 2 Hungerford Stakes run at Newbury. However, the growing success of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, and the timing of the City of York within the Flat season, means it is the most likely candidate for future upgrade to Group 1, which in turn should provide a substantial boost to the long-term health of the Pattern programme over this distance.
Newmarket and Chelmsford have also received enhancements to their Pattern and Listed races. Newmarket’s Pride Stakes over 10 furlongs for three-years-old and upwards fillies and mares, and the Zetland Stakes over the same distance for two-year-olds, both run in October, have been upgraded from Listed to Group 3 level.
The Zetland provides another significant development in terms of the current focus on encouraging the production and purchase of staying types, which remains an important ongoing project for the BHA with the support of the EPC.
Chelmsford will now host two Listed races, with a new six-furlong contest for three-year-old fillies being added to their programme for the first time this year. This race will serve as further development to the successful three-year-old sprint programme which culminates in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
Despite further concerted efforts on the part of British Racing, unfortunately it was not possible to secure an upgrade to Group 1 status for the British Champions Long Distance Cup on QIPCO British Champions Day for 2019.
Ruth Quinn, Director of International Racing and Racing Development, said:
“This year will see further progress for the stayers’ Black Type programme with some meaningful enhancements within Europe, including a well-deserved promotion of Newmarket’s Zetland Stakes. In addition, the next stage of development for the City of York Stakes is welcomed by the BHA. York racecourse has invested generously in this race and has been rewarded by attracting Group 2-quality fields, despite the race being staged as a Group 3 with a standard Group 3 penalty structure. We have waited a long time to have a Group 1 seven-furlong race in this country, and finding a suitable solution to the ambition has not been easy. We’re obviously not there yet, but the City of York is sited in an optimal position in the calendar and one which the EPC should be likely to support.
“We’re pleased to be able to also take the next step in filling some of the more considerable gaps in the programme for fillies by bringing the Pride Stakes into the Pattern – another strong and consistent performer – whilst the new fillies’ Listed race at Chelmsford should complement the bespoke three-year-old sprint programme that we created in 2015. Having canvassed a number of trainers and owners on the issue, the inclusion of such a race in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Cup should act as encouragement for a greater number of speedy young fillies to be aimed at a spring campaign, over what is more likely to prove to be their optimal trip.
“The failure to secure Group 1 status for the British Champions Long Distance Cup remains an ongoing frustration, but we will work with France Galop to try to find a way through this in the near future.”
Lord Grimthorpe, Chairman of York Racecourse as well as Racing Manager to Prince Khalid Abdullah, the owner of 2018 winner of the race, Expert Eye, said:
“York takes a real pride in the quality of racing that it offers, so it is tremendous news that the Sky Bet City of York is to be upgraded and so become the fifth Group Two at our feature Festival. It was a special moment to win it with Expert Eye last season and I’d be confident that the 2019 victor will need to be another good sort. The ongoing investment in prize money sees a more than 10% increase, to a total value of £200,000.”
Amy Starkey, Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, East Region, said:
“We are delighted that the Pride and the Zetland have earned their upgrade to Group 3 status. We know it took time to get the balance right, but Newmarket’s autumn fixtures are now settled and thriving. These upgrades are an endorsement for Dubai Future Champions Festival and the strength in depth of our autumn programme.”
Fraser Garrity , General Manager at Chelmsford City Racecourse, said:
“Chelmsford City are delighted to have secured our second Listed race. We hope it will prove to be a popular and attractive proposition for a decent field of quality three-year-old fillies whose sights are set on the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot in June.”
The 2019 EPC meeting also saw no Pattern races from Great Britain being downgraded in 2019 or at risk of being downgraded in 2020.