York racecourse, widely known as the ‘Ascot of the North’, is to stage Royal Ascot in 2005.

Ascot starts a £180m redevelopment in October next year when it will shut down for at least 20 months. The programme will include building a massive new grandstand and the re-alignment of the race-track.

Cheltenham, the headquarters of National Hunt racing, Newmarket, the capital of flat racing, and Newbury put in strong bids to accommodate Ascot during its reconstruction. But, predictably, York — which is among the best run racecourses in Europe — won the day.

If the builders at Ascot fall behind schedule, there is a chance York will also put on Royal Ascot in 2006.

Douglas Erskine-Crum, Ascot’s chief executive, announced the news on Saturday saying: “If planning permission is granted later this summer, the application will then be referred to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who will decide whether to call a public inquiry. We are cautiously optimistic.”

As soon as the news broke on BBC’s Grandstand programme on Saturday afternoon, York racecourse and the city’s tourism bureau were fielding inquiries about tickets and accommodation.

Changes to be made at York to accommodate this special race meeting will include a royal enclosure. A loop extending from the winning post round to the mile and half start will also have to be completed to transform the present horseshoe-shaped Knavesmire course into a complete 15-furlong circuit to service Ascot’s long distance races.

William Derby, York’s chief executive and clerk of the course, said: “We are delighted and honoured by this decision, which promises a unique spectacle for the people in the York region.”

No decision has been made over the venues for Ascot’s other fixtures, including the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.