Irish Horse Racing
It has been argued that the Irish mentality is much more accommodating to passionate outbursts, displays of emotion and joyful exuberance that the English mindset. (You may notice that we are already entering into the dangerous territory, just as we said we wouldn't.) Therefore the atmosphere at race meetings in Ireland is one of pure, undiluted enthusiasm and excitement; and cliche not, you'd be a fool to miss a chance to partake in it.
There are a whopping 26 racecourses in Ireland, 22 of which offer both National Hunt and Flat race meetings. An annual average of 1.4 million spectators visit Irish racing events, making best use of the multitude of venues that are literally at their fingertips.
Irish Racecourses offering both National Hunt and Flat races:
- Cork Racecourse Mallow
- Down Royal
- Gowran Park
The racecourses at Dundalk, Curragh and Laytown stage only Flat racing events, while Kilbeggan Racecourse is Ireland's sole National Hunt Only location.
Racing Festivals of Ireland
Between Easter and Christmas it's Festival season on the Irish racing circuit, with three-day Easter race meetings getting the ball rolling at Cork and Fairyhouse in early April. While Cork offers a mixture of high quality performances by jumpers and runners, Fairyhouse stages the most valuable race of the Irish racing calendar, the Irish Grand National, which takes place on Easter Sunday. The third April Festival is the five-day extravaganza surrounding the Punchestown National Hunt. The Punchestown Festival attracts over 100,000 spectators every year, gives away about ^2.5 million in prize money and features the Guinness Gold Cup on day two of the occasion, Guinness Day.
There are two major racing festivals: the Killarney May and the Curragh Guineas. The three days of racing at Killarney peak with the running of the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle on opening day, which is always sure to provide with some serious head-to-head competition. The two days at Curragh later in the month stages the Irish versions of the Classic Races with the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas Stakes for the younger contenders. More mature starters proof their worth in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup.
The Curragh Derby, conducted over three days at Curragh Racecourse is the only festival in the month of June. It opens with the Kildare Village Derby on a Friday evening and peaks with the Irish Derby on Sunday, an internationally followed racing event.
This month is packed with festival action, with the Bellestown Summer Festival leading the way. While this is not a huge festival is does promise a weekend of relaxation and fun, as well as decent quality racing. Shortly after, the Curragh Oaks Festival steps up the pace with a selection of Group3 International Stakes and the Irish Oaks competition. The Killarney July festivities are a true family event, including a Kid's Day and Ladies' Day, matching the racing action with entertainment for all ages and best-dressed competitions to keep it interesting between the starts. The very last days of July are best spent at the Galway Summer Festival, which runs for an entire week jumping from one highlight to the next. It features, amongst many others, the Guinness Galway Handicap Hurdle, which is frequently named as the most competitive race of the jumping season.
Making the most of the European summer, August matches July in hosting four horse racing festivals. The Tramor Festival - sometimes referred to as the Surf and turf Festival due to the racecourses proximity to the sea - offers four days of prime racing action, including a dedicated Beginners Day. Killarney August is a new addition to the Festival circuit, having only been inducted in 2009, and it opens with the Vincent O'Brien Memorial Ruby Stakes, one of the most riveting Listed races of the season. Bellestown August offers a weekend packed with racing action and completed by a gorgeous setting. The last days of August play host to the Galway Autumn Festival, which follows the week of midsummer racing with an equally exciting two-day meeting.
Listowell Harvest is the only festival of the golden month. It features a week of flat and jump events, including the prestigious Guinness Kerry National Chase and the Ladies' Day Guinness Handicap Hurdle.
The weather may be getting damp, but that does not mean the spirit of Irish racing is dampened in any way. Starting with the Down Royal Festival, a weekend of National Hunt spectaculars, November is a great month for the festival goers. Two days of Punchestown Winter in the middle of the month feature the Grade 1 Punchestown Hurdle, considered an early season trial for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Another alluring National Hunt Festival is the Fairyhouse Winter, which includes the Hattons Grace Hurdle, the Drinmore Novices' Chase and the Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle.
The final two festivals of the year are the Leopardstown Christmas and the Limerick Christmas. Leopardstown marks the beginning of the Super 7 series of Christmas racing in late over four days in late December. It includes the Novice Chase on St. Stephen's Day, which is a much anticipated event of the jumping winter series. The Christmas meeting at Limerick features The Greenmount Park Novices' Chase, a worthy race to end a year of festival fun.