The Emerald Isle is a hotbed of horse racing with many racecourses dotted around the four provinces, many of these situated in beautiful surroundings. Indeed some of the top trainers in Europe have stables in Ireland and they have many accolades to their names, most notably in some of the biggest racing events such as Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. Thoroughbred breeding is very big business in Ireland with over 43,000 thoroughbreds in the country. Indeed there are far more horses per head of population in the Republic of Ireland than any other European nation and over 80% of all Irish-bred thoroughbreds are exported to 37 countries, mainly Great Britain which makes up around 80% of the export market.
While there are many unofficial racecourse tracks around the country, the following tracks are recognised by Horse Racing Ireland:
Year-round racing at Irish racecourses
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland between them can boast 26 racecourses, each with their own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies. 24 of these tracks are situated in the Republic, more per head of population than any other country. Between them, Irish racecourses provide the punter with over 350 meetings and around 2000 races each year and these are attended by more than 1.3 million spectators.
Laytown racecourse is unique in Ireland’s racing calendar with it’s single meeting (held in September) being the only race event taking place on a beach under Rules of Racing.
National Hunt Racing is held all year round in Ireland, however the main season gets underway in November and ends towards the end of April. The National Hunt races take three forms, namely:
Steeplechase – run over fences of varying height and size, said to have originated in Ireland
Hurdle – run over hurdles which measure 3ft 1 in height
Point-to-Point – run across farmland instead of on a racecourse. Ireland can boast over 100 such meetings every year and these are primarily organised by local hunt committees, overseen by the Turf Club. Indeed many Grand National and Gold Cup winners started off as point-to-point runners.
Three of the 26 Irish racecourses are exclusively National Hunt while Steeplechase and Hurdle are featured at 23 tracks.
Main events at Irish racecourses
In the Irish Horseracing calendar, the main events include the Irish Champion Stakes, The Irish 2000 Guineas, the Irish 1000 Guineas, the Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby.