Irish horse racing is an amazing experience and part of the cultural fabric of the country. With 26 racecourses in Northern and The Republic of Ireland, there are plenty of events and tracks to choose from.
Whether you’re a regular race-goer or just looking for a one-off day out, racing in Ireland will meet all of your needs and exceed your expectations.
Find out more about Irish racing, including a guide to the courses, a look at the main events and its history today.
- 1 Ireland Racecourses Alphabetical
- 2 A Brief History of Racing in Ireland
- 3 How Many Racecourses are There in Ireland?
- 4 Dublin Racecourses
- 5 Northern Ireland Racecourses
- 6 What are the Major Irish Racing Festivals?
- 7 How Important is the Horse Racing Industry to The Irish Economy?
- 8 Betting at Irish Racecourses
- 9 Racecourses in Ireland Interactive Map
- 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Irish Racing
- 10.1 What are the Best Racecourses in Ireland?
- 10.2 Is Horse Racing a Big Deal in Ireland?
- 10.3 What is the Biggest Event in Irish Horse Racing?
- 10.4 What are the Biggest Racecourses in Ireland?
- 10.5 What is the Oldest Racecourse in Ireland?
- 10.6 Are There Any Gambling Restrictions at Irish Racecourses?
- 10.7 Do Irish Racecourses Have Different Rules of Racing?
- 10.8 Can I Wear Fancy Dress to Racecourse in Ireland?
- 10.9 Who is the Most Famous Irish Racehorse of All Time?
- 10.10 Who is the Most Successful Irish Jockey of All Time?
- 11 Summary
Ireland Racecourses Alphabetical
Here is a full alphabetical list of Irish racecourses, as you can see there are lots of options and racecourses spread across the entire country:
- Curragh Racecourse Guide
- Downpatrick Racecourse Guide
- Dundalk Stadium Guide
- Galway Racecourse Guide
- Leopardstown Racecourse Guide
- Naas Racecourse Guide
- Navan Racecourse Guide
A Brief History of Racing in Ireland
Horse racing has always been been a key pastime in Ireland. The ancient Brehon Law that governed the country until the 17th Century insisted that the sons of the king were provided with horses for racing. To this day in 2020, there are some 16,000 people employed by the racing industry. It is not just culturally significant to the country but also a key industry.
The rules of Irish racing were devised by William Temple in 1673. In a letter to King Charles II, he described horses as a drug in Ireland.
This was followed by the formation of the Honourable Society of Sportsmen in 1749, which was renamed the Turf Club in 1784. To this day, the Turf Club and HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) regulates Irish racing.
The thoroughbreds that run in Ireland today are all descendants of a trio of stallions, imported from the middle east in the 18th Century – this is the same with most thoroughbred racing.
These days, Ireland is considered the world leader in thoroughbred racing and breeding.
How Many Racecourses are There in Ireland?
There are 26 racecourses in Ireland, each of which offers something different.
23 of these are in Southern Ireland, with the remaining three found in Northern Ireland.
If you are planning a visit which Irish racecourses is best for you to visit will depend on a range of factors. These include:
- Do you enjoy jumps (national hunt) or flat racing?
- When are you looking to visit?
- How much are you prepared to pay for admission to the course – although most are very reasonably priced.
- Are you hoping to attend a major event on the global racing stage or local race meetings?
- How will you get to the racecourse? Will you need parking on-site or accessible public transport links and a bus shuttle to the course?
- Are you looking for a conventional horseshoe circuit, or something a little quirkier?
- What section would you like to sit in – the paddocks or a private box?
First thing’s first, if you want to attend racing in Ireland, you’ll need a full list of Irish racecourses. Without further ado, here they are – presented alphabetically, not in any order of preference or assumed quality!
- Down Royal
- Dundalk Stadium
- Gowran Park
Throughout the remainder of this guide, we will give you more information about Irish racecourses or follow any links off to more in-depth guides, which will include a particular focus on the major sites, cities and events. We’ll help you find the perfect course for your needs.
For many non-Irish nationals, Dublin is the beating heart of the country. That works well for horse racing fans; meetings are among the most popular sporting events in the Irish capital, and it is comparatively simple to reach Dublin through a range of transport means.
Here are the racecourses closest to Dublin:
- Leopardstown (8 miles from the city centre)
- Fairyhouse (18 miles from the city centre)
- Punchestown (24 miles from the city centre)
- Curragh (33 miles from the city centre)
This does not, in any way, diminish the qualities of other racecourses in Ireland. As discussed, every site has its own charm and range of benefits. Dublin remains hugely popular with tourists though, so you may be able to tie in a race meeting with a general city break.
Northern Ireland Racecourses
There are two main horse racing tracks in Northern Ireland – Downpatrick and Down Royal. These racecourses boast state of the art facilities and some of the most important equestrian events in Irish horse racing.
However, these two racecourses are also complemented by Farmacaffley and the Dundalk Stadium. Placing the latter here may stir up a little controversy, as it is geographically located on the Irish border. Technically, however, Dundalk is considered among the category of Northern Irish racecourses.
What are the Major Irish Racing Festivals?
Racing festivals are a major part of the culture in Ireland. All of these are celebrated occasions and see countless people cram into the paddocks to see who completes the circuit fastest. Some of the most prominent race festivals in Ireland are:
- Cork Easter Festival
- Fairyhouse Easter Festival
- Punchestown National Hunt Festival
- Killarney Spring Festival Festival
- Curragh Guineas
- Down Royal Ulster Derby
- Curragh Derby
- Bellewstown Festival
- Curragh Oaks
- Killarney July Festival
- Galway Festival
- Tramore Festival
- Killarney August Festival
- Longines Irish Champions Weekend
- Down Royal Festival
- Punchestown Winter Racing Festival
- Fairyhouse Premier Jump Racing Weekend
- Leopardstown Christmas Racing
- Limerick Christmas Racing
For more information on these events, including how to get to the course and purchase tickets, take a look at the website of the racecourses in question. You’ll be enjoying a famous meeting in no time at all.
How Important is the Horse Racing Industry to The Irish Economy?
Racecourses and the events they host provide some €1.1 billion to the Irish economy each and every year. That’s not exactly small change! All events held in Ireland are a major deal of locals and citizens alike. As a tourist, you will be welcomed to racecourses with open arms. The money you bet is critical to the country as a whole.
Breeding of racehorses is also a big moneyspinner in Ireland, as the country produces some of the finest colts and fillies in the world. These are then exported around the globe to compete in a variety of international meetings.
Of course, local horses are also popular with the natives.
The famous trainers like Aidan O’Brien, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot all dominate winning many events on home soil, as well as on UK and English racecourses, where they often send horses to compete.
Betting at Irish Racecourses
There are lots of options when looking to bet at an Irish racecourse, including on the course itself with independents but check out the best current online bookies below or read more here in our in-depth guide – Irish Bookmakers:
Racecourses in Ireland Interactive Map
Frequently Asked Questions About Irish Racing
Here are the most common questions we get asked:
What are the Best Racecourses in Ireland?
The best racecourses in Ireland in our opinion are:
- The Curragh
However, “best” is a subjective term. Take a look at the information that we have provided and choose which day at the races, or horse racing festival, you would like to attend. As the old saying goes, it’s a case of horses for courses. Our two favourites, however, would have to be Galway and Listowel as we have had personal success with our horses (Dooley Thoroughbreds) at these tracks.
Is Horse Racing a Big Deal in Ireland?
Yes. When it comes to racing, Ireland takes itself very seriously. Ireland has spawned some of the most celebrated and successful horses of all time, thanks in no small part to the climate and soil structure. This makes for ideal conditions for breeding and raising racing horses for success. Equally, racing meetings are a huge social occasion with people from all walks to life coming together.
What is the Biggest Event in Irish Horse Racing?
In terms of prize money, the biggest event is the Irish Derby. This flat racing event is open to three-year-old thoroughbreds (colts and fillies), and it takes place at the Curragh racecourse in late June every year. In 2020, the Irish Derby boasted €2.25m in prize money. If you prefer the jumps, La Touche Cup is the longest national hunt race in Ireland. This course circuit can run from two to four miles but they have traditional races such as The Irish Gold Cup, Irish Grand National and Irish Champion Hurdle as part of the national hunt programme.
What are the Biggest Racecourses in Ireland?
When it comes to attending a day at the races in Ireland, bigger is not always better. Some of the smaller, more local racecourses are just as charming. Of course though, if you’re only visiting once, you’ll want the full experience. Five of the biggest tracks are:
- Curragh (flat racing)
- Ballybrit (jumps)
- Leopardstown (flat racing and national hunt/jumps)
- Punchestown (national hunt/jumps)
- Down Royal (flat racing and national hunt/jumps)
For something a little more quirky, attend the one and only meeting held at Laytown in September. This is a day at the races that unfolds on the beach, on a level sand surface. Laytown is a Co Meath track.
What is the Oldest Racecourse in Ireland?
The Curragh is the oldest racecourse in Southern Ireland., though Down Royal in Nothern Ireland pre-dates this venue. The first recorded meeting at Curragh took in 1727, but horses would race on this site before records began to be kept. These are just two historical and legendary racecourses in Ireland, though – the country boasts many.
Are There Any Gambling Restrictions at Irish Racecourses?
There are no restrictions on tourists gambling at Irish racecourses. Just remember that you’ll need to use € for any wagers on the races held in Southern Ireland, not GBP£. This may result in transaction charges being levied by your bank. It may be cheaper to exchange currency in cash before heading to Ireland.
Do Irish Racecourses Have Different Rules of Racing?
Racecourses in Ireland follow the universal rules of equestrian sport. You will not need to learn any special rules ahead of time, as there are no changes to the rules of the race. Lengths of races vary from site to site, and whether you are watching horses race on a flat track or negotiating jumps depends on the venue. Most races occur on the standard oval track, though.
Can I Wear Fancy Dress to Racecourse in Ireland?
As racing can be a fun day out, many people like to attend in fancy dress, especially if tying in a day at the races with a stag or hen party. Most racecourses in Ireland will allow this in the paddocks, but contact the course or check their website before turning up to be on the safe side. The usual caveats will apply if fancy dress is allowed – no costumes that could cause offence to other patrons.
Who is the Most Famous Irish Racehorse of All Time?
Arkle (1957 – 1970) was possibly the most popular horse in the history of Ireland. Winning 27 of the 35 races he entered, Arkle remains a national hero. In terms of national hunt races, Dawn Run (1978–1986) is the most successful mare in the history of equestrian sport. While many Irish horses enjoy legendary status, these perpetual front runners are regarded on a different level.
Who is the Most Successful Irish Jockey of All Time?
Sir Anthony McCoy (better known as AP McCoy) dominated national hunt racing until his retirement, winning a championship race in every year that he was active in the jumps. Richard Dunwoody is another legend of the sport, notching up 1,700 career victories across a multitude of meetings.
If you have even a casual interest in racing, Ireland is a must-visit. Whether you’re a fan of the jumps or flat racing, there are a plethora of racecourses in Ireland.
You do not need to restrict yourself to one place. Dublin, Cork and Kildare, for example, all have plenty of options. Equally, be sure to investigate Northern Ireland for more choices of racecourse.
Check out the information that we have provided on each location and choose which event or festival you’d like to attend. Trust us – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.