Horse racing is one of the most popular sports in Ireland. Spectators gather in their thousands to line the sides of racetracks, and the Irish travel far and wide to watch international race meets at the most popular festivals. 

The origins of horse racing in Ireland can be traced back to the three Arabian stallions imported to England in the eighteenth century. These ‘foundation stallions’ were the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerley Turk. They were brought to England in order to breed a better quality of racehorse. 

In the present day, Irish thoroughbred horses are amongst the finest in the world, and they are often riding to glory at various meets and festivals. In Ireland, horses and their jockeys compete in two main types of horseracing: flat racing and jump racing. 

Flat racing. 

Flat racecourses are built to exhibit the speed and stamina of the thoroughbred horses that take to the track. The distance of the tracks vary and are measured in furlongs. Most flat racing in Ireland takes place on tracks between five and twenty furlongs. The flat racing season runs from March to December every year.

Jump racing. 

Jump racing is also referred to as national hunt racing. As you might imagine from the name, horses are required to leap over the various obstacles that have been laid down on the track. The main season for jump racing runs between November and April and this event attracts thousands of spectators, both at events and online. Another indication of this popularity is seen through the amount racing betting done through various bookmakers. Jump racing in Ireland takes various forms, including hurdles, point to point, and steeplechase. 

Other variations. 

Across Ireland, you will also see various other terms used to describe the type or format of the race in question. Here are five of the most common variations of flat and jump races that you will come across in Ireland: 

  • Handicap: This type of race refers to the weight of the horse. The highest-rated horses are required to carry more weight than the lighter horses. This, in theory, evens the playing field somewhat. 
  • Maiden: If you’re watching a maiden race, it means that the field is only open to horses that have never won a professional meet. 
  • Novice: Novice races are either steeplechases or hurdles for horses that didn’t win in the season just finished. 
  • Nursery: This refers to the age of the horses permitted to run. Nursery races can only be entered by two-year-old horses. 
  • Bumper: Races described as ‘bumper’ are special flat races for young jump horses. Distances go up to 4,000 metres, and the race is usually run by amateur jockeys.

The finest tracks in Ireland.

The most prestigious flat racecourse in Ireland is Curragh in County Kildare. Curragh is the venue for all four Irish Classics, namely the Derby, Oaks, 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas, and is one of the most famous racecourses in the world. 

If you’re into jump racing, the Ballybrit Racecourse in County Galway might be more appealing to you. Every August, a seven-day festival is hosted at Ballybrit, which is attended by thousands of spectators every year. 

Other courses worthy of mention include Laytown Racecourse in County Meath, Leopardstown in County Dublin, and Punchestown in County Kildare. Whether you watch flat or jump racing in Ireland, you can be certain of an electric atmosphere, surrounded by punters backing their favourites. 

Closing thoughts. 

Horse racing is hugely popular in Ireland, but so is betting on horse racing. Most spectators that go to the track to watch a meet will have a bet on one or several horses and will hope to cheer them onto victory. A day at the races is an exciting day out for sure and is something that has been enjoyed by the Irish for generations.