Fairyhouse Racecourse

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Located northwest of Dublin near the village of Ratoath in County Meath, Fairyhouse is one of Ireland’s premier horseracing venues, hosting many of the biggest races of the Irish jump season. Its right-handed track measures one mile, 6½ furlongs with a run in of just under three furlongs and a slight uphill finish. Among the 20 fixtures scheduled here throughout the year, the top event is the Irish Grand National, which takes place during the three-day Easter Festival.

A Showcase for Champions

Although the first race meeting held at Fairyhouse Racecourse took place in 1848—a point-to-point event conducted by the Ward Union hunt—it was not until 1870 that the first Irish Grand National steeplechase was held there. The inaugural running was won by a horse called Sir Robert Peel, claiming the winner`s prize of 167 sovereigns. The race has since become the most valuable chase run in all of Ireland, offering a prize fund of €250,000.

Tales of Irish Grand National personalities could easily fill volumes, from 1929’s winning jockey Frank Wise, who was missing three fingers and had a wooden leg as he guided Alike to victory, to trainer Jim Dreaper, whose record ten winners included seven consecutive victories from 1960 to 1966. The horse with the most success in this race was Brown Lad with three wins in 1975, 1976 and 1978, while the jockey with the most triumphs was Pat Taaffe with six victories between 1954 and 1966.

This is where Irish racing authorities took an unprecedented step in 1964, devising two weight systems for the Irish Grand National—one to be used when Arkle was running and another when he wasn’t. Despite the double standard, Arkle carried two and half stones more than his rivals and still won that year’s race by a length.

Fairyhouse Racecourse has added other big races to its calendar over the years, too. For example, two Grade 1 events—the EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Final and the Powers Gold Cup—were introduced to the Easter Meeting as a prelude to the Grand National. In December there’s the Bar One Hattons Grace Hurdle and January has the Grade 1 Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase. Summertime features several flat racing events, too, not the least of which is the Class 3 Brownstown Stakes in July.

Racing at Fairyhouse Today

Sponsored by ladbrokes since 2011, the Irish Grand National is not just one of the biggest days on the Fairyhouse racing calendar; it is one of the biggest events in all of Irish Sport, seen by the nation’s populace as “the people’s race.” Crowds of 20,000 or more are not unusual. General admission costs €20 and a Punters Package with admission, food and drinks voucher, racecard and Tote voucher is priced at €30. For those who desire fine dining, the Arkle Package going for €74 offers admission and a racecard, plus a table reserved for the day with soup, main course buffet and dessert.

On other racedays, adult admission varies from €10 to €15 and the Punters Package costs €25. Children under the age of 18 years are admitted free of charge. Facilities available to racegoers range from free parking on a first-come first-serve basis to private hospitality suites for entertaining up to 40 guests and the Arkle Room situated on the first floor of the Jameson Stand. Food options include the Bobbyjo Bistro for fine dining on the first floor of the Powers Stand and the Solerinas Restaurant for casual dining in the Jameson Stand. Prices for lunch including admission, a racecard, a guest tipster and a free bet start at €40 per person.

In addition to racing, Fairyhouse hosts numerous special events. On Sundays when there is no scheduled fixture, there’s a Sunday Market, one of Ireland’s largest with approximately 200 stalls selling local goods from saddlery and tools to fresh vegetables, arts and crafts products, and electrical goods. In 2000~2002, the racecourse also hosted the first three Witnness Irish Music Festivals sponsored by Guinness.

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