Galway Racecourse

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Located at Ballybrit on the outskirts of Galway City in the West of Ireland, Galway Racecourse is the home of summer’s seven-day Galway Races Festival, the longest race meeting conducted in either the United Kingdom or Ireland. The course’s right-handed track covers one mile and two furlongs with a rising finish of two furlongs, and both National Hunt and flat races are conducted. A total of 12 fixtures are scheduled between July and October, including such standout races as the historic Galway Plate and the €260,000 Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap, which is the richest hurdle run in Ireland.

Many Causes for Celebration

The Galway Races have a long and exciting history that has inspired poets and songwriters for centuries. It all started in 1764, when a five-day race meeting was organised at Knockbarron near Loughrea. One hundred years later, the first Western Plate race was launched, confined to “gentlemen riders qualified for National Hunt Races at Punchestown or members of the County Galway Hunt.”

Then, in August of 1869, the first racing festival was held in Ballybrit, a two-day event that included the inaugural running of the Galway Plate, a steeplechase won by Absentee. According to records of the time, a staggering 40,000 people attended that race meeting. A campsite had to be set up in the public park area of Eyre Square to accommodate them.

The Galway Plate soon became the focal point of local racing, aided by the stunning success of a horse named Tipperary Boy, who won the contest three times, in 1899, 1901 and 1902. In 1913, the Galway Hurdle was added to the summer meeting and the initial running was won by Red Damsel. These two events formed the nucleus of the Galway Races Festival, which would be expanded to three days in 1959, four days in 1971, five days in 1974, six days in 1982 and eventually the current seven days in 1999, with €2 million in prize money on offer.

As the Galway Races Festival grew in duration and stature, gradually attracting up to 150,000 spectators, Galway Racecourse had to expand to keep up with demand. In 1955, a pub was opened beneath the Corrib Stand and for many years it was the longest bar in the world. In 1999, the Millennium Stand opened and in 2007 the Killanin Stand replaced the old Corrib Stand.

One of the most memorable moments in the history of Galway was a visit by His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1979. Some 280,000 people flocked to the racecourse at Ballybrit to witness the papal visit and some 800 priests were on hand to distribute communion.

Racing at Galway Today

For the Galway Races Festival in the summer, adult ticket prices range from €20 to €30, depending on the fixture. Children and teenagers under 16 years of age are admitted free when accompanied by a parent. The biggest day of the festival is Thursday, Ladies Day, when the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap is run and a €12,000 prize for Best Dressed Lady is awarded.

Food and beverage facilities at Galway Racecourse range from the Champagne, Guinness and Budweiser tents on the ground to the Hospitality Suites of the Killanin Stand and the Panoramic Restaurant on the third floor of the Millennium Stand with its outstanding views of the racecourse. There are also more than half a dozen bars to choose from, a Carvery Restaurant, a Take-Away Restaurant and fast food outlets.

Festival Packages are available for €225 to €350 per person. They typically include admission tickets, complimentary parking, champagne reception on arrival, access to the top level stand with premium grand stand seating, executive guest badge, a racecard & pen, a personality tipster, a five-course gourmet meal, complimentary wines with meal, complimentary bar throughout the day, afternoon tea and tote facilities.

Although the Galway Races Festival is the primary attraction at Galway Racecourse, additional race meetings also take place in the Autumn. The three-day September Meeting features the €50,000 Ardilaun Hotel Oyster Stakes as well as the €22,000 Deacy Gilligan Novice Steeplechase and the €26,000 Guinness Handicap Steeplechase. The two-day October Bank Holiday Meeting has the €30,000 Faber Audiovisuals Ballybrit Novice Steeplechase and the €23,500 Ennis Lifts Handicap Steeplechase. General admission to those events is €15.

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