Cork Racecourse

Published: 08/10/2013

Located in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, about 35 kilometres north of Cork and 64 kilometres from Limerick, Cork Racecourse stages fixtures for both National Hunt racing and Flat racing all year round. Its calendar features some 18~20 racedays on a right-handed track that measures one-and-a-half miles round and has a straight sprint course of six furlongs. The major races here are the Group Three Noblesse Stakes and Give Thanks Stakes on the Flat, along with the Grade Two Hilly Way Chase and the Cork National over the jumps.

Birthplace of the Steeplechase

It is rather well known that the term “steeplechase” derived from an 18th century form of Irish racing in which thoroughbred horses ran a course from the church steeple of one town to that of another. Less familiar, perhaps, are the details of the very first such race, which took place not far from the current site of Cork Racecourse. In 1752 two sporting gentlemen from Cork, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan, organised a 4½-mile race across country and over fences from the steeple of St. John’s Church in Buttevant to that of St. Mary’s in Doneraile. Blake won the match and the wager—a cask of wine.

It was not until 1830, however, that the first recognised English National Steeplechase took place, and nine years later another horseman from Cork put his indelible mark on steeplechasing—Captain Martin Becher, who resided in Ballygiblin House about nine miles northeast of Mallow. He was favoured to win the 1839 Grand National at Aintree, but his mount, Conrad, threw him into the water at the sixth fence and that obstacle has been known as “Becher’s Brook” ever since.

Meanwhile, records of racing in the Mallow region dating back to 1777 show that six consecutive days of racing used to be conducted in this vicinity under the auspices of the King’s Plate Articles. A much more popular venue, however, was the original Cork Park Racecourse, which closed in 1917. The need of Ireland’s largest county for a new place to race led in 1924 to the opening of Mallow Racecourse, now referred to as Cork Racecourse Mallow or simply Cork Racecourse, upon the banks of the Blackwater River, one mile from Mallow town along the Mallow-Killarney Road.

In the 90 years since then, Cork Race Course has grown in both size and stature, adding major events to its schedule of jumps and flat races. Perhaps its most famous moment, however, came in March 1983 and had nothing to do with horses or racing. A private jet had to make an emergency landing and used the grassy infield of the racecourse to come down safely. In order for the plane to take off again several weeks later, its owners paid for a tarmac surface to be installed, and that runway has been used for parking ever since.

Racing at Cork Today

Among all the annual meetings held at Cork Racecourse, one of the most popular is the three-day Easter Festival in March-April with Easter Sunday traditionally designated as Ladies Day. Another big meeting is the Cork National in November. Other big draws include the Cork’s RedFM Student Race Day in March, Friday Evening races in May, Father’s Day racing in June and BBQ Night in July. The year closes with the Hilly Way Chase in early December.

Among facilities at Cork Racecourse are five public bars—three in the Grand Stand and two in the new Pavilion Stand, opened in 2008. For dining, there’s a carvery restaurant, a hot roast beef and snack stand, and a fast food restaurant. Adult admission to the racecourse costs €15, and children under age 14 accompanied by an Adult are admitted free. A Premium Level Restaurant Package is available for €45, inclusive of admission, a four-course meal, racecard, private balcony, reserved table at Tote access. The dress code is smart-casual.

Before or after a visit to Cork races, a stop at the village of Buttevant is definitely in order. In 2002, a re-enactment of the original 1752 steeplechase event was organised, and a bronze monument to Blake and O’Callaghan was erected there. Many say that the people of Cork are the most enthusiastic supporters and followers of jump racing in Ireland and, indeed, many of the best jump horses in the world are bred in the County. It’s also been said that “Ireland is the land of 100,000 welcomes” and all but 236 of those welcomes come from County Cork.

Published on: 08/10/2013

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