Down Royal Racecourse

Published: 08/10/2013

One of the biggest racecourses in Northern Ireland, Down Royal Racecourse is located four kilometres from the town of Lisburn in County Down. Its right-handed, undulating track covers a distance of one mile, seven-and-a-half furlongs long with a slight uphill finish to the post, and it is used for both National Hunt and flat racing. A total of 12~13 fixtures are scheduled throughout the year, with the highlights being the two-day Northern Ireland Festival in November with its JNWine Champion Chase and the Ulster Derby in June.

Home Turf for Irish Breeders

In 1685, the Down Royal Corporation of Horsebreeders was created in a Royal Charter issued by King James II. Its objective was to encourage horse breeding in the county of Down. In conjunction with breeding activities, the area’s first racecourse was established at Downpatrick—an undulating three-mile track in the shape of a horseshoe.

One of the first major races run there was a King’s Plate event in 1690, inaugurated with a £100 donation from King William III. In 1750, King George II added another £100 and to this day a Royal Plate race has been run in County Down with a contribution from the Privy Purse.

In 1789, the original Downpatrick races moved to the present course at the Maze, Lisburn, where a site had been set aside 100 years earlier by Arthur Hill of Hillsborough Castle. Down Royal Racecourse has been providing quality horseracing action to the people of Ulster continuously ever since.

The majority of changes that have occurred at Down Royal Racecourse came about during the most recent century. For example, the Governor’s Cup was inaugurated in 1924 and, with the exception of the War Years from 1941 to 1945, it was a highlight of the racing season through 1999, attended by H.M. Queen Elizabeth in 1958.

Then, the Ulster Derby was launched in 1962. It is now worth £75,000 and conducted as the highlight of the summer months. As a testament to the high quality of flat racing the Derby has brought to this track, Media Puzzle, the winner of the 2002 Melbourne Cup, had previously won the Ulster Derby.

In 1993, a major development programme was initiated at Down Royal Racecourse. It resulted in the completion of a new Grandstand incorporating fourteen Corporate Boxes, a VIP Hospitality Suite, a Public Bar and an elevated viewing area overlooking the track and finish post. The Governor`s Stand was then completed in 1998.

In 1999, the Northern Ireland Festival was created. It now has the £150,000 Grade 1 James Nicholson Wine Merchant Champion Chase as its centrepiece, won by such greats as Florida Pearl, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble, Beef Or Salmon and the great steeplechaser Kauto Star.

Racing at Down Royal Today

Although actually situated within the United Kingdom, Down Royal Racecourse does not conduct races under the rules of the British Horseracing Authority. Instead, its events come under the authority of Horse Racing Ireland, along with all other venues in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Its “Royal” designation, however, comes from its long and close association with the British Royal Family.

In June 2009, the new Hospitality Pavilion was completed. Facilities on the grounds now include an exclusive Membership area for the Freeman of Down Royal Racecourse, the Winning Post Café, the Beef or Salmon Suite overlooking the finishing straight, the Tote Betting Facility, the Dark Horse Café and the Grandstand Bar. Adult admission on raceday is £10 per person, and children under 12 years of age are admitted free of charge.

Published on: 08/10/2013

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