Thursday 21 March 2024

Irish Racecourses: Fairyhouse

Fairyhouse Racecourse, billed as “Home of the Irish Grand National”, is situated near the town of Ratoath in Co. Meath, in eastern Ireland, approximately 14 miles north of Dublin. Fairyhouse stages Flat and National Hunt fixtures – a total of twenty – all year ‘round, but is better known for the latter, in particular, the Easter Festival, which features two of the most important races in the Irish National Hunt calendar, the Ryanair Gold Cup and the Boylesports Irish Grand National. 

The Irish Grand National, run over 3 miles 5 furlongs, was inaugurated in 1870 and, although a handicap, its roll of honour since World War II includes such luminaries as Arkle, Flyingbolt and Desert Orchid, as well as Aintree Grand National winners Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde. Elsewhere in the National Hunt calendar, the two-day Winter Festival staged in early December, has also risen to prominence in recent years. Day two of the Winter Festival features three Grade One contests, the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and Drinmore Novice Chase. 

The steeplechase course at Fairyhouse is a right-handed square, a mile and three quarters in length, with eleven, unforgiving fences to a circuit. Notwithstanding the stiffness of the fences, the course is wide, galloping in nature and does not, generally, favour one type of horse over another. Heading away from the stands, the course rises, before falling in the back straight and rising again in the home straight, which includes a run-in of about a furlong. The undulations are gentle, though, so the course does not present a searching test of stamina and, aside from usual luck in running, horses do not, necessarily, need to be in the right place at the right time to win. 

On the flat, Fairyhouse plays host to just one Pattern race, the Group Three Brownstown Stakes, run over 7 furlongs, in July each year. Formerly staged at Leopardstown, the Brownston Stakes was transferred to Fairyhouse in 2009 and, since then, its roll of honour has included the likes of Emulous Fiesolana, who both went on to win the Group One Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. 

Unsurprisingly, the flat course shares many of the characteristics of the steeplechase course and is, on the whole, fair to all types of horses. However, horses that like to race on, or close, to the pace typically fare best at Fairyhouse; hold-up horses, especially those drawn low, on the far side, in races over six or seven furlongs, may find themselves short of room next to the rail in the home straight, in which case luck in running is important.

A Day Out at Fairyhouse Racecourse