Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Irish Racecourses: Laytown

Irish Racecourses: Laytown
Laytown Racecourse is the ‘Brigadoon’ of Irish horse racing insofar as it makes a brief, fleeting appearance, just once a year, before being promptly dismantled. Laytown is situated in Co. Meath, in eastern Ireland, approximately 26 miles north of Dublin, overlooking the Irish Sea. For most of the year, Laytown is a modest seaside resort, but every September, just for a few hours, a stretch of sand on the beach, known as Laytown Strand, becomes one of the most novel horse racing venues to be found anywhere in the world. 

Aside from a toilet block, Laytown has no permanent facilities, but a three-acre field, known as the ‘Race Field’, above the beach is transformed into a ‘pop-up’ racing enclosure, complete with parade ring, weighing room and bookmakers’ pitches. A temporary ‘grandstand’ is created by cutting steps into a sand dune and, at low tide, the historic Laytown Strand Races are staged on the long, uninterrupted sandy beach below.

Nowadays, Laytown Strand Races consists of six races, each restricted to a maximum of ten runners, to be ridden by experienced jockeys, on a straight, level course. All the races are restricted to six or seven furlongs and no headgear is allowed. The modern ‘sanitised’ version of Laytown Strand Races was introduced in 1995 after three horses were killed and ten jockeys injured in a series of accidents in 1994, which called the future of the meeting into question. Prior to 1995, races were staged over distances between five furlongs and two miles, including around a sweeping bend at the nearby village of Bettystown. In the name of safety, unauthorised vehicles are prohibited from the beach on race day, as are bookmakers. Nevertheless, Laytown Strand Races, which dates from 1868, remains the only official race meeting – that is, under the Rules of Racing – to be staged on a beach anywhere in Europe. 

From a racing perspective, wet sand rides on the firm side so Laytown can be a boon for horses who favour fast going, which may not otherwise be easy to find in September. Starting stalls replaced the traditional flag starts in 2015, but races are still framed so that the minimum weight to be carried is 9st 7lb or, in races where riders must be qualified under Irish National Hunt Steeplechase (INHS) Rules, 10st 4lb or more. Upper Lambourn trainer Jamie Osborne makes an annual pilgrimage to Laytown and is, in fact, the leading trainer in recent years, with five winners from his 20 runners. Champion Jockey Colin Keane is the leading rider, with four winners from eleven rides.


Laytown Horse Racing