Tuesday 5 March 2019

Irish Racecourses: Listowel

Listowel Racecourse is situated in the town of the same name, in Co. Kerry, in the South-West Region of Ireland, less than a mile from the town centre. Listowel stages just nine days racing a year, divided into a two-day meeting on the June Bank Holiday weekend and a seven-day meeting, known as the Listowel Harvest Festival. The undisputed highlight of the Harvest Festival is the Kerry National Handicap Chase, a Grade A event run over three miles and worth €200,000 in added prize money. The Kerry National invariably features a maximum field of 18 runners and is hotly-contested by staying chasers from major yards throughout Ireland and beyond.

In 2002, which was the first year the Harvest Festival was extended to seven days, Alamshar, owned by the Aga Khan and trained by John Oxx – who would later win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes – made a winning debut in a maiden race at the meeting. The Listowel Stakes, a Listed contest inaugurated in 2011 and run, until 2015, over a mile and a half but, nowadays, reduced to a mile and a furlong is another notable race run at the Harvest Festival. 

The steeplechase course at Listowel is a left-handed oval, approximately a mile and a quarter in circumference, with six or seven fairly stiff fences to a circuit – depending on whether the inner back straight or the outer loop is in use – and a run-in of less than a furlong. Sharp, or very sharp, in character, again depending on the track in use, Listowel tends to favour speedy types who race handily; the short home straight, less than two furlongs in length, gives hold-up horses little time to make up ground. Listowel has remarkably black soil, with a high clay content, which does not drain well. Consequently, if the going becomes heavy, the ground becomes especially sticky and holding, such that some horses fail to act on it completely. 

On the Flat, the tightness of the course, coupled with the undulations, means that a low draw and tactical pace are advantageous if the going is on the fast side. However, if the going becomes testing, the draw is less important, but an abundance of stamina is required to cope with the uniquely heavy going at Listowel.