Down Royal Racecourse Guide

Down Royal Racecourse is a dual purpose track situated to the south west of Lisburn. There are 12 fixtures scheduled here every year, due to take place all year round.

As horse racing is divided between the Great Britain and All-Ireland, racing here falls under the authority of Horse Racing Ireland rather than the British Horseracing Authority.

Map

Swap Start/End

The Course

Down Royal’s undulating course is a large one, measuring close to two miles in length. It’s almost square-like shape features right handed bends and there is plenty of turning to be done in longer distance races. Due to the nature of the track, it’s easy for horses to set off on their run for home too soon, thinking the finishing post is closer than it is. Five furlong races begin from a chute which joins the course down the final straight. It’s a track with a big emphasis on speed but a low draw helps too as the track curves to the right.

On the chase course there are 10 very fair fences to a circuit, three of them featuring down the home straight leaving a short-run in of less than a furlong. This often creates exciting finishes and it’s a track where horses can win from any position using any strategy. It’s a fine galloping track and sometimes you’ll see jockeys utilising the full width of the track in search of better ground.

Major Races

The Ulster Derby is Down Royal’s showpiece flat event. The one and a half mile handicap, which is run every June, is Northern Ireland’s most valuable flat race with a purse of €100,000. Although it was previously open to older horses, it is now restricted to three year olds only, as it was when the race originally began in 1936.

November’s two day Champion Chase meeting is when all the highlight jump races take place with two graded races taking place each day. The opening day sees the Down Royal Mares’ Novice Hurdle open to mares aged four and above plus the WKD Hurdle, a two mile contest won by Jezki in 2013.

The following day there is the Grade 2 Skymas Chase, named after the two-time Champion Chase winner who was trained near Down Royal and the main highlight, the Grade 1 Champion Chase. The three mile steeplechase has been won by fantastic horses since its 1999 inception including Beef or Salmon, Kauto Star and Don Cossack. With such high quality horses in attendance, it’s rightly the biggest occasion all season at Down Royal.

Visiting

A little over half of Down Royal’s racedays fall on Friday and there is a mix of afternoon and evening racing throughout the year.

  • Dress Code: The dress code is largely relaxed but sports clothing is not permitted in any areas and fancy dress, novelty and branded clothing are not allowed in hospitality suites. Most racegoers in the hospitality areas wear smart casual attire and many women choose to wear special hats and fascinators on Ladies Day but it’s not at all required.
  • Ticket Prices: A basic entrance ticket to the course begins at £10 but prices do increase to £12 and £15 on the more premium racedays. Concessionary rates are available for some fixtures when purchasing tickets at the gats with discounts of around £2 usually applying. Children under 16, accompanied by an adult, are admitted free to all meetings. Most fixtures also comes with the option of a Punters Pack ticket, ranging from £18 to £25, which includes admission, a racecard, a pint and a £5 matched bet. The range of hospitality and dining packages vary depending on which raceday it is, to see the options available you must visit the course website.
  • Membership: Standard membership at Down Royal costs £150 for adults and £135 for OAPs. Annual Badgeholders will have use of the Members, Owners and Trainers Lounge, the Balcony Terrace with its views over the parade ring and a private bar. There’s also a long list of reciprocal fixtures to enjoy, something which also comes with Freeman Membership costing £300. This upgraded membership includes all the perks of standard membership but you will also receive a free racecard at every meet plus have exclusive use of the Freeman’s lounge and of the premier balcony which lies above the finishing line.
  • Getting There: Racegoers can pre-book a return bus journey from Belfast for €10 each. The service will leave Donegal Square West one and a half hours before the first race and return you one hour after the last. The alternative option is a ValueCabs taxi which will be operating to and from the racecourse every raceday. From Belfast it’s approximately a 25 minute journey costing around £25.
  • Parking: Parking is free of charge and is located a five minute walk from the turnstiles.

History

The Down Royal Corporation of Horsebreeders was created in 1685 with James II issuing the necessary Royal Charter in the hope of encouraging thoroughbred breeding in the county. Early races were however organised by the military and they initially took place at Downpatrick.

In 1690, King William III donated £100 towards the running of the King’s Plate, a race still running today but under the name of Her Majesty’s Plate, which is still funded by the Privy Purse. His annual donation was topped up by another £100 by King George in 1750. 49 years later and racing was relocated to its site at Maze as this is where the local military were moved to. The site, which is still used today, was donated by Arthur Hill, the 1st Marquess of Downshire.

Since 1993 the course has undergone major redevelopment work starting with a new grandstand that features 14 corporate boxes, a VIP hospitality suite, a public bar and an elevated viewing area for a prime spot overlooking the finishing post. The Governor’s Stand followed in 1998 and then the Hospitality Pavilion in 2009.