Downpatrick Racecourse Guide

Downpatrick Racecourse is one with an especially long history dating back several centuries. Today it is a place that hosts 10 National Hunt fixtures per year between March and October and it has a fond place in the heart of all those who frequent it regularly.

It’s one of just two racecourses based in Northern Ireland, both of which follow Irish racing rules as opposed to those set by the British racing authorities.

Map

Swap Start/End

The Course

The right-handed circuit at Downpatrick is around 11 furlongs in length and is a rather narrow course. What defines it most are the many turns and significant undulations. The drop after the winning post in particular is incredibly steep and one that can take a horse, and indeed a jockey, by surprise if riding it for the first time. Given the regularity of the rise and falls, giving a horse a breather during the declines is a necessary tactic.

In terms of positioning here, riding prominently tends to work best. Given how stiff the final one and a half furlongs are though, you can see the leading horses run out of steam and get overtaken by those lurking just behind. There are six fences to a circuit but you won’t see them giving many horses any problems as they offer little challenge. Overall, it’s a place where some horses thrive and to where some, usually the galloping sorts, will be happy never to return.

Major Races

Races at Downpatrick don’t come bigger than the Ulster Grand National. The three and a half mile test, which is usually run in March, is a real test of a horse’s stamina and character. Fields tend to be in the double figures and there is around €15,000 up for grabs for connections of the winning horse making it the most valuable race at the course.

Visiting

Downpatrick says that it is possibly the friendliest course on the island of Ireland and it does have basis for making such a claim.

  • Dress Code: There is no dress code at Downpatrick and casual wear is absolutely fine in the main enclosure. It is recommended however that you dress fairly smartly when in the hospitality, corporate and members’ areas. On Ladies and feature days, many women choose to wear hats and it’s common to see men in suits.
  • Ticket Prices: General admission to Downpatrick costs £10 for adults and £8 for students and OAPs. Some tickets such as the Punters Package are reserved for groups 15+ but individuals and small groups can purchase some hospitality packages. What is on offer varies depending on the raceday, the most basic on offer is afternoon tea at £33 per person (includes admission) rising to £72 for the VIP treatment on Ladies Day. Children under 14 receive free entry when accompanied by a paying adult. All tickets can be purchased online except discounted admission tickets which must be purchased at the turnstiles.
  • Membership: Annual membership is available at Downpatrick for £80 (adults) and £65 (OAPs). With it you will have access to all 10 fixtures per season, be given a racecard at each one and be on the mailing list for a regular newsletter.
  • Getting There: The easiest way to get to the racecourse is to drive there. The closest train station to Downpatrick is at Lisburn, a little over 20 miles away and from here you will need to take a taxi. Several public bus services run from Belfast to Downpatrick, taking around an hour and dropping you off in the town centre, a mile from the racecourse.
  • Parking: There is no charge for car parking by the racecourse.

History

Racing at Downpatrick can be traced back over three centuries to 1685 where it took place a few miles from the site used today. Despite being introduced so many years ago, there has been a largely consistent stream of racing over the years with few cancellations. No other racecourse in the whole of Ireland can boast a regular history of racing dating back to so long ago.

In the early days, Downpatrick welcomed the visit of Byerley Turk, one of the founding fathers of thoroughbred racing. He competed in a race here shortly before he was out riding in the Battle of the Boyne, ridden by his owner, Colonel Robert Byerley. He’s not the only top thoroughbred to feature at the course though as Grand National winners, Caughoo and Rhyme ‘n’ Reason both ran here before their Aintree success.

Along with famous horses, the course had a hugely famous guest in the form of the Queen Mother who watched her horse Laffy competed in the Ulster Grand National. Connkehely would be first to cross the line, one place ahead of Laffy, but when it was pointed out that Connkehely had missed a fence, people rushed to congratulate the Queen Mother on a memorable win.

The course currently in use, based just outside the heart of Downpatrick, has been active for over 200 years and is showing no signs of betraying its age. The course still benefits from a strong local following and the inception of the supporters club in the 1970s has helped raise valuable sums of money. Funds raised helped pay for a new grandstand which has a 1,500 person capacity and includes several places to buy food and drink.