Fairyhouse Racecourse Guide

One of Ireland’s top racing venues, Fairyhouse, is based in the parish of Ratoath in County Meath, slightly north of Dublin. It’s a place that boasts modern facilities as well as a great reputation and this helps it attract some of horse racing’s biggest stars.

The course is best known for its top class schedule of National Hunt action across the winter months rather than its summer flat meetings. The racing takes place during most months of the year, August being the only exception.

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The Course

The square-like National Hunt course is a mile and three quarters in length and features right handed bends. There is a steady climb across from the stands followed by a descent before a slight uphill finish, but one that doesn’t require much extra effort. It’s a good track to come from any position, no positional tactic is favoured but a good jumper is required as the fences are stiff and more testing than average.

The flat course has the same characteristics as the jump course so again, is suited to gallopers. The only thing to bear in mind is the draw, as during shorter trips, being on the inside can cause a real issue for hold-up horses who get stuck on the rail. It pays to ride prominently and a quick start out of the gates can make all the difference.

Major Races

It’s during the three day Easter Festival when a lot of Fairyhouse’s biggest races take place. The opening day sees two Grade 1 events in the form of the Mares Novice Hurdle Championship, formerly won by the brilliant Annie Power and the Ryanair Gold Cup, won by the legendary Arkle in 1963.

Later in the festival there are several more graded affairs but none of them create as much excitement as the Irish Grand National. The race featured a huge purse of €500,000 in 2017 and it is one of the feature events on the Irish racing calendar. With 24 fences to be jumped over a distance of three miles and five furlongs, it’s a tough test and one with a great history dating back to 1870. Tom Dreaper saddled the winner 10 times in total and on seven consecutive occasions, a scarcely believable feat surely never to be matched.

Outside of the Easter schedule and there are several other top class races including three Group 1 races in December, the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and the Drinmore Novice Chase. All were established in 1994 and have crowned some great champions since. Hurricane Fly and Istabraq won both of the first two races while Don Cossack won the 2013 Drinmore renewal.

Visiting

In total there are 21 fixtures per year at Fairyhouse with all but four of them being National Hunt meetings.

  • Dress Code: Fairyhouse tries to maintain a relaxed atmosphere so no strict dress policy is enforced. Smart casual wear is encouraged in the Bobbyjo Bistro and Private Suites but racegoers are free to wear whatever is comfortable.
  • Ticket Prices: For most meetings, general admission can be purchased online for just €12. Prices on the day will be €15 but OAPs and students will be able to take advantage of the €10 concessionary rate while children under 18 are admitted free of charge. On standard meetings you also have the option of a Bobbyjo Bistro ticket which includes a racecard, €5 tote bet, four course meal and access to a private bar for €65 for adults and €15 for children. For bigger events, such as the Easter Festival, tickets come with an added premium. For the opening two days of the festival, the price on the gate is €20 for adults and €13 for concessions, increasing to €30 and €20 respectively on Irish Grand National Day. Bobbyjo Bistro tickets are €80 except on the big finale where they are upped to €110.
  • Membership: A year’s membership costs €180 for adults or €120 if you are a student or OAP. Also available is joint membership with Navan racecourse costing €250 regardless of age. Members at Fairyhouse receive a reserved parking spot, access to the exclusive members’ lounge and the chance to attend both 13 reciprocal meeting as well as several social trips and yard visits throughout the year.
  • Getting There: Fairyhouse offers a complementary shuttle bus service to and from Dublin’s Connolly train station. The bus ride takes around 40-50 minutes and departure times will be posted several days before the meeting. There is also the option of travelling via a public bus as the 105 Bus Eireann service stops right outside the racecourse.
  • Parking: Ample fee parking is available but it’s wise to try and get your space early on busier racedays during the main festivals.

History

Fairyhouse Racecourse held its first meeting in 1848 and has gone from strength to strength since. The inaugural fixture featured the Ward Union Hunt’s point to point racing which had formerly been organised at Ashbourne. The decision to switch to Fairyhouse was made as members of the hunt had seen what great potential the new course had.

The year 1870 would prove to be a very significant one as it witnessed the first ever Irish Grand National. The race was won by a grey gelding called Sir Robert Peel and 167 sovereigns were awarded to his connections. It proved to be a hugely popular opening event which helped the race establish itself for decades to come.

A lot of the most memorable moments at the racecourse have occurred during the National. This was especially true in 1929 when Frank Wise saw off 65 other runners to guide Alike to glory. It was a truly incredible achievement considering that Wise had lost three fingers in the previous renewal and also rode with an artificial wooden leg. They don’t make them like that anymore!

In 1999 the course was given an extensive makeover and two grandstands were redeveloped, helping to pave the way for the modern facilities seen today. A year later and the course hosted the first ever Witnness music festival, something it would do for three consecutive years.

Fairyhouse is one of Ireland’s biggest and best courses and well worth a visit. With easy access from Dublin it is a great option for UK racing fans too.