Galway Racecourse Guide

Galway Racecourse, also referred to as Ballybrit Racecourse due to the village it is located in, hosts both Flat and National Hunt racing between July and October. 

The seven-day long Summer Festival is what the course is most famous for. The huge social occasion can attract over 140,000 spectators over its duration and it’s fair to say that it is one of the most iconic festivals in Irish racing.

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Swap Start/End

The Course

Galway’s course is well known among jockeys for being one of the toughest around. It’s sharp in nature and features a steep incline to the winning post, one of the stiffest finishes in the country or the UK. On the flat course, jockeys spend most of the trip on the turn and the big fields mean that getting stuck in a crowd is a common issue as horses are tightly packed. Being able to get out in front early is a real bonus especially as the finishing straight is only just over a furlong long.

Due to the unique test Galway offers, you tend to see quite a few course specialists both on the flat and over obstacles. This also applies to jockeys as it takes experience to know when to let the horses ease down the hill and when to ask for more. Handy types are needed in jumps races especially on the hurdles track, situated the furthest inside, which is the sharpest of them. The chase course is known for having the final two fences extremely close together but generally if a horse gets over the first well, they are set for the next one.

Major Races

The Summer Festival is known more for having competitive races and interesting betting contests, rather than races of a very high standard. That said, there are a few high class events such as the Grade 3 Ballybrit Novice Chase and the Listed Corrib Fillies Stakes. Perhaps the biggest race on show is the two mile, six and a half furlong Galway Plate. It has a long history stretching back to 1869 and in this time no horse has managed to win the race more than three-time champion, Tipperary Boy.

A prize fund of €220,000 (as of 2016) for the Galway Plate isn’t enough to make it the course’s most lucrative event however. That award goes to the Galway Hurdle, which boasted a huge €300,000 purse in the same year. It is a race many trainers and owners would love to win but with packed fields a regular occurrence, it’s a very tough one to land, either as an owner or a punter.

Visiting

Outside of the seven-day Summer Festival there are five other meeting that follow, with the final one falling in October.

  • Dress Code: No strict dress code is enforced at Galway but many racegoers do tend to come in smarter attire. On certain days, prizes will be awarded for the best outfits and best hats so there’s extra motivation for ladies to dress up on these days.
  • Ticket Prices: Tickets can be purchased online although there are no discounts for doing so. General admission for meetings outside of the Summer Festival cost €15 euros per adult. Ticket prices during the festival increase but by how much varies on a day to day basis. The cheapest days start at €20 per ticket rising to €30 on the most expensive day (Thursday). A week long ticket and a reserved seat in the Millennium Stand can be picked up for €170. OAPs and students can enjoy a €5 discount on general admission tickets throughout the festival when purchased at the turnstiles. Children under 12 are admitted free but any children older than this will be required to pay the student rate for entry.
  • Membership: Annual membership is available at a cost of €160, offering a considerable saving if you plan on going to most or all of Galway’s 12 yearly racedays.
  • Getting There: The racecourse is easily accessible by road from the likes of Dublin, Cork and Limerick. During the Summer Festival many racegoers take advantage of a complimentary bus service that collects and return to Galway by The Skeff Bar in Eyre Square. Single tickets are €3 for children and €6 for adults while a return ticket is €5 and €9 respectively.
  • Parking: For any raceday during the Summer Festival there may be a fee for parking but it is available free of charge for all other meetings.

History

The first race meeting to take place in Ballybrit began on 17th August 1869 and it is estimated that 40,000 people showed up to enjoy the action. To begin with, the racetrack measured one and half miles round and was known for being a course that had a great surface.

The inaugural day of racing was actually part of a two-day festival that featured four races on each day. One of them to feature was the Galway Plate, with the inaugural race being won by a horse named Absentee who saw off 12 rivals on his way to victory.

The festival was an immediate hit and the high level of interest allowed the racecourse to make significant improvements to the facilities over the next few decades. For those unable to make the trip to Galway, they were at least given the ability to listen to the action by radio in 1929.

A September meeting was added in 1969 and a year later the Summer Festival was extended to three-days. Another day was added, making it a four-day festival in 1971, the same year that construction of a new stand got underway which would provide shelter for 6,000 spectators.

With the festival only going from strength to strength, organisers upped it by another day, first in 1974, then in 1982 before finally it became a week long racing extravaganza in 1999. The final extension of the festival coincided with the launching of the Millennium Stand, which is a truly modern facility and boasts a panoramic restaurant and reserved seating.

In 2003, Galway Races won both the Best Racetrack National Hunt award courtesy of the Irish Stable Staff Association and the Powers Gold Label Racecourse of the Year award. Further investment was to follow including a new weigh-room, media centre and administration buildings, officially opened by John O’Donogue, Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism. One of the biggest changes however came in 2009 when the new €22m Killanin Stand was opened in time for the Summer Festival.

Galway is a wonderful, romantic town and a trip to the races, ideally the Summer Festival, is a must for fans of the sport.