Laytown Racecourse Guide

You’ll struggle to find many other racecourses that offer a more unique racing experience than Laytown. It’s the only place in Ireland where you can see horses run on a tidal beach under the Rules of Racing.

What makes racing at Laytown extra special is that it takes place just once a year, usually in early or mid-September. The occasion attracts people from far and wide to the east coast of Ireland with crowds of between 5,000 and 10,000 the norm.

Map

Swap Start/End

The Course

When Laytown’s old course was shortened following an accident in 1994, it became a straight track that can only accommodate races up to seven furlongs long. The fields are never large due to safety concerns but the short distance of the races means they are usually closely fought and exciting to watch. Until recently, races used to get underway using a flag start but stalls have since been introduced. The sand surface usually rides quite firm so horses who tend to run better on fast ground should be favoured.

Major Races

None of the six races that take place at Laytown can be described as major affairs, it is the day itself that is the big occasion rather than any particular contest.

Visiting

The date of racing at Laytown is usually announced well in advance, allowing you plenty of time to arrange your trip there.

  • Dress Code: The only permanent building at Laytown is a block of toilets and racegoers will watch the action from an elevated field above the strand. This means that dressing for the weather is your only concern as there will be little or no shelter from the elements.
  • Ticket Prices: All tickets can be purchased both online and on the day. An adult ticket costs €10, senior citizens and students with valid ID pay €6 each and there is no charge for accompanied children under 16.
  • Membership: As there is only one meeting per year, no membership is offered at Laytown.
  • Getting There: The small seaside resort of Laytown isn’t built to cope with lots of traffic so it’s advisable to leave in plenty of time if driving to the racecourse. If travelling by public transport, there are train services from both Dublin and Drogheda that stop at Laytown. From the railway station, it’s around a 1km walk to the racecourse or you can hop on the free shuttle bus which will run throughout the day of the meeting. Alternatively, there will be a Mathews Coaches bus service from Dublin or a Bus Eireann service from Drogheda you can use instead of the train.
  • Parking: You won’t be able to park right by the “racecourse” but there should be spaces around Laytown that aren’t far away, especially if you arrive early on.

History

There’s been quite a long history of racing at Laytown which dates back to 1868 when races used to feature in conjunction with the Boyne Regatta. When it was high tide the rowing races would take place and when the tide receded, it was time for the horses, which in the early days were more of the supporting act. One of the racecourse’s first stewards was the famous Irish nationalist politician, Charles Stuart Parnell, although this was a role he only took up once.

In 1901, despite disapproval from the Bishop of Meath, the local parish priest got himself involved in the organising of the strand and races. At this time there were beach races all across Ireland including at Baltray and Termonfeckin which are both quite close by. These did not last too long though, with the latter shutting down in 1900.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Laytown was chosen by some trainers as the ideal spot to prepare runners for the Galway Festival. In the absence of all-weather tracks, sand was considered a very useful surface to train on. In the decades that followed, racing at Laytown became a place almost resembling a carnival with lots of colours, sounds, games and street sellers alongside the many bookies in attendance.

Things remained this way until 1994 when a terrible accident sparked some significant changes at the racecourse. The track was shortened, removing the u-bend at Bettystown, the size of the fields were reduced and both vehicles and betting facilities were forced to relocate further away from the track, prohibited from the beach itself. The changes have made the racing safer for all involved but attendances suffered as a result, not since reaching the same highs of the early 1990s.

Planning the racing at Laytown is a very big task even after decades of practice. Senior members of the committee check the beach weeks in advance to determine what is likely to be the most suitable bank for racing. Approaching the day and the beach is quickly transformed with a temporary parade ring, bookies pitches, judge’s box, temporary grandstand and marquees for bars and restaurants. All the temporary structures comes down as swiftly as they come up so for the vast majority of the year, there is no visible evidence of the racecourse at all.

A day at Laytown really is like no other modern racing experience in the UK or Ireland. Why not check out the sandy action for yourself?