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Laytown Strand Races

Published on: 20/11/2016

The small seaside resort of Laytown is located in county Meath, on the East Coast of Ireland and is home to the famous Laytown Strand Races. Horses run on a straight near-level course for distances of up to six or seven furlongs. The spectacle takes play every year in September and is the only beach race in Europe to operate under the Turf Club’s Rules of Racing.

Laytown Strand Races have been enjoyed for around 150 years. Records show that the first Laytown race occurred in 1868, alongside the Boyne Regatta. Back then, the low-tide horse race was intended as a side show to the high-tide rowing competition. An Irish Nationalist Politician, Charles Stuart Parnell was one of the first stewards of the Laytown Strand Races.

Laytown Strand Races rapidly gained popularity, attracting large numbers of people to the annual festival. Unfortunately, the races led to gambling and drinking activity which the church leaders found unacceptable. Likewise, they disapproved of other beach meetings such as those in Baltray, Termonfeckin and Milltown Malbay. As a result, many of these events were stopped. However, the Laytown Strand Races continued to flourish. Paradoxically, the local parish Priest joined the Laytown Strand Race group, causing much refute from the Bishop of Meath.

Horse racing on the strand remained a tradition throughout the years and by the 1960s, the racing had become a vital preparation event for The Great Galway Festival. In those days, all-weather surface tracks were not in operation so the Laytown Strand Races were considered to be an excellent environment for horses to build strength and stamina for the likes of the Galway course. Many high-profile horse specialists favoured the important meeting and its location.

Laytown does not have any infrastructure to make it an actual racecourse, instead the committee of racing leases a field upon which suitable facilities are created each year to suit the condition of the beach at that time. This method of operation allows for the flexibility to adjust the course distance between five furlongs and two mile. A U-shaped bend was previously included but in 1994, an accident led to several injuries and three horses were put down. Thereafter, the Turf Club initiated changes to ensure safety and the U-shaped track was abandoned. Nowadays, the Laytown Strand Races are carefully organised and the racing committee’s experts assess the beach weeks in advance of the event to assign the safest area for the race to take place. A racing enclosure is created in the leased three-acre field along with a makeshift grandstand, judge’s box, bookie stands and a parade ring. Marquees are erected to provide bars and restaurants whilst other temporary structures accommodate weighing, medical and office rooms.

In addition to local patrons, Laytown Strand Races welcomes racegoers from all over the world. In the past, crowd numbers have reached some 11,000 but today’s turnout tends to fall between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors. The venue is free for those under the age of 14 years with general admission also reasonably priced.

Published on: 20/11/2016 © Bet Bind