Since 1868 Laytown, Ireland, has hosted a once a year event, a race meeting like no other. With no formal racecourse to host the equine competitors, these horses are raced on the beach. Beach racing at Laytown catches the attention of a wide range of racing and non-racing goers each year. Laytown races
Quite a few years ago I was captivated by the sight of horses running on the beach at Laytown races. It just seemed a bit different and interesting. So I set my sights on visiting this very unique venue. I just need the race meeting to coincide with my schedule. Having spent many years on the markets making a living from racing, I ‘felt’ the time was right o o finally take a beach holiday from trading and spend some of it making this pilgrimage to Laytown racecourse in County Meath.
Rather than the hassle and traffic of
A short time later I was on the plane and on the way to Dublin. By a coincidence the three guys in front of me on the plane were also headed to Laytown, so a quick chat ensued on our journey. This is inevitably followed by the ‘Do you have a tip’ question, which of course I don’t. But I do hear that they all fancy ‘Seamster’ in the first, the logic being that it wouldn’t make the trip to Laytown if the trainer wasn’t serious about winning. One hour later we landed at Dublin and head off the plane and our separate ways.
I’ve decided to stay in Dublin central. It’s a
Arrival at Laytown
Eventually, we reached Laytown and disembarked the train and it was pleasantly organised and not too busy. After about a ten minute walk, I reached the temporary race course. Before entering the main race area the first thing I noticed on the distant ebbing tide is a number of horses trotting up in the sea. No doubt the source of many a photographers eye.
Having waited a number of years to get to Laytown I’ve decided to large it up and have chosen a ‘corporate’ package. In classic style, it’s a bit of a hedge. If the weather isn’t good, I’ve got somewhere to go for cover in between races. But I don’t need to worry as the weather is perfect and with time to spare I head into the main arena to have a look around. It’s a typical assortment of vendors. Ice cream vans, fish and chip merchants, bookmakers and the like. There are a lot of bookmakers on the course.
The whole area was fenced in on a green alongside the beach. Gates allow you in from the roadside and a temporary turnstile out and onto the beach front. A lot of locals appear to have dispensed with the formal surroundings and headed for the beach to watch it for free. It’s a really interesting mix of racegoers, people looking for a decent day out and plenty of children building large sandcastles. It’s got a lovely feel to it. It also feels like the perfect family day, plenty for everybody to do and watch.
Back in the corporate tent I’m enjoying tucking into plenty of food and drink and chatting with other attendees. A surprising amount of people have come over from the UK and it’s hard to find any locals in the tent. I’m sitting near ‘Paul’ and his family. Despite being a greyhound man, he has felt the same pull as I and many others and has been really keen to get to Laytown. As we start lunch a familiar voice piped up over the loudspeakers in the tent, to take us through the day’s card. Dessie Scahill has joined us. After that overview, the riders head down to post, the tent empties and people leave to go to the bank overlooking the beach/course. The minimum trip today is 6f and the maximum 7f. The course itself follows a gentle curve from right to left looking towards the starting post, before finishing in front of the crowds. I strain to
After a bit of messing around, eventually, there are off. As the horses near the last furlong, the noise really begins to rise and it’s a great atmosphere. I’ve had a cheeky bet on Seamster in the first and it runs in a winner by a couple of lengths.
Racing on the beach
While the corporate tent is enjoyable I haven’t come here to sit, eat a nice dinner and drink. I want to experience the real Laytown. So after finishing lunch I abandon the tent and head out through the turnstiles and onto the beach.
Away from the grass bank, where a lot of people and standing and getting an elevated view, there is a small rocky area of a few metres before you reach the beach. The going is standard, but the sand is pretty firm. It’s low lying and therefore saturated with water, but well packed. The fact I’m testing the sand for going tells you how far my knowledge of racing has progressed over the years. The entire course is generally pretty variable alternating with fairly dry sand and some sections with water on the surface of some of it. It’s a bit of a stretch to call it ‘standard’.
I watch one race by the winning post and then move up the course to complete a loop out and back. The rails are only really set out about 1f and from there to the start you have posts and markers to guide the horses and jockey home. A curiously amusing sign greets my outward journey. Surrounded by children enjoying a day on the beach I see a ‘caution children’ sign. No doubt intended for other times, but it’s very appropriate today.
With nothing but sand separating me and the starter I cross over the course and head back down on the far side of the course. Already the sea is starting to creep in again in the distance. I take the opportunity to watch and film some of the ensuing action from both sides of the course. It’s an unusual sound to hear thoroughbreds beating down the sand at full speed, so I filmed the action. If you want to get a feel of the atmosphere of Laytown, it it’s on our you tube channel. Eventually my meandering stops at the 1f market and I watch the final race unfold. Curiously, hardly anybody makes the effort to traverse the track to the far side rails. So you can get a good look at the action from that, less crowded, side.
The whole day has passed by in a flash and it seems like I only just arrived and started taking it all in. But It’s been a fun an enjoyable day and one I’d recommend to anybody, whether you are into racing or not.
With that I head back to the railway station. It’s all quite comfortable and relaxed and not crowded, a nice way to end the day. When the train arrives we once again meander down the east coast line into Dublin for a night out. It’s been a very enjoyable day. I’m already looking forward to my return journey!
If you want to enjoy some racing and a day at the sea side. Laytown is run once a year, usually at the start of September. Visit http://www.laytownstrandraces.ie/ for more information. It’s great fun!