Ireland have always had a strong affiliation with horse racing and they certainly know how to put on a spectacle with racegoers flocking to the Emerald Isle to visit some of the most picturesque racecourses in the world and sample some of the finest Festivals in the equine world.
Throughout the calendar year, punters are treated to top class racing with the highlight of the national hunt season being the Punchestown Festival, which takes place over five days and attracts some of the leading jumpers from Ireland and also the UK.
A plethora of Grade One contests take place over the extravaganza and it will often see horses that competed in the Cheltenham Festival the month before line up and try and cement their place as one of the leading horses in their division. The Punchestown Gold Cup is the highlight of the meeting, but the World Series Hurdle and Punchestown Champion Hurdle are just another brace of cracking events taking place during the week.
Some other top quality races during the season include the Irish Champion Hurdle which often throws up a classy challenger for the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle, whilst the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup unearths a top class staying chaser, with the Irish Grand National is another highlight on the calendar.
Fairyhouse and Leopardstown are another brace of tracks that provide some top quality action with the latter starring over the Christmas period with an array of top class events, but there is one venue that incorporates both codes in the same Festival and that is the Galway Races jamboree.
Taking place over a week in the Summer, Galway will be the centre of Irish racing as trainers not only get their jumpers fit, but also the flat stars have their chance to shine and the spectacle put on by the Ballybrit track sees punters flock from all over the country to sample the great racing and atmosphere.
The hotter climates then see the introduction of the classy flat horses and Ireland has always been a major contributor to some of the greatest equine talents on the level with the likes of Aidan OBrien and Dermot Weld currently starring in that sphere.
The Irish Derby is the highlight of the Irish flat season and welcomes contenders from all over Europe, as they look for Classic glory, whilst the Oaks is another that sees fillies flock to the Curragh to try and etch their name in the illustrious roll of honour. Three-year-olds also try to star in May, as the Curraghs Guineas Festival will see the Classic stars line up for the 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas, whilst the St Leger is another notable contest in the Irish flat racing calendar.
Irish racing has always been an integral part of the sport and the 26 racecourses continue to offer some of the most competitive and classiest action in the world and whether you are a fan of the national hunt sphere, or prefer watching the speedsters strut their stuff, the Irish racing scene will continue to provide the general public with a superb, diverse sport which is not only about the racing, but also having a good time at the races.
Horse Racing Calendar for major races in Ireland
L A McKenna
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