Situated deep inside the glorious County Mayo countryside lies the picturesque Ballinrobe Racecourse. It is the only racecourse you will find in the county and just one of four located within Connacht, the west Ireland province. It is quiet and peaceful location naturally gives Ballinrobe Racecourse a relaxed atmosphere so do not think you need to be a racing know-it-all to visit here.
Hosting just 10 meetings a year between April and September, it is not the busiest racing venue but it is a place that offers both flat and jumps racing action. If you fancy a visit then read on!
The racecourse itself is not too far from the town centre of Ballinrobe. You would be forgiven if the name of the town does not ring any bells though as it is a small place, with a population of barely 3,000 people. You can certainly get yourself some food before or after a race meeting here but in terms of staying overnight, there is only a limited number of beds. Indeed, a member of our team can vouch for that having been forced to be hugely thankful for the kindness of strangers and good old Irish hospitality when there was officially no room at the inn – any of them!
The couple of options that are available in the middle of Ballinrobe are the Bowers Café Hotel, which is primarily a bar and restaurant, and the Friars Quarter House B&B. You may find there is an additional option or two, such as the Railway Inn, but at the time of checking, they were not taking bookings. Virtually across from the racecourse, there is one additional B&B called Woodview House. It is so close in fact it barely takes five minutes to walk from your room to the racecourse.
Cong is King
Rather than staying in Ballinrobe, which may not be possible, you may find you are better off heading 11km south to Cong. It may only be a small village but it features several B&Bs, such as Nymphsfield House and Whitethorn Lodge. Additionally, there are a few larger hotels here including Ryan’s Hotel and the glorious Ashford Castle. If you would like to stay on more of a budget though, Cong is home to a camping, caravan and glamping park, certainly something to consider for any summer meeting.
Six kilometres to the west of Cong, you also have Fairhill House Hotel, which is one of the larger hotels in the area and one offering three-star facilities. Note that public transport and taxis in the area are very limited and so, unless you are driving, these options will need plenty of planning.
Claremorris Another Possibility
Although we are heading a little further out now, Claremorris is just over 20 minutes from Ballinrobe by car, making it a viable option for any racecourse trip. A town a little bigger than Ballinrobe itself, it is home to a couple of sizeable hotels namely the Western Hotel and McWilliam Park Hotel. Both come well rated and offer comfortable stays at a fair price.
About the Racecourse
Although far from the most recent award going, Ballinrobe was voted as the ‘Racecourse of the Year’ back in 2012 by the Irish Racegoers Consultative forum. Given the competition faced, even collecting this award on one occasion is good going and the course has certainly not declined in any way since receiving the accolade. Although you will find plenty of seasoned racing fans here, the course is typically marketed as being an unassuming, family friendly venue that supplies you with a rustic and fully authentic experience.
To enjoy this extremely aesthetic course for yourself, you will need to arrive by car, unless you happen to live in Ballinrobe. The racecourse is located just off the N84, which stretches all the way north to Castlebar and all the way south to Galway. Its location close to such a major road makes driving here very hassle free. There is also no hassle involved when it comes to parking either, as Ballinrobe has ample space for all visitors, which always comes free of charge.
Unfortunately, Ballinrobe’s rather remote location means using public transport to get to the racecourse is not viable. The closest you can get via a train is Claremorris, which is a little over 20km away. No bus services from here takes you close to Ballinrobe though so you will need to book a taxi and we strongly recommend doing this in advance. To give you a rough estimate of how much this would cost, for a one-way trip with fairly normal traffic you will be looking at around €35-€40.
Despite not hosting any racing during the winter months, Ballinrobe hosts both jump racing, as well as flat racing. Both disciplines are run around a right-handed, oval-shaped course, which features three sharp bends, particularly the one at the far end. Races tend to end quickly thanks to the closing stages being downhill so it can be difficult to make up any ground should a horse leave it too late and horses that like to run from the front tend to do well here.
It is thought that the tight nature of the course also makes a low draw favourable in shorter flat races. It is certainly not impossible to win from out wide but there does appear to be an advantage from being inside the rail, enough to separate two evenly matched nags. It is not a course that hosts any of Ireland’s top races, but some useful runners do make their way across to County Mayo occasionally.
As mentioned before, Ballinrobe is a relaxed racecourse and this is something firmly reflected with their dress code policy, or rather the absence of one. There are no rules regarding clothing at Ballinrobe so come in whatever you find comfortable, there is no need to dress up smart if you do not want to. The weather can be a little unpredictable so it is always worth checking the forecast before you leave and dressing appropriately for the conditions.
If you do want something in the way of guidance, light jackets are reasonably common for any evening meeting. As for Ladies Day in June, this sees many racegoers make an extra effort to look smart but even on this day, there is absolutely no requirement to look glamorous.
Ballinrobe features one large grandstand located just short of the winning post. If it turns out being wet and windy, this is the place you will spend a good chunk of your time as there is ample room and protection from all the elements thanks to the overhanging roof and solid side walls. Lacking any ‘premium stand’ or similar, Ballinrobe simply offers a general admission ticket costing €15 for all adults. Children under the age of 14 can get in free if visiting with a paying adult.
If you do want an upgraded experience, a couple of hospitality options do exist. The first is the Coranna Restaurant that serves up a four-course gourmet meal with prices starting at €65 a head. Located above the weighing room complex, it is possible to watch the racing from inside here as it offers great views of the entire course. There is also the Corrib Self-Service Restaurant, available from €30 a head but this is only available to groups of 10 or more.
While a pleasant and charming racecourse, Ballinrobe is not a place where you will find the very best racing Ireland has to offer. It is typically major races that tend to attract huge crowds but Ballinrobe has nothing significant enough for this to be the case. What you will instead find is that the course generally enjoys a healthy, and somewhat consistent, attendance throughout the year. The weather can have something of an impact though with most racegoers preferring to make the trip on a warm and sunny day.
Despite lacking a real stand-out meeting, we would say that Ladies Day in June is something of a course highlight. Held in the evening, it is generally one of the most sought-after meetings the course has as it offers the perfect excuse to dress to the nines. Special mention must also go to the McHale Race Day held in May as this is when the McHale Mayo National Handicap Chase takes place. In 2020, it was upgraded to a graded contest (Grade B), the first Ballinrobe had ever hosted.
Horse racing has long been a part of Ballinrobe’s culture as there is evidence of meetings take place here going all the way back to 1774. The current racecourse, around two kilometres north west of the town centre, has only hosted racing since 1921 though. There has been no further movement since this point but the racecourse of a century ago is unrecognisable to the one visitors see today.
1992: Renovations Following a Heavy Storm
Some of the changes seen over the years have been voluntary, others much more forced. In 1992, a heavy storm damaged the main stand and this acted as a catalyst for additional major work around the entire course. The months after the storm saw the introduction of a new boundary wall, turnstiles, toilets and of course a new grandstand that was big enough to fit in the region of 1,800 people. Impressed by this significant changes,
Tote Ireland did not want to be left out so the original, makeshift Tote building was replaced with a brand-spanking new one. To stop private bookmakers feeling jealous, Ballinrobe chose to renovate the entire main enclosure as well, so that all betting facilities were now very good.
2021: The Racecourse Celebrates Its 100th Birthday
Since then, Ballinrobe has gradually sought to improve their offering. Not only has the track itself undergone work, with improved banking facilities and a new ambulance track, but improvements, such as new stable and jockey facilities, have also appeared. Now a much more comfortable place for absolutely everyone in attendance, Ballinrobe was going strong when able to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2021.
If you are wanting to know more about the history of Ballinrobe Racecourse then you are in luck as late in October 2021, local historian, Averil Staunton, edited a book entitled Ballinrobe Racecourse: ‘A History in the Making’. This 128-page tale takes you right through the first century of the course’s existence, accompanied by some stunning photographs and thoughts of those who have attended here over the years.