With its wonderful rural setting perched on top of the Hill of Crockafotha, Bellewstown Racecourse is a place full of charm. Its peaceful appearance can be misleading though as this small County Meath racecourse can produce quite a vibrant atmosphere across its eight race meetings each year. Quality over quantity is the ethos here and we are grateful for it as this is a racecourse that does not fail to deliver despite not being one of Ireland’s leading racing venues.
Bellewstown itself is a small village and one nestled deep into a rural landscape. Farms you will find aplenty nearby but hotels, not so much. There is certainly nothing within walking distance but there are options outside of the closest major town, the port town of Drogheda.
If you are looking to minimise the amount of travelling you do before and/or after a Bellewstown race meeting, then your best bet is the CityNorth Hotel & Conference Centre which barely a 10-minute drive away, just off the M1. As a larger hotel, there are usually plenty of available rooms here and prices are usually reasonable for a 4-star hotel featuring a gym and restaurant. Due to its large capacity, even when race meetings are taking place you should find there is no shortage of available rooms.
Bettystown for a Seaside Stay
Should you want to enjoy some sea and sand along with your trip to the racecourse then we recommend looking at Bettystown for your accommodation needs. There is far from an abundance of choice here but the seaside village is only a 15-minute drive away from Bellewstown and even features a golf course if that is your kind of thing. In Bettystown you will find the Village Hotel and Reddans of Bettystown B&B, both of which are extremely well-rated options offering fairly affordable stays.
Drogheda Offers Best Choice
If you are not convinced by any of the options mentioned so far, or you want to be surrounded by a little more hustle-and-bustle then Drogheda is the place to be. Although it is located in another county, it only takes about 15 minutes by car to get to the town centre. It is here where you will find the D Hotel, the Scholars Townhouse Hotel, the Westcourt Hotel, as well as the Spoon and the Stars Hostel. These are Drogheda’s main options but you can find a range of small B&B’s and guest houses a little further toward the north.
About the Racecourse
The two things that Bellewstown Racecourse associate themselves with are the smell of freshly cut hay and the taste of strawberries and cream. Add on top of this some lovely countryside views, often accompanied by some lovely sunshine, and this ends up being a place that provides treats for several of the senses. It is perhaps not large enough in stature to attract too many visitors from far and wide but for those that do visit Bellewstown, whether local or not, the experience is equally as welcoming.
Although located firmly out in the sticks, it is not an arduous drive to get to Bellewstown thanks to its proximity to the M1. Exiting at junction 7, you are only around 10 minutes (9km) from the racecourse and it is a nice straightforward drive with few turns, so there is no danger of getting lost. With the racecourse beside the main road into Bellewstown too, it is something you simply cannot miss and you will find there is ample parking upon arrival.
In the past, Bellewstown has run a free shuttle bus from Drogheda for certain race days but this no longer appears to be the case. If you are reliant on public transport getting you there, we would recommend emailing the course to see if any services are running. If not, you should still try and get yourself to Drogheda as taxis are available from here. A one-way journey will likely cost you in the region of €25. As for getting to Drogheda, the town has direct train links to the likes of Dundalk and Belfast to the north and Dublin to the south.
Inside Bellewstown Racecourse there is a Gaelic athletics pitch and a golf putting course so it is quite the multi-sport destination. At first glance it seems like very much a standard course, a left-handed circuit with a small chute poking out from one bend. It is trickier than it seems though with its cambers, ups-and-downs, road crossings and two sharp turns. It can be hard to know which horses are up for the challenge but a previous good performance on a similar course, if not Bellewstown itself, is always a good sign.
For any five-furlong race, because runners spend much of the race turning to the left, an inside draw (low number) is of significant benefit. This is something we recommend factoring into your bets as it takes a decent horse to win from a spot out wide due to the extra distance they have to cover. Bellewstown hosts both flat racing (inside) and hurdles racing (outside) but not steeplechases.
There is no dress code in operation at Bellewstown Racecourse. This is a small and relaxed racing venue that does not have time to be dictating what people wear. We would only recommend that you do not wear anything that might cause offence to others. As for what people typically choose for their racecourse attire, smart casual is common but you would not stick out by choosing something more on the casual side by any means.
There are two near-identical looking stands at Bellewstown Racecourse, one close to the winning post and another a little further up, at the start of the first bend. Neither will win any awards for their comfort or architecture but they do provide a sheltered place to stand. Across the upper rows, they also give punters an unrivalled view of the course. A standard general admission ticket gives you access to both stands which are little more than 50m apart. It is an affordable trip out too with a ticket costing €15 for adults or €8 for OAPs.
You will need to book your tickets online if wanting to visit and note that the tickets themselves are not transferrable as they will include your name. It is safer to book your tickets at least a little in advance, to avoid the possibility of them selling out, but this is by no means a requirement. You can buy on the day of the race, online, and then simply show the e-ticket on your smartphone (or a printed version) upon arrival. Children are not treated any differently to adults here so if they wish to enter, they will require a ticket.
Previously Bellewstown only included five racedays per year but they recently increased this number to eight. Their season begins in April with racedays following in June, July, August and finally September. The first six fixtures on the calendar are evening meetings with the pair of September meetings taking place in the daytime due to the earlier sunset.
Bellewstown enjoys good attendances across each meeting but the two standouts are the July Festival and the August Festival. The sun regularly comes out to shine for these two-day summer festivals and this helps ensure a bumper crowd is in attendance to watch the action. It is during these two festivals you will find Bellewstown’s best races too. The July Festival highlight is the always competitive Crockafotha Handicap Hurdle while the following month, the Mullacurry Cup Handicap Hurdle never seems to disappoint.
Bellewstown Racecourse admits they do not know exactly when racing began in the area, but they do know it was no later than 1726. During this year, the August edition of the Dublin Gazette and the Weekly Courier published news of a local race meeting of sorts. With racing somewhat established here in the 1700s, George Tandy, former Drogheda major and brother of James Napper Tandy attempted to use his connections to take it to the next level.
1780: King George III Sponsors a Race
Somehow, Tandy managed to persuade King George III in 1780 to sponsor a race at Bellewstown. Fittingly named the His Majesty’s Plate, the new contest was worth £100 thanks to the King’s generous sponsorship. Details of what happened at this County Meath racecourse over the next two centuries are rather scarce, no doubt in part due to Bellewstown’s small stature. We can tell you though that in 1975, a man named Barney Curley bagged himself IR£300,000 in profit during one Bellewstown meeting.
1975: Yellow Sam Betting Coup
Famously known as the Yellow Sam betting coup, professional gambler Curley bought a horse he named Yellow Sam, the nickname his father had at the races. Curley told trainer, Liam Brennan, to train Yellow Sam for a very low-key National Hunt race at Bellewstown that featured mainly amateur jockeys. As this was a handicap race, to ensure Yellow Sam avoided carrying a lot of weight for it, Curley only ran his horse in a number of unsuitable races beforehand. As these all subsequently resulted in lacklustre performances, the handicappers did not rate Yellow Sam very highly at all.
Due to his previous struggles, when arriving at Bellewstown, Yellow Sam was priced at 20/1 for the win. Curley had instructed friends to place a series of large bets, across the country, on Yellow Sam, who would be running off a handicap mark distinctly lower than his actual ability. Normally when a series of large bets are made, bookmakers respond by reducing their odds but Bellewstown was only serviced by two telephone lines, one of which was a public phone box. Having cut the main private line, Curley got a friend to occupy the phone box, pretending to be calling a dying Aunt that never really existed.
Curley went all-in on the coup, risking his entire £15,000 life savings. It paid off though as Yellow Sam won by two-and-a-half-lengths, a performance watched by his owner who hid in the bushes. As a known professional gambler, Curley was worried his face might get the bookies on high alert. Although the bookies later bemoaned his actions, when finding out what he did, there was nothing illegal about it so Curley ended up receiving the full IR£300,000 payout.