The south west of Ireland is where you will find Cork Racecourse, the only home of racing you will find in the whole of County Cork. It is one of the most well-visited courses in the country, partly because it features 20 race days spanning across the whole year. Like the majority of other Irish courses, it hosts a mix of National Hunt and flat racing so no matter what your preference, you will find it here, as well as a warm, passionate and very knowledgeable crowd who simply love their racing.
Cork Racecourse previously went by the name ‘Mallow Racecourse’ because Mallow is the town where the racecourse is based. Solid logic for sure. From a marketing perspective we can see why they made the change but the current name is rather misleading given that the city of Cork itself is 35km away. So, if you are wanting a hotel within walking distance of the racecourse, you can quickly scratch Cork (city) off your list.
With Cork Racecourse set around 3km outside the heart of Mallow, there are no accommodation options within a short walk. If you are happy to stretch your legs for half an hour or so though, then Courtyard apartments to the west is one option, while to the east, heading into Mallow itself, you have the Dutch Tulip. Head an extra five minutes in the same direction and you will reach the Hibernian Hotel, which is comfortably the largest capacity option nearby and one with an assortment of leisure facilities.
For the two aforementioned accommodation picks located inside the centre of Mallow, Cork Racecourse runs a free shuttle bus service that will take you to and from there. This will depart before the first race and after the last so it is possible to make the short journey without having to walk more than couple of minutes.
Outside of Mallow
If you are travelling by car, but do not fancy the 35 to 40 minute drive to Cork, then there are several options closer to the racecourse. The four star Springfort Hall Hotel is one very popular pick and this is a mere 10 minutes away by car. In about half this time you can also make your way to the charming Longueville House for a fully rural experience. Lastly, heading south towards Cork, the village of Blarney, home to the legendary Blarney Stone, is where you will find the Muskerry Arms Hotel and the Blarney Woollen Mills, both of which come highly regarded.
Cork Is Where the Choice Is
It is certainly possible to avoid Cork itself when staying overnight before or after a trip to the races, but if you want an abundance of choice this is your only convenient option. The city of Cork has a wide range of hotels, most of which are situated centrally, on the banks of the River Lee. There are simply too many to highlight individually but you will find that most budgets and needs are catered for. As there is plenty to do in Cork, having a central base in which to explore the city can be most convenient.
About the Racecourse
With live racing, plenty of places to bet, warm food, a range of alcoholic drinks (and soft ones if you must!), there is plenty to keep adults happy at Cork Racecourse. Although many people simply attend by themselves or as part of a group, families are most welcome here too. In order to be as accommodating as possible to young children, Cork does feature a free-to-use playground and for several race days they put on extra entertainment like face painting and magic shows. Additionally, baby changing facilities are found in both stands.
No matter your age or your experience of horse racing, you should have no reservations about paying Cork Racecourse a visit. It is not as though the place is tricky to get to either, despite being a fair way from Cork itself. By car the racecourse is beside the N72 main road which stretches from Dungarvan to Killarney. The road is also intersected by the N20, which connects Limerick to Cork. In all directions you can basically stick to main roads at all times and traffic is seldom an issue given the rural location.
Conveniently, Mallow does have its own train station and it is one served by services from Cork, Tralee, Dublin and Killarney. From Cork, the journey is a little over 20 minutes by train. Mallow train station is one of two stops, along with the town centre, for the free shuttle bus service running to/from the racecourse. Finally, if you wish to arrive at Mallow by bus, there is the 51 service that departs from Cork every hour and takes around 35 minutes. All in all, however you intend to travel, accessing this fine course is a doddle.
As Cork has such a flat course, it is easy to keep an eye on the action from the stands and see how the situation is evolving. The flatness of the course also puts more emphasis on speed, so pacier horses tend to fair best here, rather than your patient slow and steady types. Sprints of 5f and 6f in length are run on a straight course while anything longer begins on the main right-handed circuit. Overall, it is considered to be a largely fair track, so horses can rarely consider themselves too unlucky should they lose out.
The course itself sites right on the banks of the River Blackwater with the water running just a few metres from the back straight. Although the river is known to flood, the turf at Cork enjoys very good draining so it does not tend to get waterlogged, nor particularly boggy. That said, this being Ireland, it is rarely too firm either.
Smart casual wear is the general dress code at Cork Racecourse so this should be in your mind when picking out your outfit. If you come in a very casual attire, you run the risk of being denied entry, though in reality, we suspect this is rather unlikely to happen. Any kind of fancy dress is explicitly ruled out at Cork though, so this should be avoided at all costs for all meetings.
There are two large stands at Cork, the three-tiered Grandstand and the two-story Pavilion Stand, both of which provide a good degree of overhead cover. Located virtually side by side, the pair offer an excellent view of the course, no matter if stood inside or out, directly overlooking the final few yards. The Pavilion is a relatively new additional to Cork Racecourse having opened in November 2008 at a cost of €6m. It has proven an extremely worthwhile investment so far and not just because it has significantly reduced the traffic load inside the Grandstand.
The very top floor of the Grandstand, offering absolutely unrivalled views of the course, is restricted to those with a premium level ticket. It is the place you will find the Owners, Trainers & Premium member’s bar, premium restaurant serving four-course meals, full bar and private balconies. In addition, the main grandstand also has six private suites of its own so there are possibilities should you want to upgrade your experience.
A premium ticket at Cork costs €30 (with a racecard) and these must be purchased online in advance. Restaurant packages start from just €60, making them highly affordable by racecourse standards despite not skimping on the quality. For a standard ticket, adults are looking at prices from €20 while pensioners and students can get a €5 discount on this if purchasing on the gate. A general admission tickets provides access to most areas of both stands, the main exception being the top floor of the Grandstand.
Two of Cork’s biggest meetings come late on in the year. First up is the Cork National meet, run in late October/early November. The fixture is named after the Cork National Handicap Chase, which is a very challenging test coming in at 3m 4f long and one that usually attracts a long list of horses. Due to the numbers competing, there are always plenty of big odds available so call it right and you may well find yourself enjoying a large profit. The Hilly Way Chase, also has a race day named after it, this one falling in December. Boasting Grade 2 status, it is Cork’s highest ranked affair and one won by some superb horses in the past, for example, Beef or Salmon, and Douvan.
During the warmer months, the big occasion is undoubtedly the three-day Easter festival that runs between Easter Saturday and Easter Monday. In fact, this meeting is so popular it is probably the highlight of the full year. Plenty of people dress up for the occasion which combines fine dining with fine clothing and of course, fine racing! There is a real mix of racing too with both flat and National Hunt action taking place during the three-day event, adding to its unique feel.
It is believed that the first ever steeplechase took place just up the road from Mallow, the current site of Cork Racecourse, in 1752. The contest involved two huntsmen, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan, who rode from the church at Buttevant to the church located eastwards at Doneraile. Sadly, there is no record of who won the race but we do know they were battling it out for a cask of wine.
1888: Donations from the Railway
Although there were other instances of racing after this point close to Mallow, it was Cork Park located within Cork itself that later began dominating the racing scene. Opening in 1860, big crowds and even bigger prize pots were seen on a regular basis at Cork. The races here were proving so popular in fact that the Great Southern and Western Railway soon began donating money to help support it. In 1888, the GSWR donated £200, a price worth paying given that they earned £700 from people travelling to and from the popular Cork Park meetings.
1917: Closed to Become a Ford Factory
Despite all this initial success, the good times at Cork Park soon ended and by the start of the 20th century, the outlook was very bleak indeed. By 1911 the number of annual fixtures had been slashed to just three, with prize money a mere fraction of what it used to be. The Easter Monday meeting was, virtually by itself, helping to keep the course afloat but then without warning the course closed in 1917, becoming the site of a Ford factory.
1998: Mallow Racecourse Becomes Cork Racecourse
Residents of Cork spent the next few years without any racing but, in 1924, the racecourse at Mallow was established. For many years the new venue was called Mallow Racecourse before changing to Cork Racecourse in 1998. In 2020, there were calls for the racecourse to revert back to its original title but the course owners did not appear to be too receptive to the idea and, for now at least, Cork it is!