Ireland has a rich history of thoroughbred racing and the Curragh has often been at the very heart of it. Having been such an elite course for so long, all five of the country’s classic races (the Irish 1,000 Guineas, the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the Irish Derby, the Irish Oaks, and the Irish St Leger) originated, and still take place here. Boasting such a fine selection of flat races, the Curragh has no difficulties attracting large and vibrant crowds to its very picturesque location.
Like many places in Ireland, the Curragh Racecourse is largely surrounded by countryside rather than roads and concrete tower blocks. As such, nearby hotels are not in abundant supply but an overnight stay after the racing still remains a feasible and often not particularly expensive possibility.
Within Walking Distance
Having a hotel you can simply walk to is a big benefit, especially for those of you coming to the Curragh by public transport. In terms of what we would consider a reasonably walk though, there is only one hotel within range. This is the Keadeen Hotel, which lies on the very south-west edge of Newbridge. At just over 2km from the racecourse by foot, it will take you around 25 minutes to get to the 4-star establishment. Just note that when leaving the racecourse, be sure to take the dedicated pedestrian path, rather than walking beside the R413 as there is no footpath here.
On a map, the town of Kildare looks to be quite close to the large plot of land where the Curragh lies but this is not a journey you can comfortably make by foot. The position of the racecourse facilities means the journey is around 5km or 6km so reaching Kildare is something you might want a car for. Following a short 5 to 10 minute drive there though, you will have access to three hotels: the Silken Thomas Accommodation and Kildare House Hotel and the extremely charming Kilkea Castle. On top of this, there are a couple of smaller guest houses offering more personalised stays.
Dublin for Real Choice
You can find extras hotels in other nearby towns, Naas and Portlaoise being two good examples. Both include three very credible options but for a much wider selection, you will simply need to head into Dublin. You can reach the south-west of the city in around 30 minutes, making it a perfectly comfortable drive after a day on your feet. Even in this area, without heading into the city centre, you will still find highly rated options such as the Tallaght Cross Hotel, Maldron Hotel Tallaght and Kingswood Hotel City West.
About the Racecourse
Curragh does not have the benefits that being within/beside a major city has but its more remote location does provide it with some simply stunning views. Popular among residents of Dublin, it provides an opportunity to remove oneself from all the noise and congestion of city living and simply enjoy masses of beautiful countryside. The racecourse itself is set on a huge 5,000-acre flat plain so breathe it in because few places offer such a lovely environment to watch the racing.
Even the drive to the racecourse should be quite picturesque for many and driving is how most people choose to get here. By car, if leaving from Dublin, take exit 9 off the M50 onto the N7 southbound. After this, take exit 12 off the M7 as this will put you on the road leading to the racecourse. Upon arrival, there is an abundance of car parking spaces, which will be clearly signposted. The Curragh does not charge for parking and there is no need to worry about pre-booking a space.
If you do not have access to a car, the best thing you can do is to get the train to Kildare. If leaving from Dublin Houston, the journey time is usually around 50 minutes but less regular faster services (30 minutes) do exist. As a result, it can often be as fast and less hassle than travelling by car. The only downside is that Kildare station is not within the immediate vicinity of the racecourse so you will need to arrange a taxi to take you the rest of the way. At just an eight-minute drive, this is not something that should cost you too much. Kildare train station also has direct services to Galway, Limerick, Portlaoise and Waterford.
Curragh is not the easiest course to make sense of when looking at it. There are three separate horseshoe-shaped courses (plate, derby and inner) as well as a chute that extends from the home-straight which is used for sprints. Despite the less than traditional configuration, it is a place trainers love to attend because horses can really stretch their legs here. It is a great galloping track and one that sees horses reach good speeds, despite a slight rise by finishing post that can catch out tired legs.
Moving away from the turf and towards the stands, the Curragh is a place that not only boasts some impressive architecture but a Future Champions Kids Zone. This fancily-named outdoor play area is the perfect place for kids to burn off some steam in between races. For anyone after family-friendly fun, also know there is a ‘Curragh Walk Car Park’ just 1.5km from the course. Here you can stretch your legs alongside free-roaming sheep on a huge plot of flat grassland.
The Curragh does not enforce a strict dress code so you are in no danger of being kicked out if rocking up in some jeans and a t-shirt. Like almost all racecourses though, they do encourage visitors to dress for the occasion and most people do oblige. Smart casual attire is most definitely the norm here but dressing for the weather is the most important thing of all. Be aware that Curragh does host some ‘style events’ at which prizes are handed out to those deemed best-dressed.
One thing that is noticeable about the Curragh is that there is not a tiered or elitist feel to it. As well as doing away with a formal dress code, the course also only has one ticket option (general admission). With this, people can venture across almost all parts of the course, except those reserved for members or trainers/jockeys. So, with a basic ticket you can explore all levels of the main grandstand, with its striking 700 square metre roof. This eye-catching building contains a variety of food and drink options across the four tiers. Some of these, however, such as the top-floor St Leger Restaurant, must be booked in advance.
In addition to this, you can also access outdoor space such as the parade ring, bookmakers ring and the children’s playground. The cost of a general admission ticket is often just €15 but there can be increases during more popular meetings. Most of the time, under 18s are admitted free of charge providing they are with a paying adult but this does not apply during Irish Champions Weekend. For this meeting, anyone aged 13 to 17 must pay €5 alongside an adult ticket.
As Curragh hosts so many of Ireland’s best flat races, this means they do have a lot of big meetings. In fact, out of the 12 Group 1 (highest level) races Ireland has to offer, Curragh is the home to 10 of them. Here we have picked out the three main highlights but if you would prefer a quieter, lower-key meeting, know there are plenty available. In total, the Curragh hosts 20 days of racing between the months of March and October, scheduled both during midweek and at weekends.
Irish Derby Festival
A smash hit both on and off the course, the Irish Derby Festival is one of Ireland’s iconic race meetings. On the course, the highlight is of course the Irish Derby which is seen by many as the most important of the five prestigious Classic races. On the other side of the rail, spectators can enjoy the delights of high fashion, fine music and even some dancing if they are in the right mood. The Festival spans three days in June (Friday to Sunday) and although you cannot go wrong with any, pick Derby Day (Saturday) for the maximum buzz.
Irish Champions Weekend
The Irish Champions Weekend is a rather new addition to the Curragh, having first featured in 2014. Despite lacking history, it has consistently been a much-hyped fixture ever since its inaugural appearance thanks to the quality of racing on offer. Hosted in September, this now highly valued meeting is one of the best Ireland has to offer in terms of pure racing quality. Naturally, this helps bring plenty of enthusiastic spectators to the course, creating a brilliant atmosphere.
Both the Saturday and Sunday of the meeting have proven extremely popular although the latter perhaps just edges it. The reason for it being that the final day sees the last Irish Classic of the season, the Irish St Leger. This more than 100 year old contest sees some truly terrific horses compete so expect to see some familiar names if you are into your racing.
Irish Guineas Festival
There are three race days prior to this meeting but the Guineas Festival is the first major date in the Curragh’s calendar. The inclusion of both the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Irish 2,000 Guineas, plus a strong supporting card, makes this a high-quality fixture with all Ireland’s top trainers in attendance. For those of you keen on dressing up in your finest attire, this is an excellent meeting for it. Not only does the late May weather tend to be favourable but prizes are usually given out for the best-dressed visitors. They are generous ones too with the main reward in 2021 being a €1,000 jewellery voucher.
The word “Curragh” is a very fitting name for this racecourse as it means ‘the place of the running horse’. There is evidence that kings and chieftains raced chariots here as early as the third century. Noblemen in the 17th century also did battle in one versus one races across a four-mile course.
1727: First Race Meeting
Despite this earlier activity, the first recorded race meeting, in a traditional sense, did not occur here until 1727. Later on, a parliamentary commission, created in 1865, resulted in the 1868 Curragh of Kildare Act. The purpose of this legislation was to settle the right of common pasture while securing the Curragh’s status as a place for horse racing and training.
Home to Archaeological Monuments
Since this point, the Curragh has been the hotspot for the Irish bloodstock industry. It was also one of the locations at which calvary trained prior to going to bottle in the Boer War and the First World War. Certainly, the 5,000-acre Curragh plains have welcomed quite the variety of horses over the centuries. Not only is it one of the oldest grasslands in Europe but it is also home to nearly 200 archaeological monuments.
Due to its history, the Curragh, therefore, is far from just a racecourse. In fact, it is considered to be a monument under the National Monuments Act due to its ecological and archaeological importance.