Horse racing and beaches are not two things that typically go together but that is what makes Laytown Racecourse such a special place. It is the only location across the UK and Ireland where you will find horses competing on sand under Turf Club rules. Despite the unusual setting, races that take place here are very much official and ones on which you are welcome to have a flutter.
Although Laytown does have a very pleasant sandy beach, it is a fairly typical village rather than a tourist hotspot. Visited mainly only by locals, there is little in the way of places offering overnight accommodation. You also have to consider that as Laytown only hosts one raceday per year so there will be an exceptionally high demand for what few rooms are nearby. As a result, if you are keen to stay close to the course, booking well in advance is strongly recommended.
Gormanston for Convenience
You will do very well to find a vacant room in the two or three hotels and guesthouses located across Laytown/Bettystown for the day of the annual race meeting. Even when looking nine months in advance we could not find a single spare room. As a result, we recommend heading a little further from the coast and towards Gormanston.
Gormanston is where the CityNorth Hotel and Conference Centre is based. This very large establishment has over 100 rooms and is only a 10-minute drive from the racecourse. Offering a fair-priced and comfortable stay, this is a great option to consider especially for anyone travelling from the south.
Drogheda for a Longer Stay
If you want to turn your trip to Laytown into something longer, or you are travelling from the north, stopping off in Drogheda is the best option. The port town, split in half by the River Boyne, has plenty to do and several places to stay. In the heart of the town, the Scholars Townhouse Hotel and the D Hotel are both well worth looking at. The Spoons and Stars hostel also has private rooms if you are travelling on more of a budget.
Although the drive from central Drogheda to the racecourse is barely 20 minutes, you can stay even closer should you wish. On the outskirts of Drogheda and heading towards Laytown there are a pair of charming options, the Glenside Hotel and the Boyne Valley Hotel & Country Club.
About the Racecourse
Laytown Racecourse does not exist in the same way that a normal racecourse does. Your standard racecourse will have a variety of permanent structures in addition to a clearly marked out track that is visible all year round. This is not the case with Laytown, however, as for most of the year it does not really exist, it is simply constructed ahead of its sole appearance for the year. Temporary marquees are erected so horses can be weighed and jockeys can change but all this quickly comes down when the racing is over.
It is this uniqueness, combined with being an annual event, which sees so much interest placed in Laytown Races. In 2019, over 6,000 people showed up for the meeting, not far from double the national attendance average for a single race meeting. To be one of those in attendance, there are a few ways of getting there. Public transport is encouraged though as parking can be tricky with so many people all coming to visit a small seaside village.
There is both a direct bus (910) and train service that runs to and from Dublin that will take you to Laytown. These will both be in the operation on the day of the meeting so you have two convenient ways of getting there. Laytown Train Station is just a 10-minute walk from the racecourse while the main bus stop is marginally closer. If travelling from the north, regular bus and train services leave from Drogheda and from here you can easily catch a connection up to Dundalk is required.
Although public transport is encouraged and widely available, should you still wish to drive then there is will be some (free) limited parking available. The largest place is Laytown Train Station but there will be 50 to 60 spaces each at the Roundabout car park on Tara Road and at the Scoil Oilibheir Naofa school car park. These all operate on a first come first serve basis so arriving early is strongly recommended. From the three car parks, a shuttle bus will be in operation to take you the rest of the way.
Previously, Laytown used to host races up to two miles long as horses raced down the long straight, around a bend, and then back up the home straight. This configuration was replaced in 1995 though following a fatal accident the year earlier. To keep the risk of any problems to an absolute minimum, racing now takes place in a straight line, clearly marked out by two rails, which is seven furlongs long. Subsequently, only races of either six furlongs or seven furlongs in length take place here, so there are no marathon affairs.
As safety is of such paramount importance at Laytown, only experienced jockeys can take part and it is not suitable for all horses because headgear is not permitted. For those thoroughbreds that end up too easily distracted without some head accessory, you will not find them competing here. What you will find now though, which did not use to be the case, are starting stalls. In the past, a flag start was in operation but Laytown has since fallen in line with all other flat racecourses.
Anyone that has run on a sandy beach before knows how taxing it can be as with each footstep your feet sink into the ground. At Laytown though they race on the wet sand which is much firmer and more compact. As a result, the surface is fast so horses can pick up some real speed down the straight track.
There is no dress code of any kind at Laytown. Standing outside on a beach means there is no need for any formalities. As you do get the coastal breeze and virtually no protection from any rainfall, dressing for the weather should be your only priority. The only exception is if you happen to have a corporate ticket as here you will be in a large sheltered tent full of nicely dressed folk.
There are no stands at Laytown Racecourse. You can either watch the action beside the rail or like most, take a spot a little further back on top of the small grass hill. Despite the lack of a grandstand, there is enough room to catch a clear view of the competing horses regardless of your height.
Do not think missing a stand means a complete absence of facilities. There are still plenty of outlets to buy food and drink, bookies to place bets with and toilets to use. Incidentally, the toilet block is the only permanent facility that forms part of the racecourse. All the essentials are still provided but as you are not treated to the same level of comfort a normal raceday would provide, tickets are cheap. Adults only need to pay €10 and students/OAPs just €6. Children under 14 are admitted free.
Laytown’s only meeting of the year is usually scheduled at some point in September. The confirmed date is always published months in advance so you can get your plans in place very early on. The 2021 edition of the annual event did take place in November but this was a forced change due to the ongoing global health crisis. There was an alteration of the race timings in 2021 too as normally the first race begins late in the afternoon with the sixth and final race concluding in the early evening.
It may surprise you to hear but racing has taken place on Laytown beaches for over 150 years. Starting in 1868, it was originally a joint event with the Boyne Regatta. When the tide was high the boats would compete and when the tide receded the horses would appear to create a double sporting delight. Although the combination sometimes worked well, racing was only a mere sideshow with the regatta very much the main event. Additionally, there were some years that the timing of the tide did not allow for horse racing after the rowing had concluded.
Changing Attitudes Towards Racing
As a result of this, racing did not take consistently during the late 1800s. The situation changed at the beginning of the next century though as there was a change of parish priest. The former priest, along with the Bishop of Meath, opposed the idea of horse racing in the local area and the pair wielded significant influence. In 1901 though, a new parish priest arrived and against the wishes of the bishop, he helped organise racing as a standalone event.
No Racing During Wars or the Global Health Crisis
Racing at Laytown took off after this period, although it was not the only place in Ireland where beach racing was faring well. In the early 20th century, you could find horses competing at the likes of Milltown Malbay on the west coast, as well as just up the road in Baltray. Unlike the rest though, racing has survived at Laytown to the present day, largely without interruption. There was no action during the final two years of WWI and three years during WWII but breaks have been few and far between. The only cancellation in recent times was in 2020 due to public health restrictions in place.
Check Out the Book for Further History
The history of this unique racecourse is full of so many interesting tales that a book has been written about it entitled Laytown Strand Races – Celebrating 150 Years. Among its many highlights are the number of famous individuals that have attended here. Charles Stuart Parnell, later leader of the Home Rule Movement, was one Laytown’s first-ever stewards while in 1949, Aga Khan III and his wife Begum came to see these special races for themselves.