Lying in the heart of central Ireland, around 136km to the west of the capital city of Dublin and 76km northeast of the racing hotbed of Galway, we find one of the Emerald Isle’s most charming dual-purpose tracks. Situated just outside the town of Roscommon from which it takes its name, and benefitting from a wonderfully scenic location, this small but perfectly formed racecourse is beloved by local racegoers, with its relaxed friendly atmosphere consistently drawing in the crowds.
Sitting in such a picturesque location, and within easy reach of a number of popular tourist hot spots, many racegoers may wish to extend their visit with an overnight stay – particularly as the majority of fixtures at the course are evening meetings. And, happily, for those looking to linger a little longer in the area, numerous accommodation options are available, both close to the course, and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
Should proximity to the course be a priority, the most obvious place to stay is within the town of Roscommon itself. Well within walking distance of the track, the town may be small in size, but still boasts an array of historical attractions, including a castle, an abbey, and the Old Gaol. Home to over a dozen centrally located pubs and bars, there’s plenty on offer for those seeking a post-race tipple, with the Red Parrot, the Green Rooster and Down the Hatch amongst the highly rated establishments available.
The accommodation options are significantly outnumbered by the watering holes, but there are nevertheless a quartet of solid choices situated within the town centre, with Hannon’s Hotel, Gleeson’s Restaurant and Rooms, Jacksons Restaurant and Accommodation and the more upmarket Abbey Hotel all popular spots with racegoers.
Go West to Galway
Charming as it is, Roscommon might be a little on the small side for some racegoers who perhaps prefer to combine their racing trip with a city break. Despite its distinctly rural location, there are a couple of viable options – the closest of which is the West Coast horse racing hotbed of Galway.
An attractively modern port city, a wide range of bars are to be found on either side of the Corrib River, including the trendy Bierhaus with its impressive range of craft beers, John Keogh’s gastropub, and the traditional Crane Bar. When it comes to accommodation options, there should be something to suit all tastes here. Jurys Inns and Maldron are amongst the major chains represented, whilst the Dean and Glenlo Abbey Hotel offer a higher-end experience.
Or East to Dublin
Dublin may be almost twice as far from the course as Galway but does have the advantage of boasting strong rail links with the town of Roscommon. Ireland’s most popular tourist destination may also prove the most convenient location for British racegoers who will most likely be required to travel through the capital as part of their journey.
Home to a historic castle and Ireland’s number one visitor attraction of the Guinness Storehouse, there is also no shortage of establishments at which to sample a pint of the “Black Stuff” for yourself. From the legendary Temple Bar to Ireland’s oldest pub of the Brazen Head, or the cozy delights of the Blind Pig Speakeasy, the city is tough to beat when it comes to an interesting pub crawl. And, unsurprisingly, given the thriving tourist trade, Dublin offers an extensive and diverse range of accommodation; from big brands including Hilton, Holiday Inn and Hard Rock to more bespoke offerings, such as the Riu Plaza or the Marker Hotel.
About the Racecourse
Despite its ability to stage both flat and National Hunt racing, fixtures at Roscommon are relatively scarce in comparison to many other tracks. All told, the course puts on a total of only nine meetings per year, all of which fall between the months of May and September. All bar one of those meetings is an evening fixture, whilst all nine take place on either a Monday or a Tuesday.
British racegoers paying a visit to the course have the choice of two main ferry crossings; either that which travels from Holyhead to Dublin, or the Cairnryan to Larne route. From most areas of the British mainland, the Holyhead crossing will be the most convenient, but those making the journey from northern England or Scotland may prefer the latter option. From Larne the best advice would be to travel south to Dublin before heading across the country to the track. Alternatively, the closest airport to the course is Knock West International, around an hour’s drive from Roscommon Town.
Once in Ireland, the track is relatively easy to reach by car, with the N60, N61, N63, N4 and R392 all approaching Roscommon. Once in the vicinity of the town, motorists will find the track – which lies on Castlebar Road – to be well signposted, but for satnav users the postcode to enter is F42 V052. Upon reaching the course, racegoers will find ample free parking available.
For rail travellers, Roscommon Town station lies around 2km from the course and sits on the Dublin Heuston to Westport Line. From the station the track can be reached in a little under an hour on foot, or via a short taxi journey at a cost of around €8.
Both the flat and national hunt action take place on the same course at Roscommon. Lying somewhere between an oval and a rectangle in terms of its configuration, the 1m2f right-handed circuit is relatively flat throughout and features notably sharp turns, with the bend out of the back straight being particularly tricky. The only significant gradient comes in the three and a half furlong home straight, which rises slowly but steadily all the way to the line. Despite that stiff finish though, this is very much a course that places the emphasis upon speed rather than stamina.
In addition to the main oval, the flat track also contains two short spurs; the first of which leads into the home straight and contains the 1m4f start, with the second then running directly into the backstretch and containing the starting point for events over seven furlongs. Interestingly there are no sprint contests at Roscommon, with that seven-furlong distance representing the minimum distance at the track.
A fundamentally fair course, the only notable draw bias comes in those seven-furlong events. This bias does however vary according to the number of runners – low being the place to be in single figure fields, with the advantage then switching to high when 10 or more go to post.
Those tackling the chase course are faced with five easy fences per circuit, two of which lie in the backstretch, with the final three coming in the home straight, prior to a short run-in of around 200 yards after the last. Over hurdles, the layout switches slightly, with three fences in the back section and only two in the home straight, resulting in a slightly longer run in than on the chase course. In terms of pace, front runners tend to go well here, but other than that this is widely considered to be one of the fairest tracks in Irish racing, with hard-luck stories being few and far between.
In common with many Irish tracks, there is no official dress code in place at Roscommon, with the only real advice being to remember to account for the weather as, despite the season taking place during the warmer months of the year, it can still get a little wet and windy in this corner of Ireland. Despite that relaxed code, many racegoers opt to dress to impress at the bigger meetings of the year, most notably at the track’s signature Ladies Day fixture.
There is just one main enclosure in operation at Roscommon, priced at €15 for adults and €10 for OAPs and students, whilst all under 16’s go free with a paying adult. This general admission ticket affords access to the parade ring and winners enclosure, two spectator stands, and a range of bars including the Montelado Bar and imaginatively named Upstairs Bar, which is indeed upstairs in the main stand. At certain meetings, the Montelado bar can be booked for private parties of between 70 and 100 people, whilst the Upstairs Bar can cater for up to 150.
A self-service buffet restaurant provides the main catering option at the track, with further mobile vendors also available around the course. And for €30 racegoers can take advantage of a great value package deal which provides entry, a race card, a €10 betting voucher and a two-course meal. Personalised hospitality packages can also be arranged, with racegoers advised to contact the track in advance in order to discuss their requirements.
Whilst being small in number and generally average in terms of quality, the punter friendly scheduling of the Roscommon fixtures leads to a cracking atmosphere at each of the season’s nine meetings. As with all tracks though there are those fixtures that stand out from the crowd, with the following three topping the bill.
Late June/early July each year sees the track’s most popular fixture, as Roscommon’s finest do their bit to brighten up the stands at the always well attended Ladies Day. A bumper eight race card provides the action on the track, with the courses only Listed level flat contest of the Lenebane Stakes taking centre stage. With additional entertainment on offer and €1000’s worth of prizes up for grabs in the Best Dressed Lady competition, a cracking atmosphere is guaranteed at this summer highlight.
Kilbegnet Novice Chase Day
The standout meeting of the jumps season comes in September at a fixture headlined by the track’s classiest contest held under either code. A Grade 3 event, the Kilbegnet Novice Chase is regularly targeted by the major Irish yards and has been contested by a number of top tier performers over the years. Chief amongst these is Imperial Call who, having made his chase debut in this race, went on to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory in 1996. If classy jumping action floats your boat, this may be the time to pay a visit to the track.
And of course, everyone loves a National. Not to be left out in this regard, Roscommon stages its very own jumping and staying marathon in the shape of June’s Connacht National. A unique meeting on the Roscommon calendar in being the only afternoon fixture of the season, this early summer highlight is another of the first dates in the diary of local racing fans.
Racing is reported to have first taken place in the Roscommon region way back in 1800, with 1802 seeing the inaugural running of what would become a popular five-day meeting. In a sign of how things have changed in the modern era, one of the most popular events at that time was a staying chase contest held over a whopping six miles!
1837: First Meeting
Events tended to move around the area in those early years, and it wasn’t until 1837 that the first meeting was staged on the current site and it was organised by the British military who were based in the town at the time. We then have to move forward almost 50 years to 1885 to find the first officially recognised meeting at the present track. A distinctly low-key concern in those days, the course staged only one or two fixtures per year until being forced to close between 1936 and 1948, with much of that hiatus being related to the onset of WWII.
Upon reopening, the track slowly began to expand its fixture list, introducing the popular two-day meetings of June and July, which instigated an increase in both attendance and income. This income began to be reinvested into the track, seeing improvements to facilities for both customers and those working within the industry.
2006: Debut of the Listed Lenebane Stakes
That slow but steady growth eventually fed through to the action on the track, with the Listed Lenebane Stakes making its debut in 2006, and the Kilbegnet Novice Chase – which first appeared as a handicap event in 1993 – being awarded Grade 3 status in 2007.
The period from 2017 to 2019 then saw the track given a significant facelift, with upgrades to the stables, bars, entrance and weighing room being well received by racegoers and stable staff alike. Despite those improvements, Roscommon still falls into the small racecourse category, but is a venue packed with charm and history, and well worth a visit should you get the chance.