One of the real hotbeds of Irish racing, a total of three racecourses are to be found in County Tipperary, including this extremely popular venue located only around two miles from the town from which it takes its name.
A dual-purpose venue offering high quality action, both on the flat and over jumps, the countryside views and excellent equine entertainment combine to create a race-day experience, which is hugely popular with locals, and fans from further afield. It might be a long, long way but a trip to Tipperary is certainly well worth it.
Given the picturesque setting, and close proximity to a number of attractive Irish tourist towns, many racegoers making the trip to Tipperary may wish to extend their visit with an overnight stay in the area. And happily, for those wishing to do so, a number of accommodation options are available – both close to the track and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
Whilst there are no hotels actually at the track itself, there are a couple of excellent options but a short distance away. The Bit and Bridle Inn and the Woodlawn are situated close to the nearby Limerick Junction Train Station, whilst only a little further along the road is the luxurious Great Ballykisteen Golf Course Hotel, complete with swimming pool and spa facilities.
Only two miles to the south of the track is the small town of Tipperary itself. Despite boasting a population of only around 5,000, Tipperary possesses bags of Irish charm and, in common with the majority of Irish Towns, an excellent array of pubs and bars. The Snooty Pig, Lowry’s, the Porter House and Nellie O’Brien’s are all well worth a look for those seeking a post-race tipple, whilst the Maid of Erin Guesthouse, O’Neill’s, Times Hotel, and the Gerry Casey Central B&B are amongst the highly rated accommodation options available.
Lying only around 19km to the east of the track, the town of Cashel is a mere 20-minute drive away and rates another popular base of operations for racegoers. Similarly sized to Tipperary, Cashel offers a real taste of traditional Ireland, with attractions including Clare Glens Waterfall, the Cashel Folk Village and Rock of Cashel.
For those who like to take their post-race entertainment in liquid form the Brian Boru Bar and Restaurant, Mikey Ryan’s Bar & Kitchen and the impossible to miss, bright pink façade of Byrne’s Capitol Bar are all well worth a look. Those looking to stay in Cashel will find around a half dozen accommodation options available, with Bailey’s Hotel Cashel, Cashel Holiday Hostel and O’Brien’s Cashel Lodge all highly rated by visitors.
Lie Down in Limerick
Dublin will always be a popular spot, particularly with British racegoers, but for something a little different why not try one of the major cities in the west of the country – Limerick. Around 50 minutes away by car, the bustling city enjoys strong transport links with Tipperary, and having been the first city to be crowned the Irish National City of Culture in 2014, offers plenty to keep visitors entertained.
The 13th Century King John’s Castle, even older St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the Limerick Museum will appeal to history buffs, whilst Charlie Chaplin’s Pub, Mother Macs and the Horse and Hound Bar are amongst the highlights of a thriving pub scene. As Ireland’s third largest city, accommodation options are also in plentiful supply. Travel Lodge and Park Inn are amongst the big brands available, whilst the Savoy Hotel and Absolute Hotel Limerick provide a more opulent experience.
About the Racecourse
A true countryside venue, Tipperary’s rustic charm is regularly enhanced by the sight of the local farmer working his land in the centre of the track during a meeting. Predominantly a spring and summer venue, the course stages a total of 11 meetings per year, all of which fall between the months of April and October. As the local course of the giant training operation of Ballydoyle, racegoers are regularly treated to an early sighting of a future superstar, with High Chaparral, Hawk Wing and Dylan Thomas amongst those to have made their debut at the venue.
It’s a long way to Tipperary, or so the famous 1912 song goes (you didn’t think we were going to stop at just one reference to this did you?), but that really depends upon where you are travelling from. The first task for those journeying from the British mainland is to successfully negotiate the Irish Sea. At around a 50-minute drive, Shannon Airport is the closest to the course, or alternatively racegoers may wish to take the Holyhead to Dublin, or Cairnryan to Larne, ferry crossings.
Once in Ireland, Tipperary’s central location makes it relatively easy to reach from all directions. The track lies on the east to west N24 motorway, with the M7 and N62 being the main approach roads from the North, and the M8 from the South. Upon arrival at the course, motorists will find ample free parking available. Lying adjacent to Limerick Junction Train Station, the track is conveniently located for those arriving by rail. Only a five-minute walk from the course, the station receives regular services from Limerick City, Dublin Heuston, Waterford, Cork and Tralee. An alternative to the train is provided by Bus Eireann which run services to Tipperary from a number of major cities.
Broadly oval in configuration, Tipperary’s left-handed circuit measures a little over 1m1f in circumference, features sharp bends, and is almost completely flat throughout. In addition to the main oval, the course also features a spur which runs directly into the 2.5f home straight, creating one of the fastest straight tracks in the country for the staging of 5f sprint contests. In general, the flat track shows a definite bias towards speedy sorts who like to lead or race prominently. Hold-up performers aren’t without a chance, but front-runners able to judge the pace correctly can prove very difficult to reel in.
High numbers hold the edge on the sprint course, especially on soft ground, as under such conditions the stands side rail rides considerably quicker than the rest of the track. Front runners with a high draw boast a particularly impressive record over 5f and are always worth a second look in the betting. The bias on the round course isn’t anything like so strong, although those drawn high do still seem to hold the edge over 7f, despite the fact that the first bend comes up very soon after the start.
Utilising the inner portion of the course, the chase track is the sharper of the two National Hunt layouts, and features six easy fences per circuit, with the final two coming in the home straight prior to a run-in of close to one furlong. Those tackling the smaller obstacles are faced with five flights of hurdles per lap, with the final two again coming in the home straight followed by that same one furlong run to the line.
In common with the flat contests, front runners and prominent racers tend to fair best in hurdles and chase events – an advantage which seems to be exaggerated on soft ground. And in regard to the going, note that it can become very soft, very quickly around here, creating a demanding surface which many horses simply don’t handle. As such, any runner with previous soft ground course form ought to figure prominently in your calculations should the rains arrive. In contrast, if rain is forecast, any horse without a liking for softer going should be treated with real caution.
In common with many Irish countryside tracks, there is no official dress code in place at Tipperary. The course does recommend smart casual attire suitable for the weather, but this is not rigidly enforced and, provided they stay on the right side of decency and avoid anything likely to cause offence, racegoers are largely free to dress as they please. Do however bear in mind that many opt to dress to impress at the track’s biggest race days, with Ladies Day in particular drawing an elegantly attired crowd.
There is just one main enclosure in operation at Tipperary, accessed via the purchase of a General Admission ticket. Priced at a very reasonable €10 for most meetings, and €15 for weekend fixtures and major events such as Ladies Day, this ticket grants access to all areas of the course, including both Grandstands, parade ring, winners’ enclosure, the popular Istabraq Bar and a range of mobile catering stalls. All under 18s must be accompanied by a paying adult. Tickets for 13–17-year-olds are priced at around half the adult rate, with all children aged 12 and under gaining free entry. Students and OAPs will also receive a discount on the standard ticket price at many meetings.
A popular alternative to the general admission ticket is the track’s “Bumper Bundle” deal. Priced at €32-€36 depending on the meeting, this offer provides entry, race card, catering voucher, drinks voucher and a €5 Tote bet.
In addition to the above options a selection of hospitality deals are also available. Able to cater to parties of up to 170, the dining room located on the first floor of the Limerick Stand offers spectacular panoramic views of the track and the nearby Silvermine Mountains. Fixed price packages are available, with the best advice being to contact the track in advance in order to discuss your individual requirements.
Despite its relatively short season and low number of fixtures, Tipperary scores highly in terms of the average quality of the action on offer, with a total of five contests rated at Group or Graded class. The bulk of those classy contests take place at the fixture for which the track is best known, which unsurprisingly heads our list of top times to visit Tipperary.
Of those five Group/Graded contests, no fewer than four are crammed into this cracking meeting which takes place on the first Sunday in October each year. A little unusual in offering a mixture of flat and jumps action, fans of racing under both codes are in for a treat, with the Group 2 Concorde Stakes over 7f providing the highlight on the level, and the Tipperary Hurdle being the pick of the jumps contests on what is an excellent eight-race card.
Taking place in late June or early July each year, this summertime sizzler may not be able to match “Super Sunday” when it comes to the quality of the racing on offer, but is nevertheless one of the first dates pencilled into the diaries of local racing fans. Traditionally held on a Wednesday evening, a bumper eight-race card provides the punting action, whilst the excellent prizes on offer in the Style Awards ensure there’s also a little friendly competition in the stands. Throw in additional entertainment and a buzzing atmosphere, and it’s no wonder this fixture regularly sells out.
Family Fun Day
And for those looking to take the family along, this late July, Sunday afternoon fixture may well top the pile. Competitive novice and handicapping fare provide the racing entertainment on a seven-race, all-jumps card, whilst a whole host of attractions are available to keep younger racegoers entertained – including a carousel, swing boats, circus acts, bouncy castle, and petting zoo. With special family ticket deals, and free goodie bags and ice creams for the kids, a good time is to be had by all at another of the track’s summer highlights.
The first race meeting in the Tipperary locale took placed on the 27th March 1848, with the action initially being held at the Barronstown Course just to the south of the current location. Little is known of this first fixture, but from the reports which do exist it seems to have been a distinctly low-key affair. It is thought that the sole bookmaker in attendance opted to operate a roulette wheel rather than take bets on the racing action!
The popularity of the course did, however, improve from those humble beginnings. Indeed, barring a forced closure between 1872 and 1881 due to an extensive outbreak of smallpox, Barronstown continued to hold meetings into the early 1900s.
1986: ‘Tipperary Racecourse’ Rebranding
Despite that longevity, the 1910s saw plans begin to be drawn up by a consortium led by T Gardiner Wallis, proposing that a track be built at the nearby Limerick Junction. Sure enough, this new course opened for business in September 1916, going by the name of Limerick Junction Racecourse until being rebranded as Tipperary Racecourse some 70 years later in 1986.
Upgraded Facilities & New Races
That period between name changes saw a steady upgrade of facilities, including the opening of a new grandstand and hospitality areas. However, it wasn’t until after the retitling that the quality of the action on the track really began to increase: the Concorde Stakes making its debut in 1991, the Tipperary Hurdle, Joe Mac Novice Hurdle and Like A Butterfly Novice Chase coming in 1997, followed by the Fairy Bridge Stakes in 2003.
Always a quality course for maiden contests, perhaps the best example of this came in 2001 when, having each scored on debut at Tipperary the previous year, High Chapparal and Hawk Wing went on to finish first and second in the Epsom Derby. Mixing the traditional Irish race day experience, with modern facilities, and racing action that is well above average, Tipperary is well established as one of Ireland’s very best smaller tracks, and well worth a visit.