Leopardstown Racecourse Guide
There are few nations so in love with the horse racing game as Ireland. A fact reflected by the total of 26 racetracks the Emerald Isle manages to cram into a relatively small space. And of those 26, one of the most prestigious resides 8km to the south of Dublin city centre in Leopardstown.
Completed in 1888, the track has grown to become the nation’s premier dual-purpose venue offering both flat and national hunt racing of the very highest order. Providing the stage for a plethora of Irish racing superstars over the years, and offering a first-class race day experience to visitors, it is no surprise that a visit to this track features on the bucket list of many a racing fan.
Dublin Racing Festival
Such is the consistent excellence on offer at this Grade 1 track that pinpointing one meeting to stand above the rest is no easy task. However, when it comes to racing festivals there are few things to better a multi-day National Hunt affair with a liberal serving of Group class contests. With that in mind, it is the exceptional Dublin Racing Festival which just wins our vote.
Dublin Racing Festival Details
The mighty Cheltenham Festival may be the giant of the jumps campaign, but it isn’t the first star-studded extravaganza of the year. Lighting up the stage approximately one month before events at Prestbury Park is one of the standout events of the Irish National Hunt season.
- Taking place in early February each year, the two-day meeting takes place on a punter-friendly Saturday and Sunday.
- One of the newest additions to the racing festival scene, the event took place for the first time in 2018.
- A total of 15 races are staged over the two days, including no fewer than 10 graded contests.
- Opening day highlights include the Grade 1 trio of the Dublin Chase, the Irish Arkle Novice Chase, and the Irish Champion Hurdle.
- The Irish Gold Cup then headlines the Sunday card, with the fellow Grade 1 contests of the Flogas Novice Chase and the Spring Juvenile Hurdle featuring prominently on the undercard.
- Close to 30,000 racegoers attend the meeting over the two days.
- One of the most valuable meetings of the National Hunt season, a total of €1.8 million is up for grabs across the 15 contests.
Visiting Leopardstown Races
With an abundance of quality on offer throughout the year, and a convenient location close to the Irish capital city, it is no wonder that Leopardstown is so popular with Irish racegoers and those travelling across from the British mainland. For those interested in making the trip, the following information may be of use.
- Location – The track is situated in the leafy suburbs of Foxrock, just to the south of Dublin city centre.
- Address – Leopardstown Racecourse, Foxrock, Dublin 18, D18 C9V6, Ireland.
- Contact details – email: info@Leopardstown.com, Phone: +33 01 289 0500, Twitter: @LeopardstownRC
- Tickets – There are two main ticket types available at Leopardstown: General Enclosure and Premium Level Access, with prices vary according to the type of meeting – see the tracks official website for up-to-date information.
- Dress code – Leopardstown operates a smart casual dress code at all meetings, recommending that racegoers wear smart, practical clothing whilst remembering to take account of the weather.
- Transport – The recommended ferry crossing for those travelling from the British mainland is the Holyhead to Dublin route. Alternatively, Dublin Airport welcomes frequent flights from a number of major UK airports. Once in Ireland the track is easily accessed via the M50 motorway, with free car parking available at the course.
- Accommodation – A number of hotels and guesthouses lie within a mile of the course, including the highly rated Clayton Hotel and The Grange. Alternatively, a huge number reside within the tourist hotspot of Dublin.
- Hospitality – The track offers an excellent selection of hospitality packages in the 1888 restaurant and Leopardstown Pavilion, with a range of Private suites providing a more bespoke experience also available. See the hospitality section of the track website for full details.
- Food and Drink – Featuring three floors of bars and catering facilities, racegoers are never far away from refreshment: with The Sports Lounge, Paddock Food Hall, and Leopardstown Pavilion amongst an excellent array of options.
Not as old as some tracks in this most racing-mad of nations, Leopardstown has nevertheless overtaken the majority of its rivals in terms of prestige and the quality of the action on offer, growing from relatively humble beginnings to become of the biggest players in the Irish racing scene.
From the Home of the Lepers to a Royal Visit
Leopardstown is certainly a peculiar name for a town on the east coast of Ireland given the dearth of spotted wildcats in the area. The name is in fact a loose translation of the original Baile na Lobhar, meaning “Town of the Lepers”. And back in the Middle Ages Leopardstown was indeed the place Dublin would send their lepers in order to avoid the spread of leprosy in the capital. Over time leprosy disappeared, but the town remained, and it’s safe to say things are a whole lot brighter for the locals these days.
And of course, the pride and joy of the town is this wonderful racetrack. Built by Captain George Quin and opened in 1888, the track is closely modelled on the British course of Sandown which the good captain used as his inspiration. And other than being a left-handed track as opposed to the right-handed circuit at Sandown, the two courses do bear a striking resemblance.
A hit with local racegoers from the moment of its inception, by 1907 the course had attracted the attention of the British Royal family, with King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra making the trip over to take in a meeting.
Centenary Celebrations and Modernisation
As the profile of the track continued to grow, so too did the quality of the action on offer, as top-class contests began to appear on the calendar in ever-increasing numbers. Highlights include:
- 1950 – Irish Champion Hurdle makes its debut.
- 1976 – The track’s most famous flat event of the Irish Champion Stakes takes place for the first time.
- 1986 – First appearance of the Savills Chase.
- 1987 – First running of the Irish Gold Cup.
- 1996 – Christmas Hurdle added to the Christmas Festival.
Owned by the Horse Racing Board of Ireland since 1967, the track marked its centenary with one of the biggest ever crowds at the track in 1988. There was a pretty famous name amongst the winners that day too, as Lester Piggott’s daughter Tracy showed that the winning knack runs in the family – winning the Ladies’ race on her very first professional ride.
Moving on to the present day Leopardstown provides one of the most modern race-day experiences on either side of the Irish Sea, with the track featuring its own golf course, clubhouse, designer shops and fitness centre, in addition to the top-class selection of bars and eateries. The on-site Racing Hall of Fame meanwhile pays homage to the past, with Vincent O’Brien, Pat Eddery, Arkle, Dawn Run and Nijinsky just a selection of the inductees.
Little wonder this gem of a course is such a popular destination with racegoers.
Other Meetings & Races at Leopardstown
In terms of the average class of the racing on offer, Leopardstown must come pretty close to the top of the pile. So good is the standard of the fare at the venue that the Dublin Festival only topped our list by a whisker. For those planning on paying a visit to the track, the following trio of events are well worth a look.
They don’t do things by halves on the racing front over in Ireland. Whilst Wales has the one-day Welsh Grand National meeting at Chepstow, and the two-day Boxing Day meeting lights up the English programme, Leopardstown celebrates the festive season with a full four days of racing action. Kicking off on Boxing Day and running through to the 29th of December this cracker of a meeting lays on a total of 28 contests, including the Grade 1 highlights of the Racing Post Novice Chase, the Paddy Power Chase, the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, the Christmas Hurdle, the Savills Chase, the Neville Hotels Novice Chase and the Matheson Hurdle. At any other track, this would comfortably be the standout fixture of the season.
Irish Champions Weekend
A joint venture with The Curragh, the two-day Irish Champions Weekend takes place each year in September, with Leopardstown providing the stage for the opening Saturday of the meeting. And for flat racing fans, it doesn’t get much better than this. Of the seven contests on offer, five are rated at Group 3 level or above, including the excellent Group 1 Matron Stakes for the Fillies and Mares.
It is however the Irish Champion Stakes itself which takes centre stage; an exceptional 1m2f contest, the event attracts the very best of the European middle-distance performers, with the likes of Sadler’s Wells, High Chaparral, Dylan Thomas and Sea The Stars featuring on an illustrious roll of honour.
Classic Trials Day
Taking place towards the start of the flat campaign in early April each year, this quality fixture provides an early sighting of the stars expected to be contesting the season’s major events. Newmarket clues abound in the trials for the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, whilst the feature event of the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes has been won by Galileo, High Chaparral and Harzand – all of whom went on to Epsom Derby success. Offering seven cracking contests in total this springtime meeting is one of the key early fixtures of the Irish racing season.
Biggest Races at Leopardstown
With a total of 36 contests rated at Listed level or above, few tracks can match the Foxrock venue when it comes to the quantity of high-level events on offer. There are too many to list here, but standouts include:
- Irish Gold Cup, Dublin Racing Festival – Grade 1, 3m
- Irish Champion Hurdle, Dublin Racing Festival – Grade 1, 2m
- Arkle Novice Chase, Dublin Racing Festival – Grade 1, 2m1f
- Spring Juvenile Hurdle, Dublin Racing Festival – Grade 1, 2m3½f
- Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase, Dublin Racing Festival – Grade 1, 2m5f
- Racing Post Novice Chase, Christmas Festival – Grade 1, 2m1f
- Christmas Hurdle, Christmas Festival – Grade 1, 3m
- Savills Chase, Christmas Festival – Grade 1, 3m
- Irish Champion Stakes, Irish Champions Weekend – Group 1, 1m2f
- Matron Stakes, Irish Champions Weekend – Group 1, 1m
Both the flat and National Hunt action take place on the same track at Leopardstown. Broadly oval, left-handed and 1m6f in circumference, this almost completely flat track is well suited to the long-striding galloping type of performer, with the gentle bends placing few demands on the balance of the contenders.
The only major undulation at the course comes in the two and a half furlong home straight which climbs slowly but steadily to the line. This feature, in combination with the fact that many races are run at a fierce gallop, places real demands on the stamina of the contenders at a track which is far more testing than many give it credit for. The going itself rarely adds to these stamina demands however as, thanks to a quick-draining subsoil and efficient watering system, the track can generally be relied upon to produce excellent racing ground all year round.
Those tackling the chase course face a total of ten fences per circuit, six of which lie in the backstretch, with just one in the short home straight. The fences themselves are stiff but not unduly testing. If there is to be an error, it will most likely come at one of the first three in the back straight due to their proximity to one another. Events over the smaller obstacles feature seven flights per lap, with again just one in the home straight before a short run-in to the line.
In addition to the main circuit, the National Hunt track also features an alternative hurdles course, used at certain times of year to protect the ground of the main course. Lying inside the outer track, this course is that bit tighter and lends itself to nippy front running types.
The flat course shows no real pace bias. Prominent racers can go well, whilst the expansive straight sections and gentle bends give those coming from behind plenty of time to build up a head of steam. One area which can catch inexperienced riders out is the final bend into the home straight – drift too wide here and all winning chances may be gone.
One of the fairest tracks in the whole of British and Irish racing, the only draw bias of note comes in the six-furlong events, where the proximity of the start of the first bend bestows a slight advantage to those drawn low.