Laytown Races: 150-year-old tradition of horse racing on the beach

CNN  — 

For just a few hours every year, a stretch of sand on the Irish coast transforms for perhaps the most unique event on the horse racing calendar.

Laytown Races – 26 miles from the country’s capital Dublin – is the only official beach race in Europe.

The 150-year-old tradition attracts more than 5000 regular visitors every year and, apart from the obvious difference, it’s like any other race meeting.

“It will be run under the same rules as the Gold Cup or Cheltenham,” Joseph Collins, Chairman of Laytown Races, told CNN.

“We’ve got stewards, official starters and handicappers. The horses will all be dope tested and identity checked, all that happens here too.”

Organizers are in a race against time to set up the spectacle, battling against the tide to build the track and enclosures on the sand.

horse races laytown beach
Horse racing on the beach for 150 years
02:01 - Source: CNN

Spectators then pack into a makeshift “grandstand,” made up of steps cut into an elevated sand dune, to enjoy the historic event.

The first recorded meeting was in 1868 and was initially in conjunction with the Boyne Regatta. It’s thought that the rowing competition was held at high-tide and the racing at low-tide.

More than 5000 regular visitors watch the horse racing on the temporary track at Laytown.

Tragedy forces change

“It’s exciting, it’s different, it’s challenging. Much easier now than it use to be,” trainer Dermot Weld told CNN.

The former U-shaped track, which saw horses race right against the tide, has since given way to a six or seven furlong straight.

The need for change to the original format was laid bare in 1994 when three horses were fatally injured during an unfortunate race meeting.

Read: Roaring Lion claims victory at Irish Champion Stakes

Read: The white-faced horse who’s the talk of the racecourse

Other safety measures have ensured that only experienced jockeys and horses are permitted to run.

“It’s sanitized for safety,” admits Collins.

However, despite the alternations, the spectacle still maintains its excitement and continues to attract a global audience every year.

“There will always be an element of unpredictability about it but that’s part of the enjoyment,” said Weld.