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1. Fairyhouse Easter Festival
📅: 8th - 10th April 2023
📍 : Fairyhouse Road, Ballybin, Ratoath, County Meath
Runners on Parade for the Boylesports Irish Grand National during day two of the Fairyhouse Easter Festival at Firehouse Racecourse, Ratoath - 22nd April 2019. Source: PA Images.
While some race meetings are moved around yearly, the Fairyhouse Easter Festival is very much set in stone. Since 1870, the Irish Grand National has been run at the Meath venue on Easter Monday. With such winners as Arkle, Flyingbolt, Tied Cottage, Brown Lad and Desert Orchid, it is one of the most iconic jump racing races and is Ireland's richest national hunt prize.
Run over three miles and five furlongs; it is a race that always provides drama, thrills and spills, with the winner always needing a degree of luck for a chance at success. The starting prices of recent locally-trained winners, Lord Lariat in 2022 and Freewheelin Dylan in 2021, at 40/1 and 150/1, respectively, show that it can be a bit of a lottery for punters placing a bet. Traditionally attracting a huge number of racegoers from Dublin, Grand National day is also an event of colour, hospitality and fun.
But for those looking for a quieter day at the races, Boylesports Gold Cup Day is still full of high-quality action. Ticket and general information can be found on Fairyhouse Racecourse's website and social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.
Read our betting guide to the Irish Grand National here.
2. Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival
📅: 25th - 29th April 2023
📍 : Punchestown, Naas, County Kildare
Cilaos Emery and Patrick Mullins (left) go on to win the Donohue Marquees Flat Race during day one of the Punchestown Festival at Punchestown, Co. Kildare, Ireland - 26th April 2016. Source: PA Images.
Many of the racecourses in Ireland cater for both flat and national hunt racing, but Punchestown is only interested in the jumps. When the Cheltenham Festival is over, the attention of Irish punters will inevitably turn to the Punchestown Festival. Here, the cream of Irish jump racing gather for some of the richest prize money of the year.
The competition is always high on the track, but in recent times, the festival has been dominated by Willie Mullins, with the Carlow-based trainer hoovering up winners. But for the tens of thousands who attend each day at the track, it is as much about the festive experience than anything else - a week-long party as summer approaches. Ticket and general information can be found on Punchestown's website and social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.
Read our betting guide for the Punchestown Festival here.
3. The Curragh Irish Derby Festival
📅: 23rd - 25th June 2023 (subject to change)
📍 : Curragh Racecourse, Newbridge, County Kildare
Foxy Forever was ridden by Colm O'Donoghue (bottom centre) on the way to winning the Tote Rockingham Handicap during day three of the Irish Derby Festival at the Curragh Racecourse, Co. Kildare, Ireland - 28th June 205. Source: PA Images.
While Punchestown is the home of national hunt racing in Ireland, Curragh is the home of flat racing. And the jewel in the crown of their racing calendar is the Dubai Duty Irish Derby Festival. The glittering meeting is one of the social events of the year that also attracts some of the best three-year-old horses from across Europe. But this is just one of a number of top-quality races that take place across all three days of action.
The racecourse has undergone significant renovations recently, which have guaranteed racegoers access to world-class facilities. Ticket and general information can be found on the Curragh's website and social media channels, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Read our betting guide for the Irish Derby here.
4. Galway Races Summer Festival
📅: 31st July - 6th August 2023
📍 : Galway Racecourse, Ballybrit, County Galway
Darkened ridden by Joey Sheridan (left) wins The Ardilaun Hotel Handicap during day seven of the 2020 Galway Races Summer Festival at Galway Racecourse - 2nd August 2020. Source: PA Images.
Perhaps the most famous and storied of the Irish racing festivals is the Galway Races. Long in advance of the meeting, it is often nearly impossible to find hotels or any form of accommodation in a city that is a haven for tourists all year round, regardless. But if you do happen to do some planning in advance, sourcing a bed and tickets, the fare on offer is very memorable.
Running over a whole week, the racing is a mix of jump and racing action, with the feature events being the Galway Plate and the Galway Hurdle. After the racing, visitors will filter into the city for some food and drinks, and the party will inevitably continue until the long hours.
Known locally as simply 'race week', it is the highlight of the year for so many, and it's a festival that definitely needs to be experienced in person. Ticket, results, videos, cards and general information can be found on Galway Race's website and social media channels, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Read our betting guide for the Galway Races here.
5. The Listowel Harvest Festival
📅: 17th - 23rd September 2023
📍 : Listowel Racecourse, Tralee Road, County Kerry
Listowel, Ireland - 15th September 2014: Spectators watching horses racing on Listowel race track during Harvest festival. Source: Gabriel Cassan.
The town of Listowel, the home of the famous Irish playwright John B. Keane, is worth a visit at any time of the year. Home to many picturesque pubs and stunning scenery, it is a must for anyone visiting the south of Ireland. But the Listowel Harvest Festival is traditionally one of the town's biggest events of the year, and it draws in big crowds.
Having said this, there is a relaxed atmosphere at the meeting, and racegoers will have no trouble navigating between the bars and the betting rings or any of the other activities on offer. The big race of the meeting is Guinness Kerry National, and much like the race itself, punters need plenty of stamina to last the seven days of this famous Festival, which, for many, marks the end of the summer. Ticket details and general info can be found on Listowel's website and social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter.
Irish Racing Festival FAQS
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we received about Irish horse racing festivals.
What is the history of racing festivals in Ireland?
The first race day at Ballybrit was in 1869 and, similarly, they have been racing at Punchestown since 1868. The modern Irish Derby dates back to 1866, while they have been racing at Listowel since 1858. Fairyhouse has been hosting the Irish Grand National since 1870.
In modern times, racing organisers have often favoured festival meetings over one-day events. For instance, in 2018, Leopardstown decided to combine their three best national hunt fixtures into the Dublin Racing Festival, which is run over a weekend in February and includes eight Grade 1 contests.
What is the biggest racing festival in Ireland?
On attendance, traditionally the Galway Races attract the most people through the gates. But attendance at Galway has dropped slightly in recent years and it is being usurped by the Punchestown Festival. The richest festival of racing in terms of prize money is Irish Champions Weekend, which takes place at Leopardstown and the Curragh in September.
Can I make money betting on racing festivals in Ireland?
Like any form of gambling, there are risks attached. However, punters tend to be reassured at big racing festivals that all of the runners will be primed for the races given the generous prize money, with every jockey determined to bag the top prize.
What's the best betting strategy for big racing festivals?
During big racing festivals, bookmakers will often offer generous specials and betting terms to entice new customers. So it can pay to shop around bookmakers, such as Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Betfair and William Hill, who will be vying with each other to attract punters.
While graded races at the big festivals are often small-runner affairs with short-priced favourites, bookmakers tend to offer competitive each-way terms on the big handicap races. In this sense, punters are often afforded better value and have a better chance of making a profit during the big racing festivals.
Are there any other big racing festivals?
Yes, while those listed in our top five are some of the most famous racing festivals, there have been new additions in recent decades that have become big events. In national hunt racing, the two-day Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in early February has become the major trial meeting ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
On the flat, the Longines Irish Champions Weekend is two days of top-quality action, including the Irish St. Leger, marking the last major meeting of the season. But there are also hidden gems like the Bellewstown Summer Festival and the Killarney July Festival.
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