The course no longer had a u-turn, consequently restricting race distances to between 5 and 7 furlongs on a straight track. Over the years the horse racing events came to the fore and now Laytown is one of the very few official beach race meetings to take place in Europe and the only one in Ireland..
In the days leading up to the meeting, a temporary grandstand along with numerous marquees for use as restaurants, a weighing room, offices, jockeys changing rooms etc are all erected in the race field. But for one day usually in September, the County Meath hamlet is transformed when the colour and excitement of horse racing pays its annual visit. A parade ring is built, along with areas for bookmaking pitches and public catering being set up ready for the arrival of the crowds.
This year’s event takes place on Thursday 8th September 2011, when upwards of 5,000 racegoers will converge by the sea, ready for an afternoon and evening of top class flat racing.
For several weeks before raceday, senior members of the committee regularly check the beach to ascertain the best area for racing.
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Laytown races was considered as an ideal preparation meeting for horses going on to the Galway Autumn Festival, but with that meeting now taking place in late August, this is no longer the case.
The meeting has always been frowned upon by Church leaders. The longer distance races were routed up the beach, where the horses would complete a very tight u-turn at the Bettystown end, before heading back toward the winning post back at Laytown.
The Horse Racing Ireland Website
For 364 days of the year, Laytown is a quiet village situated on the Irish north-east coast. In the early 20th century, the local Parish Priest became involved in the event’s organisation, causing great concern to the Bishop of Meath, not only for the gambling and drinking that was taking place, but by the supposed Church endorsement of it. Over the years, the Church have made many attempts to put an end to the event, but racing at Laytown went from strength to strength.
In 1994 there was a tragic accident in the opening race, when one horse became spooked by a small tidal stream that had occurred in the sand, resulting in fallers and a large pile-up. Originating as the Boyne Regatta, the horse racing commenced when the tide went out and the rowing boats could no longer be raced. All entries had to be approved by the authorities to ensure both horses and riders had the required experience for the conditions and the main spectator activities were moved away from the beach, to an elevated three acre green site, commonly referred to as “the race field”, giving superb views of the action down below on the beach.
Attendances of 10,000 plus were commonplace throughout that era, with the beach awash with racegoers, bookmakers, food and drink outlets, ice cream vendors and sideshow attractions.
1994 Safety Changes
The races varied in distance between 5 furlongs and 2 miles. Others, trying to avoid the melee, bolted into the crowd causing many injuries, but thankfully no fatalities. Sadly 3 horses lost their lives and for a time, Laytown’s future as a horse racing venue very much hung in the balance.
After an inquiry into the accident, many safety changes were introduced. There is no racecourse located in the village however, the racing takes place on the beach, or as the locals would have it – on the strand!
History of the Meeting
On the big day itself, as soon as the tide starts to go out, work commences on the chosen area of the beach, with fencing and safety barriers being hammered into the sand.
There has been a race meeting here stretching back as far as 1868