Horse racing has been part of Irish culture since around 110BC, but didn’t actually become a sport until around 1666 when King Charles 2nd introduced the King’s Plate Races. Shortly after that, around 1685, the breeding of racehorses increased leading to over 70 horse races being advertised and promoted by 1750.
The steeplechase form of horse racing originated in Ireland between two towns where horse and jockey would navigate their own way to the finish line – there not being a strict “course” as such. Later flags were used to mark out a course of some description.
Horse racing in Ireland gradually developed up to the present day but was temporarily banned in 1917 due to an outcry regarding the amount of oats horses were consuming. The ban didn’t last too long however, as it lead to unrest from the large number of workers employed in the racing industry.
Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is the national authority for thoroughbred racing in Ireland, with responsibility for the governance, development and promotion of the industry under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. The HRI is also responsible for regulating on-course betting in Ireland. An Authorised Officer attends every race meeting with powers similar to a customs and excise officer. There are of course many online and off-line sites where you can find out more about Irish horse racing and place a bet such as irishracing.com.
Today the Irish horse racing industry is worth over one billion Euros per year and employs over 14,00 people. There are 26 racecourses in the country, which is more tracks per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Each course has its own unique character set within the accepted beauty of the Irish landscape.
Major racing events in Ireland include the Galway Festival and the beach-racing which takes place annually at Laytown. Over 1.24 million people attended race meetings in Ireland in 2009 to enjoy not only the racing but also the revelry and entertainment.
Organisation of Racing in Ireland
The racing regulatory body in Ireland was originally The Turf Club which as responsible for ensuring that rules are adhered to. The Turf Club’s regulatory work was transferred to a new limited liability company, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, from 1 January 2018.
Horse Racing Ireland is the national authority responsible for the overall administration, development and promotion of racing in Ireland today.
Other industry bodies include the Racing Academy & Centre of Education (RACE) which provides courses and education for people who would like to make their career in horse racing, whether that be as a jockey or other racing related jobs including trainers, farriers or stable staff.
The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) has represented licensed racehorse trainers in Ireland since its beginnings in 1950. There are about 430 members of the IRTA at present and the body promotes the interest of trainers and addresses concerns that they may have in the industry.
The Association of Irish Racehorse Owners (AIRO) protects the interests of racehorse owners and The Irish Jockeys Association (IJA) represents licensed jockeys in Ireland.
To finish it is perhaps entertaining to recall the firmly tongue-in-cheek comments from the famed mid-20th Century Irish Times columnist and writer Myles Na gCopaleen (aka Brian O’Nolan) who summed up the Irish psyche regarding anyone who questions the validity of gambling on the horses thus: “Do what I do. Carry a small grey American automatic and make sure that it is always stuffed with bullets. Then when some bleating fish-gilled bags opens up and says- ‘Of course backing horses is a mug’s game.’- just empty the gun into his low-grade jungle forehead and explain what you have done to the police. The whole thing will be hushed up and you will never hear another word about it. To try you for murder after such provocation would be to make lobster salad out of the courts of justice.”