Relying on the tide, huge crowds and big-name jockeys - 13 things you might not know about Laytown races
The incredibly popular and annual tradition of Laytown beach races takes place today (Tuesday) for the 154th staging of the famous fixture.
Racing is only staged once a year on the beach in Meath, meaning it can be a bit of a bucket-list item for racing jockeys, trainers, owners and fans.
With just three hours to get the track ready to race and crowds of more than 5,000 people expected to descend to the beachfront, Laytown is truly a one-off in British and Irish racing.
Below are 13 things you might not know about the very quirky Laytown meeting, courtesy of Racing TV.
1. Officials only have around three hours to assemble the track at Laytown, a process which can only begin when the tide has gone out. Rails, stalls and all the technology required for a meeting is brought in for the day in an impressive logistical feat.
2. The track at Laytown is straight and almost level and contests take place from six furlongs to a mile. Races previously took place up to two miles and around a bend, but reduced distances and field sizes were introduced after an incident in 1994. The maximum field size for races is 10.
3. The sand is regarded as fairly quick and you hear the rattle of hooves as horses let themselves down on the surface. The kickback here doesn’t tend to be too bad as the sand is usually good and solid not long after the tide has receded.
4. Laytown is unsurprisingly popular and crowds in excess of 5,000 have proved common in recent years.
5. In 1950, the Aga Khan – one of the sport’s great owners and grandfather of the present incumbent – attended Laytown races. His one runner that year, Astrida, made a winning trip to the beach in the £100 Julianstown Plate.
6. With limited opportunities to ride at Laytown, riders make it a go-to event. Champion jockeys Ruby Walsh, Colin Keane, Pat Smullen and Joseph O’Brien have all landed winners there. Rachael Blackmore, Paul Townend and Danny Mullins will be among those in action on Tuesday.
7. Laytown has good opportunities for amateurs and some of the best, both past and present, have tasted success at the track including Nina Carberry, Katie Walsh, Patrick Mullins, Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor.
8. It's not just top jockeys that have graced Laytown. Labaik took to the beach seven months before Supreme Novices’ Hurdle glory at Cheltenham. The mulish character didn’t fancy it though - he reluctantly trailed miles behind the rest!
9. Racing was essentially suspended in Britain during the outbreak of the First World War and the loss was Laytown’s gain with a record entry of 73 runners declared for five races. With maximum field sizes now in place, up to 60 runners can currently compete on raceday.
10. Laytown is the most unique meeting in the UK and Ireland among a diverse fixture list, and has generated interest from Japan and around the world.
11. Laytown is particularly targeted by certain trainers and owners, and from Britain too. Jamie Osborne (25 per cent strike-rate) and The Melbourne 10 recorded a treble in 2018, while Ado McGuinness has plenty of runners. From smaller samples, Denis Hogan and James Lambe also have good records.
12. Not only the horses provided a spectacle during the 1920 fixture - the Irish War Of Independence from January 1919 to July 1921 made its mark at Laytown, when reportedly a large force descended on the beach in full military gear. Something of a headache for the stewards?
13. Charles Stewart Parnell was one of the first stewards of Laytown races. One of the most formidable figures in Parliamentary history, he led the fight for Irish Home Rule towards the end of the 19th century. His name was invoked a few years ago in Parliament at the height of the tussle between government and the legislature over Brexit, in acknowledgement of his tactics of obstructionism that drew wider attention to the Irish question.