Down Royal is one of only two race tracks located in Northern Ireland. In this case, the racecourse is situated around 14 miles from Belfast to the south.
Racing is staged all year at Down Royal, with both Flat and National Hunt racing taking place. Around twelve meetings are planned annually.
Down Royal’s yearly highlight on the level is the Ulster Derby meeting in June, while some competitive jumping action also takes place in the colder months.
- Address – Down Royal Racecourse, Maze, Lisburn, BT27 5RW.
- Owner – Merrion Property Group.
- TV Station – Racing TV.
- Type – Flat and National Hunt.
- Surface – Turf.
The quality of Down Royal’s track has never been in question.
While the Ulster Derby and Ulster Oaks take centre stage on the Flat, over jumps this track has been entrusted with hosting winners such as Florida Pearl, Beef Or Salmon, Looks Like Trouble and the great Kauto Star.
Down Royal is a right-handed track and very wide, in fact the circuit is almost two miles around in near enough a square shape. The track undulates for around the last mile or so.
Given its square shape, turns can be tight although for five-furlong races there is a chute for the start, meaning only a dogleg right is taken by the field.
The finish is slightly uphill, but isn’t seen as too testing for Flat horses in general, especially given the perceived tightness of the turns which require a horse to be quick and nimble.
Flat Track Analysis
Those to have ridden Down Royal say while it’s big, you do need a pacey horse who can turn on a sixpence.
That being said, some riders claim that those at the front often aim for home a little too soon here and so with that slight uphill finish to come, there is an opportunity for hold-up horses too but only in certain circumstances.
On the five-furlong sprint track it really is all about pace according to the jocks. Getting a low draw on the dogleg can help, with front-runners this time doing well as they can be hard to catch if they get away, especially on quick ground.
Once again right-handed and slightly undulating, Down Royal’s jumps course keeps the same square-like shape and is just a furlong shy of two miles in length.
Two-mile hurdle contests begin on the chase course here after the final fence and the first hurdle is taken only once.
The chase course at Down Royal features ten fences per complete circuit; four in the last four furlongs with the run-in after the last being less than a furlong. Over two miles on this big chase track, no single fence is taken more than once.
Jumps Track Analysis
Jump jockeys see Down Royal generally as a nice, big, galloping track and very fair in nature.
Unless tailed off or going too hard too soon, horses from almost any racing position can win over the jumps at Down Royal according to riders which keeps things simple and fair for punters.
This track then offers backers a rare chance to simply check ratings and form and go for the best horse in the race.
Visiting Down Royal Racecourse
Those visiting Down Royal will find various facilities, including bars in the main grandstand, the Dark Horse Wine Bar and an outdoor bar trailer. Hospitality is plentiful here too, with private bars featured.
Food and drinks are known to be very good here, while picnic facilities are also available at what is a very friendly racecourse.
How to Get to Down Royal
If you’re driving to Down Royal, aim for the free car park which is signposted on arrival. From Belfast use the M1 out of the city and head south. Take junction 7 onto Blaris Road and follow the signs to Down Royal.
There is also a bus option. A return bus leaves Donegal Square West around an hour and a half ahead of the first race on each card. The bus returns around an hour after the last race is scheduled to go off. This can be booked in advance. Taxi services are also plentiful.
The closest airports are Belfast International, which is 20 miles north up the A26, and Belfast City which is only 18 miles away via the M1 using the directions above.
Where to Stay
Lisburn is only 4½ miles away where there are a few hotels, but if commuting isn’t too much of a hassle then easily the best option is to stay in Belfast.
Major Events at Down Royal
Although Ulster Derby day gets rather lost on the wider racing world as it clashes with the final day of Royal Ascot, it remains Down Royal’s most important Flat racing fixture.
Even more important races take place within the jumps racing sphere in the autumn and winter at a track that arguably deserves even more big race days.
Top Down Royal races each year include:
|Ulster Oaks||3yo+ Fillies’ Handicap, Flat||1m2½f||June|
|Ulster Derby||3yo Only, Premier Handicap, Flat||1m5f||June|
|WKD Hurdle||4yo+, Hurdle, Grade 2, Jumps||2m1f||October or November|
|Handicap Hurdle||4yo+, Grade B Hurdle, Jumps||2m1f||October or November|
|Champion Chase||5yo+, Chase, Grade 1, Jumps||3m||October or November|
|Chase||4yo+, Chase, Grade 2, Jumps||2m3½f||October or November|
About Down Royal Racecourse
Down Royal and Downpatrick racecourses often confuse regular racing fans.
While being in Northern Ireland places them within the United Kingdom, the authority split of Great Britain and All-Ireland means that Down Royal is under the auspices of the HRI rather than the BHA.
After years of offering excellent racing on its unique track, controversy arose at Down Royal back in the autumn of 2018 when a dispute began over the course’s ownership.
In October of that year, owners Merrion Property Group didn’t see eye to eye with the operators of the racecourse, the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders.
The DRCHB announced that it would cease operations before the end of 2018. This put the very future of the track at risk, at least in the short term, with many fearing it would have to close.
Merrion however stated quickly that they would run the course themselves from January 2019 onwards. Having done that, the course has thankfully continued to provide excellent racing over both codes which has kept alive a more than 330-year tradition of racing in the area.
The sport is known to have taken place in and around Down Royal since at least 1685, with the current course staging races officially since the early 1700’s.