Alongside Down Royal which is some 25 miles away, Downpatrick is one of just two racecourses situated in Northern Ireland.
This one also claims the distinction of being the oldest race track on the island of Ireland, racing having taken place there since 1685.
Downpatrick usually hosts around ten annual jumps racing meetings which take place from March through to October, the feature fixture being the Ulster Grand National meeting in the spring.
- Address – Downpatrick Racecourse, 24 Ballydugan Road, Downpatrick, County Down, BT30 6TE.
- Owner – Downpatrick Race Club.
- TV Station – Racing TV.
- Type – National Hunt.
- Surface – Turf.
Used for National Hunt racing only, Downpatrick’s track is right-handed in nature and is just about a mile and three furlongs in length.
Although 11 furlongs seems long enough, traditionally Downpatrick hasn’t suited those with a longer stride owing to the ridges and turns involved which means balance and speed are just as important. In fact, the climb to the line and the drop at the other side of it are rather severe.
There are just six fences on each circuit of the chase course. The last two fences are close together on the side of the race track, coming before the final right turn and the short, one-furlong uphill straight.
Jockeys tend to err on the side of track experience being important at Downpatrick, so maybe hold your bets until you find a decent form horse with a strong record around the track.
There are reasons for this. Quirks at Downpatrick include the very steep drop after the winning line, something that horses and jockeys with no past experience of this place can be caught out by.
Jockeys report this track to be one of the most difficult to ride, more seasoned riders in fact being the ones to stick with as they know when to go and when to sit still going up and down the many ridges and hills.
Downpatrick tends to suit those who like to be up at the front end, as long as they aren’t going off too quick, so perhaps stay away from confirmed hold-up horses who absolutely need a strong pace to be seen at their very best.
The final furlong and a half can be very testing for horse and rider, though the fences themselves are reportedly the easiest around so jumping is not the most important betting element to take into account.
Visiting Downpatrick Racecourse
So much history is attached to Downpatrick Racecourse, while the unique nature of the track is not just something for bettors to think about, but it really adds to the aesthetic too.
Looking right from the grandstand, in person you really get the sense of what a climb the horses have in the final furlong alone as they head for the line.
Local food and drink is always served up here on race days, with a family-friendly atmosphere being engendered.
How to Get to Downpatrick
The racecourse sits right off the Ballydugan Road, only a mile from the centre of Downpatrick.
From Belfast, you can exit to the west onto the M1 and then the A24, though the quickest way is down the A7. Downpatrick is just 22 miles from Belfast this way, around a 45-minute drive.
The nearest airports are Belfast International, 40 miles to the northwest, and Belfast City which is 25 miles to the north.
Whichever road you take, simply head for Downpatrick and then follow signs to the racecourse which are easy to spot.
Where to Stay
Although there are limited rooms in and around Downpatrick, most visitors to the track choose to stay in Belfast before organising to travel in.
Staying in Belfast gives you the chance to see many of the tourist attractions while also having a huge choice of hotel rooms, with the racecourse just three quarters of an hour away by road.
Major Events at Downpatrick
By far the biggest race staged at Downpatrick is the Ulster Grand National.
Run every year during the second half of March, the Ulster National is staged over 3 miles, 4½ furlongs and is for those chasers aged 5 or over, taking on 16 fences. As of 2022, the race was worth almost €30,000 to the winner.
Pineau De Re won the race in 2013 before going on to win the Grand National at Aintree a year later.
About Downpatrick Racecourse
As mentioned, Downpatrick is one of only two race tracks in Northern Ireland along with Down Royal, though this one claims to be the oldest in all of Ireland with racing having existed since 1685.
If true, which it is claimed to be, it is quite amazing that the Byerley Turk ran at Downpatrick in 1690. The Byerley Turk, along with the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian, is one of only three stallions to which all thoroughbreds’ pedigrees can be traced back to.
The first known meeting here was run in 1685, just a few miles from where racing takes place now. Though it was stopped just a few times, the sport has continued at Downpatrick since then with the present site hosting official race meetings for over 150 years now.
Although in the UK, Downpatrick runs under the auspices of HRI rather than the BHA, as horse racing in the region has a British Isles and All-Ireland administration set-up.
Owing to this, as well as being only an hour from a naturally soft border with the Republic of Ireland, Euros are accepted at Downpatrick for food, drink and bets, though this is at the discretion of those running each concession.
Much like Down Royal, the other Northern Irish race track, it is rather a shame that Downpatrick doesn’t get more than the ten or so fixtures it hosts each year as it remains a very popular venue for owners, trainers, jockeys and punters alike.