Why you must come to Dublin this August and September
Horses and Ireland are synonymous. Speak to any Irish person and you’ll soon find a horse or two lurking in their life. Whether it’s riding at the weekend, playing Polo in Phoenix Park, or remembering a grandparent who bred horses down the country, we all have our horsey stories. One reason is that the land is suited to it. The Irish National Stud (www.irishnationalstud.ie) in nearby Co Kildare is famous the world over, not least because the iron-rich soil of that county puts fire in the blood of the horses born there. Another is that horses complement the Irish temperament. Unpredictable, exciting and great fun, it’s a match made in heaven. Steeplechasing – that is, racing over jumps (also known as National Hunt), originated in Co Cork, Ireland. Back in 1752, Edmund Blake bet his neighbour, the wonderfully named Cornelius O’Callaghan, that he could beat him in a cross-country race from Buttevent to Doneraile. Going from church steeple to church steeple, they jumped everything in their path. It is not recorded who won (do let us know if you have an insight), but as a result of that famous bet, we’re still gazing in wonder at the magic of brave jockeys steeplechasing on glorious Thoroughbred horses around the world today. Come late summer, these beautiful animals take over the Irish imagination with a stellar calendar, both social and equine, as the Dublin Horse Show comes to the RDS in August, and the Irish Champions Weekend brings the best of racing to Leopardstown and the Curragh in September.
Dublin Horse Show
Set in the gorgeous grounds of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge, the Dublin Horse Show is a national institution. Since it was first held in 1864, with just 366 entries and a prize fund of £520, it has grown. In 1869 it featured one of the first “horse leaping” contests in the world. According to the Horse Show’s own history, “The prizes for the high and wide leaps were £5 for first and £2 for second with £10 and a cup to the winner of the championship and a riding crop and a fiver to the runner up…”. Now expect more than 130 classes and almost a million Euros in prize money over the five days. Small children dream of showing their ponies in the grassy enclosures; side saddle riders tip elegantly by; the most hardened cynical breeders think that maybe this horse, this year, might, just possibly might, be the One to win the Connemara prize… There’s a big social scene alongside, as people from all walks of life show up and show off, but the highlight each day is always the show jumping. From the giddy height of the Puissance wall, to the dashing daring Speed Stakes, to the international pride at stake in the Nations Cup, expect to see the very best this sport has to offer. Ladies’ Day is on Thursday, but every day is special. Tickets cost €22 for adults (concessions available), but pay a little extra for the best seats to watch the show jumping action in the main arena. Insider’s tip: head for the Warm Up ring, just outside the equine entrance to the main arena, to see riders and horses get ready for their big moment. There are also practice rings over the road at Simmonscourt (included in your entry ticket), where you can see laid back grooms putting their charges through their paces. Great fun! August 9th – 13th 2017. www.dublinhorseshow.com
Irish Champions Weekend
One of Europe’s richest racing weekends, the Longines Irish Champions Weekend is two days of heady horsey glory divided between the Leopardstown and Curragh Racecourses. Each course has its own unique character: Leopardstown being in the picturesque foothills of the Dublin Mountains; while The Curragh is on the world-famous plains of Co Kildare. The race card at each is pretty special too, with the St Ledger, the Irish Champion Stakes, and the National Stakes all featuring.
With centuries of breeding behind them, and designed purely for the glories of speed, Thoroughbreds are the most elegant animals in the equine kingdom. Expect a little extra elegance of the human kind however, with the Longines Prize for Elegance, which is sponsored by The Merrion Hotel, and is awarded to the most elegant woman and man. Register online (www.irishchampionsweekend.ie), and then present your most stylish foot forward on Saturday at Leopardstown to win a overnight stay for two at The Merrion. You’ll be staying in The Penthouse Suite, with full Irish breakfast the following morning, plus dinner for two in The Cellar Restaurant including a specially chosen bottle of wine, and a spa treatment per person. Definitely worth getting dressed up for.
On the Sunday, head to The Curragh early for The Curragh Thoroughbred Trail, which gives you the chance to get behind the scenes at some of the incredible training yards and stud farms in this part of the world. These book out early, so look up your options at www.irishchampionsweekend.ie and call the Curragh +353 (0) 45 441205 to secure your place. Insider’s Tip: Tickets are €25 per day, and €30 at the gate, but be sure to book in advance this year for The Curragh on September 10th. They’re creating a major new stand, so there’ll be a more limited capacity this year. The racing however will be unlimited excitement – guaranteed! September 9th and 10th 2017. www.irishchampionsweekend.ie