by Paolo Camera
As one of the most traditional of British excursions, day trips to the racecourse have been enjoyed by families for generations. The joy of these equine-flavoured adventures comes from their ability to appeal to all the family. Regardless of gender or age, a trip to the racecourse has something for everybody from dad having a harmless flutter on an outsider to Mum dusting off her most outrageous swirly hat to siblings yelling themselves hoarse from the stands. But, with such a wide variety of horse racing venues and events to choose from, which racecourse extravaganza should you be piling your loved ones into a car for? Naturally, any Grade One National Hunt event will offer you the thumping, adrenaline-filled action that horse racing is known for. But for the best of the best you cannot go wrong with the Hennessy Gold Cup.
First run in 1987, this Grade One event is competed over three miles and features an intimidating 17 fences to jump. The event was originally called the Vincent O’Brien Irish Gold Cup, named after the influential Irish trainer of the same name, but is now called the Hennessy Gold Cup due to a sponsorship deal. Taking place in February each year, the event has historically served as one of the leading trials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup – with two horses (Jodami and Imperial) having won both events in 1993 and 1996 respectively.
Held at the historic Leopardstown Racecourse, this €150,000 centrepiece to the track’s multiple-Grade One card is one of the best horse racing events that Ireland has to offer. Leopardstown, which was built by Captain George Quinn in 1888, was modelled on the iconic Sandown Park Racecourse in England. Acquired by the Horse Racing Board of Ireland in 1967, today the venue holds more than meetings per year. Located just south of Dublin, Leopardstown is set in an idyllic slice of Irish countryside whilst only being a stone’s throw away from the country’s vibrant capital. The track hosts both flat and Grand National events and has seen such famous jockeys as Tom Dreaper grace its turf. This year, it was former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Tony McCoy who won the event. Moreover, McCoy was presented with a crystal bowl at the event to celebrate his record-breaking 20th season as National Hunt’s champion jockey.
One of the reasons why this event is an insanely appealing location for a family day out is that horse racing is not the only activity on offer. Situated in the middle of the racetrack is Leopardstown golf course, punting green and club house, which means that families can fit in a casual round of golf or a club sandwich as well. Moreover, for retail lovers, there are several designer shops and cosy cafes for those who want to enjoy a bit of a spending spree. In addition to this, a farmer’s market pops up on site every Friday and there are numerous pubs and bars for your evening’s entertainment. Whilst these are more delectable appetizers than a main course, this variety of extra activities makes a trip to Leopardstown a much more multifaceted experience, which means that everyone will have something they want to do. However, it cannot be denied, that the main fun to be is found down by the racetrack.
The thrill of live horse racing is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. It is not just the sight of the spectacle itself but the noise and smell of it. The thundering galloping of the horses, the fluctuating cheers and groans of the crowd and the earthy smell of upturned turf. Moreover, the slight chill in the air and the flushed faces of children adorns the experience with a festive feel.