How Ireland Developed Into a World-Class Horse Racing Country

horse racing in Ireland

There are few more popular sports in Ireland than horse racing and it’s got a hugely rich tradition in a country rightly noted for its lush pasture and fondness for the craic.

Why is Ireland head and shoulders above the rest of the world when it comes to its equine prowess?

Here’s the lowdown and a little bit of history on the country’s horse racing past.

Horse Racing Is Still Hugely Popular worldwide

Globally, horse racing is still one of the most popular sporting (and betting) opportunities around.

Punters’ love of the gee-gees has really never waned and the sport is just as popular in Ireland now as it ever was.

It contributes so much, not just in terms of entertainment, but as a major contributor to the economy of the country and is an important annual fixture in the lives of its countrymen.

How did it get to be this way and is it likely to continue?

History Of Horse Racing In Ireland

It’s a much older sport than many people think – in fact, mentions of it in Irish history go as far back as some of the older and most sacred Irish texts and historical documents.

Some Irish tomes mention racing happening at The Curragh in County Kildare as far back as 110BC – that’s an astonishingly long time ago.

But we need to fast forward a good few hundred years to find horse racing in the form we know and understand it today, in the country.

It was in the 17th century that King Charles II ruling in England introduced something called the King’s Plate Races.

These were designed to feature the fastest and strongest horses – and this is where we can also see the origins of the sport becoming hugely important to the Irish economy.

It grew in importance and by the 1920s, the Irish Free State was allowing betting, which made it much simpler and more accessible to Irish players, making it even more popular as a spectator sport and something that drew people together.

It was around this time that there was more regulation coming into the sport and Irish horse racing was more freely promoted internationally too.

Over the last hundred years, it’s only grown in popularity and international acclaim meaning that as we hit the 21st century it was perhaps one of the main contributors to the success of the Irish economy.

Horse Racing And The Irish Economy

Right now, the Irish economy makes roughly €2.46 billion annually from horse racing – so it’s a huge industry with a massive impact.

It’s not only an income generator, but something that contributes a huge amount in terms of employment too – with about 34,000 people who have jobs that rely on horse racing and horse breeding.

Attendance at horse races globally is still very high and there’s a huge appetite for races outside of Ireland within the country too.

Within Ireland, it’s estimated that around 1.2 million people attend the races there each year making it one of the most popular sporting events in the country.

Only GAA games have a similar kind of attendance figure. Both sports bring a lot of travel and tourism into the country as well as interest in terms of TV coverage and online, on social media.

Horse Racing And Gambling In Ireland

Gambling and studying the odds on horse racing is a hugely important aspect of the sport too.

Of course, bookmakers employ a lot of people throughout the country – which is very obviously important to the success of the sport and its continued popularity.

One of the biggest tracks in the country is in Leopardstown. In 2020, which was the height of the global health crisis, there were still bets amounting to around €2.6 million played!

Online betting is said to be comparable in size and scope and people’s interest in studying the odds and making careful gambling choices is still as popular as ever.

There is also a huge amount of investment coming in from overseas. Figures estimate that of the €125 million invested in breeders and auction houses in the period of fifteen years covering 2002-16 – roughly 50% of it came from abroad.

Not only that, the Irish Government invested €57 million in updating and refurbishing many of the national racecourses in the country, further confirming its commitment to the sport.

So as you can see, it’s a sport that provides jobs, it’s still an incredibly popular pastime and it shows no signs of waning!

It brings in good amounts of investment from abroad and it plays a pivotal role in keeping the Irish economy afloat.

For something that has been around for thousands of years, that’s no mean feat and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down yet. Long may it continue.