The Curragh, Ireland

The Curragh is Irish flat racing’s headquarters. Situated in Co. Kildare, it re-opened in 2019 after a programme of re-development, which included the demolition of the old Victorian stand structure. A reduced calendar of racing was still staged at the Curragh in 2017 and 2018, including the Classics, with lesser races being temporarily loaned out to Naas & Navan.

It is also a world-class training centre and if you are interested, you can watch the thoroughbreds on the gallops each morning at various vantage points.

Curragh Gallops at Maddenstown

The new facility officially opened for business in May 2019, but was not without huge controversy and challenges for the first few meetings. By the time the Irish Champions weekend rolled around in September, it had re-gained some credibility with the racing public and there were high hopes for the 2020 season, until the Covid-19 situation scuppered the start of the calendar.

Getting there

The Curragh is about 45 minutes drive from Dublin airport. It can be reached by bus from Dublin City Centre and other places on big days. Please see https://www.curragh.ie/

Accommodation

The nearest town is Kildare town, there are a couple of hotels here, which I cannot vouch for having never stayed in them: https://www.kildarehousehotel.ie/ & https://silkenthomas.com/

There is the 5* K Club in Kill which is about 20 minutes drive from the Curragh: https://www.kclub.ie/ and there are good options in the Naas area – The Osprey: https://www.ospreyhotel.ie/ & the Killashee Hotel: https://www.killasheehotel.com/ Naas is about 15 minutes drive from The Curragh.

Drinking and eating

The nearby village of Kilcullen has several high standard offerings, including Bardons: http://www.bardons.ie/ Fallons: https://fallons.ie/ & Crean’s Place – all of which I can vouch for.

If you want to grab a great breakfast or lunch prior to racing, Lucy’s Cafe: https://www.curraghcafebylucy.ie/ – which is on the racecourse lands is a great spot. It’s in the TRI Equestrian shop, which is to the right of the roundabout as you drive into the course.

Interior of Lucy’s Cafe at the Curragh

Racecourse

Home to all the Irish Classics, the new stand named the Aga Khan, as a nod to the lands and the finance that HH Aga Khan donated for the greater good of flat racing in Ireland. There are other high profile donors that contributed significantly, as well as the Irish tax payer.

Frankie Dettori after winning the Irish Oaks 2019 on Starcatcher

The stand is set over 4 levels. The lower ground area is a mix of bars, food outlets, betting facilities. The ground floor has a champagne bar which has an outside area where you can view the paddock. The first floor (based on 2019 detail) has a hugely popular Derby bar, which has an outside viewing area to the track. The 2nd floor is given over to members and private boxes and hospitality. However, I will update this information, once I have had the opportunity to visit the Curragh for the 2020 season!

There is also a separate walk-in bistro adjacent to the entrance turnstiles, which offers good quality sit-down hot and cold dishes.

On sunny days, there is plenty of garden furniture surrounding the paddock area, where you can relax and have a drink. You will see looming in the background an old grey tower structure, which is a building that dates from Queen Victoria’s day. This is known as the Queen’s room. On big racedays, there is usually a tour and talk by a local historian, on the background to this. During the re-development, this structure was painstakingly dismantled and put back together again, which was a great nod to the past and preservation.

In 2019 the stand was very much segregated and mostly empty because of the prevailing rules at that time. This caused much consternation and I believe for the 2020 season, there will be a much more egalitarian approach to the seating.

The seating itself is very comfortable – cushioned seating, such as that which can be found at the better premier league football clubs.

There is a food and drink village behind the ‘ring’ where local bars and restaurants showcase their wares, including Hartes of Kildare, which I would recommend for an apres-racing dinner: https://harteskildare.ie/

There is also an outdoor play area for kids and on big days, the usual face-painting and novelty characters walking about – Stars Wars figures for example, or whatever is the topical superhero of the time.

Parade ring and winner’s podium, with the Queen’s room in the background

General vibe

There are relaxed days and evenings at The Curragh, where casual dress will more than cut it. The main dressing up days are Derby day of course, The Guineas meeting (May) and the Oaks (July), as well as the Sunday of the Irish Champions weekend.

Summary

I have always loved The Curragh and really want it to succeed. It was very disappointing for all when 2019 was such a flop. There have been great days at The Curragh, including (more recently) Pinatubo winning the National Stakes on Ledger day in September 2019 and the staging of a one-off charity race to benefit the Pat Smullen Cancer trials initiative. Retired jockeys from the flat and jumps ranks, took part, with AP McCoy winning on Quizzical for Sheila Lavery – beating amongst others – Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry, Joseph O’Brien, Johnny Murtagh and Kieren Fallon.

Watch this space for a further update on the general layout and facilities.

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