Location and History

Bellewstown Racecourse, set against the picturesque backdrop of the Hill of Crockafotha in County Meath, Ireland, holds a unique charm in the world of horse racing. What it lacks in terms of the most high-profile races or extensive media coverage, it certainly has in terms of the beauty of the course with the Mountains of Mourne to the north and the Irish Sea to the east.

Of the 26 Irish racecourses open for business, it’s one of the ones that hosts the least meetings on an annual basis. In a way, the scarcity of racing held there makes the few events that do take place even more special and memorable.

This quaint but vibrant track boasts a rich history dating back to 1726, with records indicating that racing was introduced by George Tandy, a former mayor of Drogheda, and his friends.

Together they encouraged King George III to sponsor a race there- the Majesty’s Plate – which was valued at £100, a considerable amount of money for the time. Since that date, racing has taken place there every single year, in some cases with just one race meeting that year but, in most cases, with more than that. In 2024 there will be nine race meetings held at Bellewstown.

Renowned for its warm and friendly atmosphere, Bellewstown conducts both Flat and National Hunt racing, typically during three annual festivals: two in the summer (the first over three days in July, the second over two days in August) and another in early autumn, more precisely the first week of October.

The summer festival, often held in July, is particularly notable, featuring a mix of exciting racing and entertaining social events, attracting a diverse crowd from seasoned racing enthusiasts to families and tourists.

Accessing Bellewstown Racecourse is straightforward. Located in County Meath, it's approximately 37 km north of Dublin. By car, it's easily reachable via the M1 motorway, exiting at Junction 7. For those preferring public transport, buses regularly run to Bellewstown from surrounding areas, especially during race days, making the journey inexpensive, convenient and enjoyable.

Types of Racing at Bellewstown and Notable Races

As is the case with most Irish tracks, it hosts a mixture of jumps and flat racing; two separate tracks are used.

The flat one is a left-handed oval of about nine furlongs and is quite sharp. It is also undulating, and the final two furlongs are somewhat uphill. Jockeys who have raced there say the flat track requires balance, as well as pace. Front-runners normally do well here as do horses who have been given an inner draw in the low numbers.

The jumps track has an ever so slightly wider line around what are generally tight bends, making it a little easier for hurdlers than flat runners.

The long straights also mean there’s not too much chance of there being too much traffic where horses are hampered by others; they can sort themselves out on what is a pretty fair track.

The ground tends to be fast when racing takes place here in July.

Unlike the flat track, front-runners aren’t always rewarded because the finish is steeper than on the flat course, giving those racing behind the frontrunners a chance to make up ground, especially when chasing horses who are low on energy over the last couple of furlongs.

This is a view backed up by former jockey Charlie Swan on the At the Races website:

“I found it wasn’t hard to come from off the pace there as they usually go a good gallop and the long straight gives you a chance to get involved from off the pace. In general, I consider it to be a fairer track that many would give it credit for being and I wouldn’t consider it one that would breed a track specialist over hurdles. In terms of the ground, they always do a very good job watering there.”

Not only is the Bellewstown track not used as frequently as the likes of Punchestown or Leopardstown, but it also doesn’t witness quite the same quality of racing. Nonetheless, these are the most high-profile races that it does host:

  • Irish EBF Auction Series Maiden
  • Irish EBF Sires Series Maiden
  • Fillies and Mares Handicap
  • Bellewstown Handicap Hurdle
  • Irish EBF Auction Series Maiden
  • Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle

Bellewstown racing track is perhaps best known for the fact that it was the venue for one of the biggest betting coups in history back in June 26, 1975.

Famed gambler Barney Joseph arranged for a horse he owned, Yellow Sam, to be trained specifically for the purposes of trying to win a National Hunt race there. In the months leading up to the race, the horse didn’t win and was rarely in contention, partly because it was always raced in unfavourable conditions.

On the day of the race, Yellow Sam was priced up at 20/1 at the track. Shortly before the race Joseph arranged for associates of his to place a series of bets at bookmakers around the country at that big price.

Knowing the word would get out that so much money was being placed on Yellow Sam and that its price would crash when everyone realised what was going on, Joseph cut the lines of communication between the on-course bookies and the outside world in the 20 minutes leading up to the race.

A first telephone line appeared to have been (deliberately) cut and Joseph blocked the second one by getting his friend Benny O’Hanlon to occupy the telephone box it was in, pretending to have a lengthy conversation with a (non-existent) dying relative.

Sympathetic racegoers allowed him to ‘speak’ for half an hour.

That was the time that would have allowed the on-course bookmakers to understand a betting coup was in progress and laid off their liabilities on Yellow Sam, also drastically cutting the price in the horse in the process.

Yellow Sam went on to win by two lengths, with Joseph investing all his money (£15,000) on the gamble. He won what would be the equivalent of 1.7 million Euros in today’s money, adjusted for inflation.

Heroes at Bellewstown

Let’s look at the trainers and jockeys who have taken a particular liking to the Bellewstown course over the years by winning on numerous occasions, or who were no strangers to the winner’s enclosure from the few starts they did have.

Top Trainers

  • On the flat, no-one has got to 20 wins at the time of writing, with Joseph Patrick O’Brien coming closest, with 19. That’s a strike rate of 19% but one bettered by his father Aiden O’Brien (28%, 12-42) and Ger Lyons (26%, 11-42)
  • In terms of jumps racing, Gordon Elliott leads the way with 30 wins, almost twice as many as anyone else, at a strike rate of 15%.

Top Jockeys

  • On the flat, CT Keane has won here on 36 occasions, more than anyone else.
  • As is also the case at plenty of other Irish tracks, it’s Ruby Walsh who leads the way when it comes to National Hunt races, with 34 wins, at a hugely impressive strike rate of 30%.

Bellewstown Trivia

  • In September 2021, a few months after Barney Joseph passed away, a memorial race was organised at Bellewstown to commemorate Joseph and the famous Yellow Sam betting coup. In honour of Joseph, something of a mentor to him, Frankie Dettori, in his only ever appearance at the track, was on board 4-1 chance Trueba. The horse was trained by his old friend Jonny Murtagh, especially for the occasion. Dettori and Trueba won the race on a fabulous day that involved Dettori posing in hundreds of selfies and having his own picture taken in the famous phone box.

  • Originally, there was a cricket ground bang in the middle of the track, before it was eventually removed.