Located near Foxrock in Dublin, Leopardstown is viewed by many racing fans as being just about the pick of Ireland’s multiple dual-purpose venues. Rather than anything related to the spotted wildcat, this most picturesque of tracks takes its name from the fact that it is built upon a former lepers’ colony.
It is safe to say the venue attracts a few more visitors these days than the lepers likely would have done, with crowds of up to 20,000 flocking to the track’s major meetings, of which there are several. That popularity is no doubt partly down to the fact that it is – a little surprisingly – the only racecourse located in the capital city of this racing mad nation.
Opened in 1888, the course boasts excellent views of both the Irish Sea and the Wicklow Mountains, in addition to the top-class action available on the track itself of course. Currently staging 23 fixtures over the course of the season, featuring 13 Grade 1 National Hunt events, and two Group 2 contests on the flat, the track also holds the distinction of being the first British or Irish track to hold racing on a Sunday: this may or may not attest to the relative passion the nation holds for horses and religion respectively.
Leopardstown is actually based upon the much-admired dual-purpose course of Sandown Park in England and shares many similar features with the Esher venue. There is one very obvious difference between the two though, as they race left-handed at Leopardstown, whereas Sandown is a right-handed track.
In common with Sandown, Leopardstown’s 1m4f circuit is broadly rectangular/oval in shape, and features long straights and wide sweeping bends, and as such tends to be favoured by the long-striding, galloping type of runner. The track is almost flat throughout, other than the steady climb to the line which greets the contenders upon rounding the final bend. This climb, together with the long straights, combines to provide a true test at the trip, whatever the distance.
Extremes of going are something of a rarity at Leopardstown – at least in comparison with the other Irish tracks – due to the site’s excellent natural drainage, and state of the art watering systems.
The market leaders do very well on the flat in juvenile and three year old non-handicap races – boasting a near 50% strike rate across over 250 races over the past five years and returning a level stakes profit of almost +£17 over this period.
Multiple Irish Champion trainer, Willie Mullins leads the way amongst the trainers in terms of career strike rate at the track, and boasts a particularly impressive record in the bumpers, with a 1/3 win rate in recent seasons.
Looking at the jockeys over this period, Davy Russel’s 20% strike rate and level stakes profit of more than £15 over hurdles stands out, whilst on the flat, supporters of rider Chris Hayes will have been laughing all the way to the bank, with the jockey registering a whopping level stakes profit of over £240 across as he approaches 200 rides.
Leopardstown Flat Course
Flat racing takes place at the track between the months of April and November, with the highlight of the season being the Irish Champion Stakes, which regularly ranks amongst the highest-class contests in the world. The left-handed track, with a 3f run-in is able to stage races over a minimum trip of 6f, and up to a maximum of 2m.
The track itself is generally considered as being fairly straightforward to ride, with the one area that can catch inexperienced riders out being the final bend. The mistake of allowing their mount to come too wide following the bend is one of the most common errors amongst riders unfamiliar with the track. As ever, a jockey with a proven record at the venue always counts as a plus.
One of the fairest tracks in either Britain or Ireland, the only notable draw bias comes in the 6f contests. Due to the proximity of the starting point to the turn out of the back straight in these sprint races, those drawn low can often hold an edge – particularly those runners who are able to break quickly from the gates and take advantage of their low berth. At distances beyond 6f, this bias becomes increasingly insignificant.
Leopardstown National Hunt Course
The main National Hunt course at Leopardstown is extremely highly rated by trainers and jockeys alike, with many a shrewd judge ranking it amongst the very best on offer on either side of the Irish Sea. Leopardstown’s National Hunt season runs from December to March, and features Irish racing highlights such as the four-day Christmas Festival, and prestigious Irish Champion Hurdle.
The gentle bends and long straights of the course make hard luck stories something of a rarity around here. If a runner is good enough on the day, they are unlikely to find their chance hindered by trouble in running or any pace bias at this very fair track.
The fences on the chase course – of which there are 10 per circuit – are stiff without being daunting, with the main jumping challenge coming due to the proximity of the first three fences in the back straight. If a chaser is to make a mistake around here, it is most likely to come on this section of the track.
The majority of hurdle races take place on the same course as the chase events and feature seven standard hurdles per circuit. In common with races over fences and on the flat, hurdle contests tend to favour the strong, galloping style of runner, with proven stamina at the distance something to look out for.
Alternative Hurdles Course at Leopardstown
The National Hunt track also features an alternative hurdles course which can be used to protect the ground on the main track if necessary. Used relatively infrequently throughout the season, the track lies to the inside of the main course, and as such is a necessarily tighter affair, with slightly shorter straights and sharper turns.
Given this tighter nature, the handier, nippier types can be at an advantage on the inside track, with the gallopers having less time in which to organise themselves and build up a head of steam. It is also beneficial to race prominently in events on the inner track, particularly in larger fields, as traffic problems can become an issue around the bends.
Major Races at Leopardstown
|Start Date||Race||Grade||Last Winner|
|28th Dec 2020||Savills Chase||Grade 1||A Plus Tard (15/2)|
|12th Sep 2020||Irish Champion Stakes||Group 1||Magical (9/2)|
|7th Feb 2021||Irish Gold Cup||Grade 1||Kemboy (11/4)|
|6th Feb 2021||Irish Champion Hurdle||Grade 1||Honeysuckle (10/11)|
|29th Dec 2020||Matheson Hurdle||Grade 1||Sharjah (11/2)|