Saturday, 25 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #3

There is a certain kind of humor in the fact that Equidaily, whom I owe a big "thank you" for being a major factor behind the spike in readership this WWR Top 10 got, yesterday replaced the link to this series with links to a video and photos of the Duhner Wattrennen, a mixed card of harness and thoroughbred racing held at low tide on the Wadden Sea, the tidal flats of the German North Sea coast. Even more props for linking to this outstanding photo of a mudflats harness race in the rain.

The funny thing is, I almost posted today’s WWR bronze medal winner yesterday, as #4, and the only reason I ever considered ranking it outside the Top 3 was the very existence of said Duhner Wattrennen at Cuxhaven. That annual event, which includes a few extremely low-level thoroughbred races, is after all the only reason to consider #3 not entirely unique. The fact that the Duhner thoroughbred races aren’t supervised by the German Racing Board and don’t count into conditions and allowances for professional racing makes them a borderline case, and was the deciding factor for making today’s entry the #3, mentioning the Cuxhaven event only on the side.

There is only one place in Europe where official races “under the rules of racing” are held on a beach: Laytown, Ireland (and strictly speaking, the Wadden Sea is a part of the sea, not the beach). On the shore of the Irish Sea, the famous Laytown Strand Races have been held annually since 1876.

Only six races are held per raceday, one less than usual in Ireland. Post times vary based on track availability, which means low-tide. A seventh race would actually turn into an aquatic event (then again, why not – after all some European steeplechases include swimming through a small lake as part of the course). Even so, the sea will often leak into the course, and track conditions can be counted on to be "sloppy" or "muddy" for most of the track, most of the time. One interesting debate amongst bettors is the draw bias at Laytown, which statistically favors inside posts. Others have denied that logic, pointing out that the rails and markers are dismantled after the last race, and thus one year's seaside rail can be where last year's standside was.

Until 1994, some races would lead from the Winning Post to the 7-furlong mark and back, but complications that year have forced the racing club to cancel those. Only races of up to 7f have been run since.

The quality of horses is understandably limited, but unlike Cuxhaven, it's professional racing, with tote betting, bookmakers and everything that makes racedays in Ireland great. Every year, hundreds of overseas visitors will make their way to what incidentally is Ireland’s only dirt track for their early September fixture.

As mentioned, Laytown Racecourse is a non-permanent facility for the most part. Rails, posts and the concessions and amenities facilities necessary to accomodate Laytown’s about 10.000 patrons are dismantled every year. Most of the grandstand remains on-site though, given that it consists of little more than some steps carved into the dunes of County Meath.

A short flyover clip over the Laytown straight course can be seen here.

Things to listen out for if betting the races at Laytown or Cuxhaven:

(Flickr image at the top is by PaulWa, out of an album about the 2008 Laytown Races)

1 comment:

  1. The Seinfeld clip was a great capper to No. 3!