Laytown Strand: The magical horse race where life's a beach

Story highlights

  • Irish beach race meet is the last of its kind in Europe
  • Laytown races part of local scene since 1868
  • Fans watch from huge field overlooking beach

(CNN)What do you expect to see when you gaze across a beach at low tide? If the answer is racehorses roaring past in full, glorious gallop then you must be in Laytown.

The Irish seaside village, 30 miles north of the capital Dublin on the east coast, is home to the Laytown Strand races, the only ones in the Irish and British calendars to be run on a beach under the Rules of Racing.
    These extraordinary annual races have been part of the local landscape since 1868, when they were staged as part of the Boyne Regatta at a time when beach racing in Ireland was fairly common.
    They had initially been intended to be an extra attraction alongside the main business of a rowing competition but caught on so quickly that they soon became the main event.
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    Races are run over six to seven furlongs, across the width of the beach, while spectators watch, gamble, eat and drink in a huge field with sweeping views over the action.
    Some perch in an improvised "grandstand" whose seats are cut into dunes at the edge of the beach.
    But how does creating a beach racecourse work?
    In the weeks before races are run -- the most recent Laytown race program took place Tuesday -- members of the race committee check the patterns of tide and sand to work out the area most suitable for a course, which is then marked out with temporary fencing.
    When the tide recedes, workers pat down the sand to create the racing line, but parts of the course can still sometimes contain a hazard that no other does -- pools of seawater.
    And as the thousands who come to watch would attest, there's nothing else quite like the Laytown experience. After all, it's the only horse race where life's a beach.