Down at the Races: the story of horse racing in County Down

Down County Museum recently opened a new exhibition on the story of horse racing in County Down. This colourful exhibition has been developed as part of the Down Time festival and displays a range of unique objects associated with Downpatrick and Down Royal racecourses, and with the horses, jockeys, owners and trainers who raced at these two courses.
Horse racing has a long history in County Down, in 1685, the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders were granted a royal charter by King James II, giving them the right to hold horse races. Racing began soon after in Downpatrick and in 1690 William III granted £100 for a King’s Plate to be run annually.  The spectacle and excitement of horse racing continue to be integral to sporting and social life in the area and ‘going to the races’ still figures largely in the cultural life of the community.
The exhibition deals with the changes the sport has seen over the past centuries and displays objects such as trophies, race cards, badges,  programmes and photographs. In addition, the exhibition features racing saddles, bridles, saddle cloths and colours from a number of owners and trainers which demonstrate how the sport has developed over time. A key object on display is the old weighing scales from Downpatrick. The object which is over one hundred years old, includes a pulley and weights system and a recently conserved chair where the jockeys sat to be weighed. Other fascinating artefacts include the framed colours of Caughoo, who raced in Downpatrick won the Ulster National in 1945 and 1946, before winning the Grand National in 1947. The colours are complete with ‘the mud from Aintree’, breeches signed by AP McCoy, racing silks in the colours of the Earl of Kilmorey and a number of beautiful ‘Ladies Days’ outfits. The exhibition panels include information on the history of the courses, the famous victories of famous horses and plenty of stories of the many colourful characters associated with the ‘sport of kings.’
The Chairperson of Newry. Mourne and Down District Council, Councillor Mark Murnin said ‘This exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the story of horse racing in the area and the unique contribution, horse racing has made to the history of sport in County Down as well as providing visitors with an immensely interesting and entertaining exhibition which is a key component of the Down Time Festival.