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Book Review

Horses for Courses An Irish Racing Year
by Anne Holland
Mainstream Publishing, November 2005, 199 pages hardcover

Unlike in North America where race meetings may run 5 days a week and last for months if not year-round, European racing is known for short meetings of no more than a week's duration with the races at a different course every weekend. In her new book, Horses for Courses, racing writer Anne Holland takes us on a tour of every Thoroughbred racecourse in Ireland, showing us the beauty and variety of these often ancient facilities. In her introduction Holland writes, "Ireland can truly boast variety, and this sets them apart from countries around the world where the tracks are boring, the type and format being the same throughout right down to all going in the same direction."

Following the Irish racing calendar, Holland "visits" each of the 27 courses, mostly featuring the course in the month when its biggest annual meeting is held. The courses range from Greenmount Park's vast 280 acres to Sligo's 56, from the upper class racing at the Curragh and Leopardstown to the many lower-class, but no less spectacular, flat and National Hunt courses that dot the countryside. But no other course in the world compares to Laytown, the most temporary course found anywhere. Run over a sandy beach, the races can only be run at low tide, when on the given weekend rails and temporary buildings are brought in and hastily erected. Although it is in England, Holland also includes Cheltenham for its prestigious Festival. Every March as many as 10,000 Irish cross the sea to cheer on their homebreds in some of the most important National Hunt races of the year, essentially making this part of the Irish racing calendar. The Festival is analogous to the Breeders' Cup for flat horses in America.

For each course, Holland gives a brief history of the facility, who built it and when, what its important races are, and some of the famous horses that have raced there or were stabled nearby. A detailed description of the course, which in Ireland means uphill and downhill stretches, dips, banked curves, and jumps of varying difficulty, is included, and several photographs are included, so that the reader can see the course in action. The quality of the photography is excellent, depicting horses jumping over steeplechase barriers, rounding sharp bends, lining up at the start, or being paraded in the paddock or winner's enclosure. Other photos show the human element, such as fans gathering along the rail or crowding the bookmakers in the betting ring, or famous owners, trainers, and jockeys celebrating a victory. The reader cannot help but want to go to Ireland and put him or herself in those pictures, enjoying the breathtaking scenery that is the common element of all Irish racecourses.

Racing fans who are contemplating a racing trip to Ireland will thoroughly enjoy Holland's work and find it an essential research tool. As well, racing fans wanting to gain a better understanding of European racing will find this book gives a head start in learning about the various classes of racing and especially National Hunt racing, which is more prevalent in Ireland than in North America. Those who have only seen the "boring" tracks Holland derides in her introduction will wish that the variety and beauty of the Irish course could be replicated here.

Horses for Courses has a list price of $34.37 and is available for $22.68 at

Rating:     4.5/5

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