Off to the Races: The Story of Local Horse Racing Comes to Down County Museum
A new exhibition of the interesting story of horse racing in County Down is now on show in Down County Museum. Developed as part of the Down Time festival, which will run from 14 to 17 June, it displays a range of objects associated with both Downpatrick and Down Royal racecourses, and with the horses, jockeys, trainers and owners linked with the two courses.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Mark Murnin said, ‘This exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the story of horse racing in the area. It highlights the unique contribution that 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.”
Horse racing has a long and distinguished history in County Down: in 1685, the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders was granted a royal charter by King James II, giving it 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 scales, which are over one hundred years old, include 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, the horse which raced in Downpatrick and 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 celebrated horses and plenty of stories of the many colourful characters associated with the ‘sport of kings’.