What is a point-to-point?

Point-to-Points are racing in its purist form and you will often hear it described as the grassroots of horse racing in Ireland.

This is because unlike the racing you may see on television which take place at permanent racecourses like Leopardstown or The Curragh, point-to-point racing takes place at what are effectively pop-up courses right around the country.

These point-to-point tracks are often agricultural lands for 51-weeks of a year, before a band of volunteers from hunt committees come together and transform the fields into temporary racetracks fit for Gold Cup stars of the future.

Point-to-Point racing provides a fun day out for the family and friends in the Irish countryside where you will get to witness the future stars of the racing industry make their introduction into competitive racing.

Where did the name point-to-point come from and how did it start?

In 1752, two men, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan raced their horses from Buttevant to Doneraile in Cork over a four mile cross country course in what is believed to be the origin of racing in Ireland.

Starting at the church steeple in Buttevant and racing to the church steeple in Doneraile, their race on horseback from one point to another christened the name point-to-point racing.

If you are interested in finding out more information about the history of point-to-point and looking at some of the landmark moments over the years, head over to our history page by clicking HERE.

I have heard it called “racing between the flags” - why is this?

Simply, this is due to the fact that a point-to-point course is marked out by coloured flags which the horses race between.

You might be familiar with the white railings which mark out the course at Cheltenham or Aintree, well at point-to-point’s tracks the course is instead marked our by sporadic flags which direct the riders around bends, over fences and other key marking points on a course.

These flags will be two colours – red and white – and the jockeys must keep the red flags on their right and the white flags on their left. Therefore racing between the flags.

How does point-to-point racing differ from racing on the racecourse?

There are many differences between racing at point-to-points and on the racecourse, from the types of tracks they race on, to the jockeys, officials and much more.

There are over xx point-to-point tracks in Ireland and almost every single one of these is built in the week of the race meeting, as what are typically agricultural fields are transformed into temporary race tracks for the day. Once racing is finished, the work quickly begins to take the course apart, and all the remains are the hoof prints in the ground from the racehorses.

Whilst the facilities may be temporary, all the colour and excitement that you expect from day at the races are in place, from bookmakers, to food and drink outlets, and much more.

Typically, there are six races run at each point-to-point fixture, with the majority of races distinguished by the age of the horses running in each of the races. Unlike on racecourses where there are a mix of races, from those on the flat, to those run over hurdles or fences, all point-to-point races are fun over fences, and almost solely over 3-miles.

Point-to-Point racing has a great amateur tradition – both in terms of the riders and the officials.

Each of the jockeys are amateur riders, although they are amongst the best in the world with household names Jamie Codd, Derek O’Connor and Barry O’Neill at the very top of the sport.

The majority of the official positions are filled by volunteers from within the hunt committee, such as the clerk of the scales, starter, clerk of the course, fence stewards and much more. These people give of their time freely and are so crucial to the smooth running of a point-to-point fixture.

Point-to-Point racing has become synonymous with the future track stars which begin their careers racing between the flags, before graduating to win some of the sport’s biggest prizes, such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National on many occasions.

Do many Irish Point-to-Pointers go on to be successful on the track?

The answer to this question, is certainly yes!

Last season alone, over 1,250 races in Ireland and the UK were won by horses who had begun their careers in point-to-points here showing just how important it is to the horse racing sector in both countries.

Household names such as Best Mate, Denman, Florida Pearl, Beef Or Salmon and Faugheen who all rose to the very top of the sport, are all graduates of Irish point-to-point racing.

In fact, approximately 25% of all Cheltenham Festival runners began their career running at an Irish point-to-point fixture, so you never know what future star you might discover first at a point-to-point race meeting!