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‘It’s a unique occasion’: TG4 to broadcast Laytown Races live from the beach for the first time

Seán Bán Breathnach will present the coverage, which starts at 1.30pm today.

THE LAYTOWN RACES will be broadcast live on national television for the first time when it airs on TG4 this afternoon. 

We caught up with Rásaí Beo presenter Seán Bán Breathnach to look ahead to the special race meeting… 

a-view-of-the-bohan-hyland-associates-handicap-race A view of runners at the Laytown Races in County Meath. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Held on a stretch of strand in County Meath, the Laytown Races are a truly unique occasion in the Irish sporting calendar. 

It is the only event run on a beach under the Rules of Racing, and usually takes place over one day in September. 

Having been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, however, the spectacle returns at the later date of 1 November this year. 

Once the tide goes out on the morning of race day, organisers work quickly to set up the course, which caters for six races of between six and seven furlongs (one mile). 

Most spectators take in the action from a field overlooking the strand. However, TG4 are showing the Laytown Races live for the very first time today, with the programme getting underway at 1.30pm. 

The legendary Seán Bán Breathnach, who has been presenting Rásaí Beo for almost 20 years, will be behind the mic again and there is analysis from Mánus Ó Conghaile, trainer Sarah Lynam and Evelyn Ní Ghriallais.

Racing journalist Daragh Ó Conchúir, meanwhile, will speak to the jockeys, owners and trainers to get all the reaction. 

“I’ve only been to Laytown once before,” Breathnach tells The42. “We were doing the series ‘Jockey Eile’ a few years back with Joe Connolly and the producers took the whole team there. It was a great day out and was fascinating to see.

“I had often wondered how the course worked with the tide. With the likes of Naas, Leopardstown, Punchestown and Galway you think about the stands, so I can’t wait to see where we’ll be located.

It’s a unique occasion. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The Laytown Races are over 150 years old, having first began in 1868 in conjunction with the Boyne Regatta, and Breathnach has been brushing up on his knowledge of the event.

“There is a huge amount of history attached to the course,” he says. “I’ve just read the book ‘Laytown Strand Races: Celebrating 150 years’ by John Kirwan and Fiona Ahern and it’s absolutely fascinating.

“From that, I learned that Charles Stewart Parnell was one of the first stewards in the early days of the races.”

51111301933_b2034fc8b3_o Rásaí Beo presenter Seán Bán Breathnach. Source: TG4

The Irish language channel has increased its racing coverage enormously in 2021, with Rásaí Beo bringing live free-to-air action from the country’s top racecourses including Leopardstown, Punchestown and Ballybrit as well as Naas, Cork, Limerick, Dundalk, Navan and Sligo.

Later this month, TG4 will be at Naas’ first jump meeting of the season (Saturday, 6 November) and the first day of Punchestown’s Winter Festival (Saturday, 13 November).

“This year has been our year for Rásaí Beo,” explains Breathnach. “For the last 15 years, we would have done five or six days.

“After Laytown, we have Naas on 6 November and Punchestown the following week. That will bring us up to 21 days of racing on TG4 this year, which is incredible.

“We do our coverage in a different way as we wouldn’t have the same resources as others but we’ve a neat and tidy team.

“Daragh is a racing journalist and knows everybody in the business. Then we have Mánus, who’s a racing fanatic.

“Sarah Lynam has the DNA, the pedigree. I’ve learned so much from her over the gigs we done together. Evelyn is only 19 but could tell you anything about racing. She’s unreal.

“And we can’t forget Caroline Townend, sister of (jockey) Paul. She’s with HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) and is instrumental in getting the video footage we use.”

51015561053_205fdcd8d7_o The Rásaí Beo team of Mánus Ó Conghaile, Sarah Lynam, Daragh Ó Conchúir and Seán Bán Breathnach. Source: TG4

The panel will often delve into different angles and storylines from the sport on any given afternoon, and Breathnach recalls some sound advice from a fellow broadcasting legend. 

“I don’t know how other TV stations do it but we wouldn’t have as many interviews,” he adds. “With the light team that we have, sometimes we have to fill gaps.

“I could draw anything from the sky, talk about any race – upcoming or old – and Sarah, Daragh, Mánus and Evelyn will discuss it. It’s unbelievable.

“People have asked me if that’s all planned. Obviously you go in prepared with a plan, but during four or five hours of live racing anything can happen.

As Gay Byrne said to me one time, ‘never tell them you did the homework. On the day, you may only use 5% but it’s there and you can fall back on it’.

“It’s the greatest bit of advice I ever got in my life.”

Coverage of the Laytown Races will be shown live on TG4 at 1.30pm today – Monday, 1 November. You can catch it on TG4 or worldwide on TG4 Player.

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