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Naas – Nursery of Champions: Introduction

Half Nutz, trained by Johnny Murtagh and ridden by Danny Sheehy, contests The Handicap at Naas on 6 November 2022.

From ‘The Centenary of Naas Racecourse (1924-2024) – Nursery of Champions’ by Turtle Bunbury.


Back to Naas 100 Contents


There has always been a rich sense of history about racing at Naas. Horses have, after all, been racing around the County Kildare town for at least 260 years. However, it was not until the 20th century that a formal racecourse was created. Its genesis came in 1922 when, at the height of the Civil War, a group of eight like-minded farmers and gentlemen joined forces with a retired army general to form the Naas Race Company.

Supported by subscriptions from across the locality, the new company bought just over a hundred acres of farmland on the east of the town and set about converting it into a proper racecourse. The first meeting took place on 19 June 1924.

The connection between that formative era and the present day remains remarkably close. Richard Brophy, a board member of the Naas Race Company, descends from Edward Brophy, one of the founding fathers. Robbie Osborne, another board member, hails from a family that has provided a vast amount of equestrian wisdom to the management for a century.

A similar continuity is to be found with many of the trainers and jockeys at Naas today. Arthur Moore’s father and Henry de Bromhead’s grandfather were riding winners at Naas in the 1930s. Myerscoughs and Rogers have been winning on the track for 100 years, Hartys for 90, O’Gradys and Prendergasts for 80, and Mullins for 70. In 2021, Harry Swan, a great-grandson of the legendary Tim Hyde, became the fourth generation of his family to ride a winner on the track. The jockey Pat Taaffe, a grandson and namesake of Arkle’s famous jockey, is also a regular at Naas today. [1]

Many of the horses that run at Naas today likewise trace their descent to the stalwart mounts that charged around the course in earlier years. Such links through time are echoed by an enduring tradition by which certain families from the locality have maintained particular jumps at Naas for multiple decades.

At the heart of all this is the course itself. An immaculately maintained, left-handed course, it is the perfect attritional track for gallopers. The home straight – of roughly five-furlongs – with its slow but steady uphill climb to the finish, makes for an especially ideal training ground. It is reckoned that the best horse wins at Naas eight out of ten times, but the young horses who are placed invariably go on to greater glory, especially those staying on at the end.

Naas is a nursery of champions. Vincent O’Brien recognised this back in the 1940s when he raced all three of his Aintree Grand National winners around the course, as well as his three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup champion, Cottage Rake.

The numbers speak for themselves. Since Prince Regent’s victory in 1946, the Cheltenham Gold Cup has been won 27 times by horses that previously ran at Naas, including the 2022 winner A Plus Tard. The King George VI Chase has fallen to Naas veterans eight times, including Tornado Flyer in 2021.  The Aintree Grand National has been won by Naas stars 20 times since Shaun Golin’s triumph in 1930, including Noble Yeats in 2022.

Since 2020, horses that have run at Naas have also won the Cheltenham Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle, and the Queen Mother Champion Chase twice. (Five of Ireland’s 2022 Cheltenham winners had previously won at Naas.) Running back through time, National Hunt icons leap from the pages of this book – Hatton’s Grace, Arkle, Mill House, L’Escargot, Captain Christy, Dawn Run, Danoli, Like-A-Butterfly, Hedgehunter, Kicking King, Sizing Europe, Sizing John, Energumene.

The Flat has no shortage of luminaries either, especially in recent times. In the past three years, the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks, the English 2,000 Guineas, the English 1,000 Guineas, the Melbourne Cup and five Breeders’ Cup races have fallen to horses that have pounded around the track at Naas. Both the Cheveley Stakes at Newmarket and the St James’s Palace Stakes at  Ascot fell to Naas veterans in both 2021 and 2023. Little Big Bear and Auguste Rodin, the two leading European two-year-olds of 2022, both won their maidens at Naas. After his Breeders’s Cup Turf win in November 2023, Auguste Rodin is one of the leading three-year-olds in the world.

Naas has also played a key role in the rise of horses such as Giant’s Causeway, Peeping Fawn, State Of Rest, Tuesday, Paddington and Vauban. These names compliment those of 20th century stars like Ragusa (English St Leger, 1963), Sweet Mimosa (Prix de Diane, 1970) and Star Appeal (Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, 1975).

Naas has been a pioneering ground in many ways. In 1974, Rosemary Rooney won at Naas to become the first female jockey to win against male opposition in Ireland or the UK.  Eight years earlier, Mrs Bullitt-Biddle had made history at Naas when she became Ireland’s first licensed woman trainer to win a race.

Women have played a key role behind the scenes since the early years but the course had an especially remarkable woman at the centre of its operation for almost forty years in its former manager Margaret McGuinness (1969-2007).

Like her successors Tom Ryan (2007-2019) and Eamonn McEvoy (2019-present), Margaret worked closely with a forward-thinking board of directors. Since the very beginning, the board’s driving ideology has been to make Naas one of the best racecourses in Ireland. Profits are continually reinvested in improving the facility. [2]  Hence, the new grandstand in 1997, the new bar and weigh room in 2003, the widening of the track in 2005. the new stable yard in 2009 and The Circle in 2019.

The Circle, an innovative spectator stand, has introduced a superb contemporary ambience to Naas whilst skilfully tying the pre-existing parts together. This has, in turn, enhanced the overall character of a boutique course that is widely beloved for its intimate, friendly, country atmosphere.

In 2015, Naas was rewarded with its first Grade 1 race, the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle. Its steady advance towards hosting a Group 1 race is underscored by its ever-deepening links with Ascot.

The course originally hosted seven meetings a year. Today, there are 20, including a weekend festival that commenced in October 2023. By my calculations, that means there have been at least 6,000 races run on the course since 1924. Each competing horse has four components – the jockey, the trainer, the owner and the horse itself, with all its past and future history. As such, the selection of stories told within these pages is a microcosm of all that has passed but I hope it helps to showcase the way in which this rather magical racecourse has evolved since its founding fathers came together a century ago.

To mark the 100th anniversary, I was commissioned to research, write and produce ‘The Centenary of Naas Racecourse (1924-2024) – Nursery of Champions’, which will be launched in Naas on 21 November 2023.



Naas Race Company – Board of Directors, July 2023 – Richard Brophy, Willie Power, David Cox, Dermot Cantillon, Robbie Osborne, Michael Kinane, Barry Brennan

Chair, Naas Race Company


  • Thomas Whelan           1922-1931
  • Patrick J Brophy           1931 (acting chairman)
  • Charlie Farrell               1931-1938
  • Edward Brophy             1938-1962
  • Paddy Cox                    1962-1986
  • Billy Brophy                   1986-2006
  • Dermot Cantillon           2006- Present


Secretary / General Managers


  • James Conway              1922-1924
  • Michael Conway            1924-1958
  • Henry Farrell                  1958-1959
  • Carmel Butterfield          1959-1969
  • Margaret McGuinness   1969-2007
  • Tom Ryan                       2007-2019
  • Eamonn McEvoy              2019-present


End Notes


[1] Pat has come 2nd or 3rd at Naas six times but had yet to win when my book was going to print!

[2] “Naas Racecourse has a history of reinvestment and its board and shareholders have continually invested in the property over the years. The existing grandstand was built in 1997 at a cost of €2.2 million, while in 2003 a public bar and weigh room was constructed. In 2009 over €1.7 million was spent in order to create the existing stable yard. All of these improvements and additions culminated in elevating the status of Naas Racecourse and have allowed it to compete at an international level and also to host premier races including the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle which was held at the track recently. The next part of the redevelopment programme will see the interiors and public areas within the grandstand upgraded including the Panoramic Restaurant.” (Jackie Donohoe, 2018, here).