Turf Hallmarks


 Genetic Markers




 Search our site

 E-mail us


Turf Hallmarks

Important Races

Champions of the Turf

Race Course Gazeteer


Grave Matters

Boston vs. Fashion

Racing in Australia


  Les Anglais in France

Gone Abroad

Related Links

History of the Australian Stud Book

The British East India Company in Early Australia

Colonial Foundation Mares

Australian Race Charts

New Zealand Race Charts

Leading Sires in Australia

Leading Sires in New Zealand

Shipping to the Antipodes

Racing and Breeding in South Africa


  Thoroughbred Horse Racing in Australia

A Study of the Geographical and Social Development of Racing Communities
By Philip Herringer. ©2006. All Rights Reserved.

Thoroughbred Racing in Australia
Flemington Racecourse in 1877 with record crowd to view Melbourne Cup, Chester vs. Savanaka

This essay outlines the background of horse racing in Australia. Horse racing in countries outside of Europe didn't just happen. It was introduced by the settlers of new worlds both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The type of racing followed that established in England in the seventeenth century at Newmarket, and copied on the continent. An exception is quarterhorse racing, which developed in America to suit the terrain. Where horse racing is established today, the countries, with few exceptions, have a British origin. Latin America is the exception, but had a strong British trade connection through the Spain and Portugal. All of Australia and New Zealand was colonized by the British at a time when racing was a firmly established and popular sport in Britain. The founding colonists brought the interest with them, though initially it was the military garrison in particular which fostered the first formal racing. This was understandable as horses were not native to these countries, and were an essential part of the military back home.

Geographic Setting: Australia
(View a Map of Australia)

This island continent is roughly oval shaped, measuring about 2700 miles from Sydney in the East to Perth in the West. In the centre, it is about 2300 miles from the South, at Adelaide, to the North, at Darwin. A long mountain chain runs down the entire East coast, from the tropical North to near Melbourne in the South. This Great Dividing Range lies about fifty miles from the coast so that rain that falls on the eastern side runs seaward. On the east side, from the tropical North to the temperate South, the country side is well pastured in most areas. It varies from heavy scrub to rolling hills suited to sugar cane growing on the coast, as well as grazing and dairying when cleared of timber. On the western side of the range the country falls away to savanna and flat pastureland. The further west, the drier it becomes, ending in the semi-desert and arid desert region about seven hundred miles from the range in New South Wales. Rainfall west of the ranges runs into a collection system of the Murray and Darling Rivers, similar to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers of the United States, which flow into the Indian Ocean. Most of this region has a Mediterranean type climate. In the centre of Australia is the Great Australian Central Desert which lies across the states of Western and South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Australia also has an island state of Tasmania which lies one hundred miles across a strait from Melbourne. It is pear shaped , heavily timbered, and in its western part mountainous wilderness. From north to south it is about 150 miles in length and is about 100 miles at its widest. The agricultural climate is temperate, like New Zealand, most of which lies in similar latitudes.

Horses are raised throughout Australia, and the fact that there have been a few hundred thousand feral horses in the past, as well as six hundred thousand feral camels now, indicate Australia's suitability for grazing animals.

First Settlement of Australia

Though the first European navigators discovered parts of Australia between the early 1600s (in the West -- Dutch)-- and 1770 (in the East -- English), there was no settlement until 1788, when the British founded a convict settlement at Sydney Cove. Captain Cook had landed at Botany Bay, just south of Sydney, in 1770, and claimed the land for Britain. He and the botanist Joseph Banks reported favourably on the site. In the second half of the eighteenth century, England had a problem with its overstocked gaols and was seeking a suitable place to send the excess. The colonial American War of Independence in 1776 meant the convicts could no longer be sent there. After much deliberation by the British authorities, Botany Bay was decided on as a place of exile. It was to be a self-supporting gaol and initially not intended as an agricultural colony. In January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip RN arrived, via Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope and eight months of travel, with the "First Fleet" of eight ships carrying 736 convicts, both male and female, as well as their children and a contingent of Royal marines. He immediately realized that Botany Bay was not as suitable as a harbour just ten miles away which Cook had overlooked. The ships were moved there and it was named Sydney Cove, though Botany Bay was to be referred to as an official regional name.

The First Fleet took aboard one stallion, a colt and five mares at Cape Town. It is recorded that most of these first imports escaped into the bush. As an indication of the lack of horsepower, the first horsedrawn plough was used more than ten years later! By 1795, the horse population was tallied only forty nine, and the first horsedrawn plough was used two years later. Growth in the horse population remained slow, and by 1800 it was still only two hundred. However by 1810, it had reached over one thousand. Significantly, this was the year of the first organized race meeting, though there is no doubt that matches along the roads took place a lot earlier. As has been mentioned before, the settlement was essentially a gaol, with convict manpower replacing transport that would otherwise be horse or ox drawn wagons. This is one explanation for the lack of horse drawn power. The other factor is that, until 1810, which saw the beginning of the era of Governor Macquarie, the settlement was close to Sydney Cove with only two other settlements around Parramatta, fifteen miles west, and the Hawkesbury River about forty miles northwest. Beyond these lay a part of the Great Dividing Range, called the Blue Mountains, which no one had yet crossed and which form a wall between the harbour and the hinterland which still lay undiscovered. Hence, no great journeys needing horseback transportation were undertaken.

Beginning of Horse Racing

The decade to 1810 saw an increase in the horse population to 1100 animals. Since the journey from England to Sydney was a long and hazardous one, most imports were from the Cape and from India. Few of these were thoroughbred though many contained thoroughbred and arabian blood. The first notable stallion was Rockingham who came from the Cape in the late 1790s. No doubt he was at least part thoroughbred. The first probable thoroughbred to arrive in Sydney was Northumberland -- imported as a coach horse sire -- who came from England in sometime around 1801. The main importer of horses in these early years was the government. This followed a similar pattern at the Cape in South Africa, when the British took over in 1805.

In 1810, a new period and attitude towards permanent settlement and increased agriculture came with the new governor, Lachlan Macquarie. Sydney's first official race meeting was Monday, the 15th of October, 1810. It was a three day carnival organized by the officers of the 73rd Regiment, a battalion of which Macquarie, a military governor, had brought with him. The first racecourse in Sydney was Hyde Park, now in the centre of the modern city. However, whilst this was the first official horse racing meeting in the colony, there are records of earlier match races in the settled districts of Hawkesbury and Parramatta. The Hyde Park meeting was accompanied by a race ball, and so a pattern was set for racing to be seen as a social event, as ot was in England. These races in Sydney were an annual affair until 1813, when the regiment was transferred to Ceylon. Match racing still took place, but it wasn't 1819 that another "official" Sydney meeting was held.

With Governor Macquarie's departure in 1821, official racing again ceased in Sydney, but in outlying districts, magistrates had the authority to approve race meetings and match races. The new governor, Thomas Brisbane did not, at first, favour race meetings, as he saw it as a situation that could lead to public drunkenness and immorality, as was the experience in England. In 1825 the first bona fide racing club in Australia, the Sydney Turf Club was formed. Governor Brisbane, relenting, became the first club's patron and race meetings became more frequent. There was also no fixed racecourse. Hyde Park was no longer used, but there were meetings at modern day Bellevue Hill and Camperdown, just two miles from the centre of the settlement.

Brisbane left at the end of 1825, and was replaced by General Ralph Darling, who was not as enthusiastic about horse racing -- and some of its promoters, particularly William C. Wentworth, a natural son of former colony doctor and politician D'Arcy Wentworth -- as his predecessor had become. Political conflict soon arose between the governor and a few important individuals who were also prominent members of the Sydney Turf Club. The situation lasted until April, 1828, when a meeting was held for a new club formed by Darling supporters, to be called the Australian Racing and Jockey Club, and Darling was secured as a patron. Both clubs operated simultaneously for a number of years, with annual events in April at Camperdown held by the Sydney Turf Club, and those of the Australian Racing and Jockey Club held at Parramatta, sixteen miles from Sydney, in October. Not long after Governor Darling left his post for England in 1831 the two battling race clubs merged, with meetings held at Parramatta. Later, the Sandy Race Course on Randwick Road, nearer Sydney, was opened and racing was held there for a few years.

In 1827, before Darling left, he accompanied a recently arrived frigate captain, Captain Henry John Rous, commander of the HMS Rainbow, on an expedition to Moreton Bay, Queensland, the site of a penal colony that had been established in 1824. Darling honored Rous by naming several geographic featuers after him -- Stradboke Island (Rous was second son of the Earl of Stradbroke), Dunwich, Rainbow Reach, and Rous Channel. Rous, later famous as the "Dictator of the Turf," in England, imported the arabian stallion Rainbow and an anglo-arabian mare, Iris, from India, into Australia, and two especially important early English thoroughbred stallions, Theorem and (Rous') Emigrant. both of which had a significant impact on early bloodstock breeding in the colony. These stallions were just the beginning of an increasing number of thoroughbreds imported from Great Britain into colonial Australia.

Major Group 1 Races in Sydney

Australian Jockey Club (AJC), Randwick

Sydney Cup, 2 miles, Hcp
Australian Jockey Club Derby, SW
Australian Jockey Club Oaks, SW
Sires' Produce Stakes, 6 furl., SW
Champagne Stakes, 7 furl., SW
Doncaster Handicap, 1 mile, Hcp
The Galaxy, 5-1/2 furl., Hcp
The Metropolitan, 13 furl., Hcp
Epsom Handicap, 1 mile, Hcp

Sydney Turf Club (STC), Rosehill

Golden Slipper Stakes, 6 furl., SW
BMW Stakes, 12 furl., wfa
Rosehill Guineas, 10 furl., SW

Randwick Racecourse
Fall meeting at Randwick, 1866
In 1839 and 1840 a group with an army officer as sectary formed itself into a body known as the Australian Race Committee, whose purpose was to bring some system of organization into the sport of horse racing. On land between Sydney and Parramatta, on leased property known as Homebush, the Committee held its first meeting in March of 1841. On the two days, there were crowds of 8,000 and 9,000, when the population of Sydney was only 45,000. In 1842, the Committee established itself as a permanent body calling itself the Australian Jockey Club. Its first classic race was The St. Leger Stakes for three-year-olds, first run at the opening meeting. Interest groups such as the Drapers' Club also held meetings at Homebush, whilst smaller race meeting were run at private courses. n 1857, the Australian Jockey Club committee revisited the abandoned Sandy Course on the Randwick Road, and decided to develop the course in 1859.

In May 1860, the first meeting was held by the Australian Jockey Club at the re-named Randwick Racecourse, which is still an important racecourse and has served from that time forward as the headquarters of the Australian Jockey Club. The St. Leger Stakes, which had been run at Homebush from 1841, was continued at the new Randwick course and continues to the present, making it the oldest classic race in Australia (although it skipped a year in 1860). The Metropolitan was a 2 mile race when it was initiated at Randwick in 1866, and was run at 1-1/2 miles between 1892 and 1919, but is now 13 furlongs. Several important juvenile races, including the Champagne Stakes, first run in 1866, are also held at Randwick.

Much later, 1943, the Sydney Turf Club was formed, purchasing the old Canterbury racecourse from the Canterbury Park Racing Club and the Rosehill racecourse from the Rosehill Race Club. It rapidly rose to prominance, cemented by the establishment of the richest race for juveniles in Australia, the Golden Slipper Stakes.

Country Racing and Growth of Bloodstock

In 1813 three explorers found a way up and through the Blue Mountain range. Beyond lay vast and lush plains. These lands were quickly taken up by squatters, who took sheep and cattle there. Merino sheep had been bought at the Cape in 1796 and transported via the Brittania, chartered by a partnership of civil and military officials headed by Lieutenant John Macarthur, and the Australian wool industry was born. Macarthur, incidentally, also brought in one stallion, 29 mares and three fillies in that shipment from the Cape.

The great expanse of pastures in the newly opened territory meant an increase in demand for horses as a means of personal and horse drawn transport. A number of country villages within 120 miles of Sydney grew into important regional towns. A middle class of persons began to develop through financial interests in agriculture and commerce. The increase in the horse population led to an improvement in horse breeding and the sport of racing horses, and between 1810 and 1820 the horse population trebled; by 1830 it had quadrupled to about 12,000 animals in New South Wales, consisting of both colonial-bred horses of all types and an increasing number of imported animals, many of which were thoroughbreds. As the population grew and dispersed, small race courses on private lands were built and conducted by private interest groups, with no centrally-authorized controlling body. Between 1840 and 1850, forty-five districts in New South Wales had race meetings. Most were annual affairs, often conducted by local publicans who organized race meetings on courses roughly carved out of the bush and fields. A racecourse at Windsor, on the Hawkesbury River, where two famous early stud farms were developed, was one of these types of privately held courses.


The island state of Tasmania was first settled in 1803 as a convict colony and was originally called Van Dieman's Land by its discoverer, the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman. It is divided into two main areas centered on agriculture, Hobart in the South and Launceston in the North which are ninety miles apart. The latter is a warmer climate, and more suited to animal breeding and agriculture.

Major Group 1 Races in Tasmania

Tasmanian Racing Club (TRC), Hobart

Hobart Cup, 12 furl., Hcp
Tasmanian Derby, 12 furl., SW

Tasmanian Jockey Club (TJC), Launceston

Launceston Cup, 13 furl., Hcp

TRC racecourse at Elwick
TRC's Elwick Racecourse soon after completion
Horses were sent to Tasmania from Sydney but the horse population was initially slow to grow. The first recorded race meeting in the capital, Hobart, was in 1814 but match races took place before then. As in Sydney, the military played an important role in establishing horse racing. The 1814 race course, built at New Town, near Hobart, served until 1831, when it was laid out on a new site nearby, and in 1860 it was the location of the first Australian Championship Meeting, with a big three-mile event that attracted horses from all over Australia.

Launceston's first noted race meeting was held in 1824. Racing also took place in the small towns in between these centres, including Ross and Sandy Bay in the early days, Oatlands, Bothwell, Longford and other places in the 1840s and 1850s. As the colony developed, locals took a keen interest in breeding quality horses, and many were imported from England.

A high standard racing developed, though there was a division of interests, mainly administrative, on parochial grounds between the two centres. Racing standards declined when gold was discovered across the Bass Strait in the colony of Victoria in 1851, and large numbers of people left the colony. This exodus produced a loss of income for the racing clubs. But many locally bred horses still took major prizes on the mainland. The most recent surviving race clubs are the Tasmanian Turf Club, formed in Launceston in 1871, which offers the Launceston Cup, and the Tasmanian Racing Club, which built a course at Elwick, near Hobart, in 1874, where the following year the Hobart Cup was run.

Western Australia

Whilst Van Dieman's Land was a dependency of New South Wales until 1825, Western Australia was founded as an independent British colony in 1829. It was too far from Sydney to be of any administrative or commercial importance at the time. It joined the new Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 only on the condition that a railway line be built between the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie in the West and the railhead of Port Augusta in South Australia, across some one thousand miles of desert. As with the first two colonies, the first recorded races were match races. The first race meeting at Fremantle, the port for the capital, Perth, which lies up the Swan River, was in October 1833. The horses were Timor ponies.

Major Group 1 Races in Perth

West Australian Turf Club (WATC), Ascot

Western Australian Derby, 12 furl., SW
Railway Stakes, 8 furl., Hcp

Ascot Racecourse, Perth
Ascot Racecourse, Perth, 1905
In the first years, the race meetings were held on celebratory occasions and on no formal course. But in September 1836, a race meeting, also regarded as the colony's first meeting with one race exclusively for thoroughbred horses, was held at Guildford, some ten miles from Perth. The colony was slow-growing and not prosperous, as the local soil around the settlement was very sandy and not much suited to agriculture. Whilst it was not settled as a convict colony, in 1850 convicts did arrive to boost the colony's wealth through an enlarged workforce. This occurred just as the convict system in the eastern colonies was in its last days. Another similarity to some of the eastern colonies was the involvement of the military in organizing race meetings.

Something unique to Western Australia was the early involvement of influential men in importing quite a large number of English thoroughbreds. One of the first settlers, James Henty, visited the stud of the Earl of Egremont before he sailed, and purchased four thoroughbreds. But the poor soil around Perth discouraged him from settling there, and he moved his remaining horses to Van Dieman's Land, and from there he again moved to be the first settler of the future colony of Victoria.

Captain James Stirling, who had commanded the HMS Success, was the colony's first Governor and a keen racing man. He too was an early importer of thoroughbreds from England, from which a good many of the colony's best racehorses were bred, including Margonette and Margeaux. Stirling was a founder of the Western Australian Stud Club in 1838, which proposed to "regulate thoroughbred breeding and form a stud book." The club's first races were held where Queen's Gardens are today, and meets were also held at York, as early as 1843.

In March 1848, the first racing was held at Ascot, which was to become Perth's main course, boosted by the formation of the Western Australian Turf Club in 1852. The Queen's Plate, run over 3 miles, was one of the early imporant races held there, and the Perth Cup, held as the Metropolitan Handicap from 1879 to 1887, is the course's premier race.

Like the other colonies, country racing followed with the creation of local towns, such as Bunbury, Champion Bay, Northam, and Canning. Whilst 'the West' had remained a Cinderella colony, the discovery of the rich goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in 1890s saw the human population quadruple in ten years. Racing became firmly established in Perth and the rest of Western Australia with the great influx of money generated from the gold boom, and by 1911 there were 87 clubs racing under the Western Australian Turf Club's auspices, with many other unrecognized racecourses also operating. In addition to the western classic races, the Western Australian Turf Club still holds the venerable Perth Cup on its racecourse.

South Australia

South Australia is unique amongst the Australian colonies in that not only was it founded as a Free Settlement, but it was also a planned settlement where the land was sold to the settlers, and the capital city, Adelaide was planned by the colony's Surveyor General. These factors affected the establishment of racing in that the sport was instituted by the establishment, represented by moneyed people. The founding fleet arrived in late December, 1836 when the State of South Australia was proclaimed. Settlers poured into the new settlement, and in one year the number of horses in the territory went from two to 233.

Major Group 1 Races in Adelaide

South Australian Jockey Club (SAJC), Morphettville

Adelaide Cup, 2 miles, Hcp
Goodwood Handicap, 6 furl., Hcp
South Australian Derby, 12 furl., SW

Adelaide Racing Club
Adelaide Racing Club meet 1869
Influential citizens organised the first race meeting on a course held on a plain below West Terrace, in January, 1838. Rich copper mines were found nearby in 1842. With this additional wealth, thoroughbreds imported from England naturally followed. A Turf Club was formed in 1838 but lasted only two years. Racing continued as privately organized events. In 1850 the South Australian Jockey Club was formed but it was dissolved three times until 1873 when it became a permanent racing body.

In the city of Adelaide, there were three main courses until 1875, when the first course at Thebarton closed and the South Australian Jockey Club Course at Morphettville opened. The other two main courses were the Adelaide Racing Club course in the city parklands now known as Victoria Park, and the Port Adelaide Racing Club course now known as Cheltenham. These three courses were run by separate clubs until 1973 when all were combined under the South Australian Jockey Club banner and control. As with the other Australian states, country race clubs were formed in towns and areas, which could support the sport. The South Australian classics, including the state's oldest classic, the South Australian St. Leger (dating prior to 1855), and the Adelaide Cup (dating to 1864), and what was previously the Adelaide Racing Club's City Handicap and Birthday Cup, once run at Victoria Park, are now held at Morphettville.

Early country courses included Thebarton, and the Adelaide Old Course, Penola, and Apsley.

Perhaps the best known feature of South Australian racing is the Easter weekend meeting at Oakbank in the Adelaide Hills where the Onkaparinga Racing Club runs a steeplechase and flat race programme on Easter Saturday and Monday. The first meeting was held in 1876, and today it attracts contestants from Victoria and New Zealand where jumping and hurdle races are still held. In South Australia, horses for these events are especially prepared.


This is one of Australia's largest states. On its coast, it runs 1,200 miles from the border with New South Wales to Cooktown. From there to the tip of Australia at Thursday Island, it is another 500 miles of tropical bush which is given over to cattle ranching. But even in tiny settlements on the Cape York Peninsula, as the area is known, there is an annual bush race meeting. Inland, the border with the Northern Territory is also 1,200 miles from the coast. Across the coastal mountains around Brisbane lies the fertile Darling Downs, where squatters took up land. Queensland, extensive as it is, has the largest number of racecourses in Australia. Because of the wide area that became the State of Queensland in 1859, and until the railways reached major centres in the decentralised State, racing control became regionalized, rather than centralised. This was to last well into the 20th century.

Major Group 1 Races in Brisbane

Queensland Turf Club (QTC), Eagle Farm

Brisbane Cup, 2 miles, Hcp
Queensland Derby, 12 furl., SW
Stradbroke Handicap, 6 furl.,
Sires' Produce Stakes, 6 furl.,

Brisbane Turf Club (BTC), Doomben

Doomben 10,000, 7 furl., wfa
Doomben Cup, 10 furl., wfa

Eagle Farm Racecourse
Eagle Farm in 1902
The colony was first established as a convict settlement on Moreton Bay, at the estuary of the Brisbane River, in 1826. In 1843, it became a free settlement In 1859, it ceased to be a dependency of New South Wales, and became a separate state. The first recognised race meeting was held in the first year of the free settlement by the newly established Moreton Bay Racing Club. A three day event, it was run at Cooper's Plains, an area which "by the time of the meeting will be wholly cleared and stumped, the length a mile and a quarter." Many of the influential founding settlers in Queensland were men who had made their money in other colonies, and were not newcomers to Australia. They brought their good horses with them.

As with the other colonies, meetings in the formative years of racing were annual events. Even with big distances, racegoers would travel many miles by river steamers to attend race meetings. In the areas outside of Queensland, a number of organized race meetings were held, among them the Fitzroy Jockey Club in the Rockhampton district, complete with a Race Ball, near the gold fields, established in 1863. The Gayndah Jockey Club established the Queensland Derby in 1868, and another Queensland Derby was held at Toowoomba.

In 1852 a racecourse was established at New Farm, which was a mile oval with a bridged creek part of the course. It was close to the area where the two city racecourses are found today. But as racing developed in the countryside on the Downs, there was a slump in Brisbane with only five annual meeting between 1848 and 1861, and in the years 1852 to 1855 there weren't any races in Brisbane.

Ipswich, twenty-four miles up river from Brisbane and with half its population, became the main centre for racing as it was a major port for the squatters of the Downs. The Northern Australian Jockey Club was formed there. Though there were a few locally bred horses which performed well in Sydney and Melbourne, there was a great need for an improvement in bloodstock breeding and the quality of horses racing.

The Queensland Turf Club was formed in 1863 and built a new course at Eagle Farm on a 322 acre from the government. Its first meeting was in 1865, and in 1871 it became the site of the Queensland Derby and the Brisbane Cup, which had been instituted in 1866. The discovery of gold in many parts of Queensland in the 1880s changed the fortunes of the capital. Racing clubs in country centres grew in strength. In the late 1880s the proprietary Albion Park racecourse was established at the entertainment centre at Albion Park, which offered the Brisbane Two Thousand, the richest race in Queensland at the time. When the Brisbane Amateur Turf Club was established in 1923, it assumed control of Albion Park racecourse, and the BATC Continued to offer big purses to attract the best racehorses, including the famous Doomben Ten Thousand, now held at the Doomben racecourse.


In 1803, the Government in New South Wales sent a party of four hundred persons, mainly convicts, but also soldiers, free women and children, to found a settlement at Port Philip Bay on which the future site of Melbourne lay. After eight months the venture was abandoned as being unsuitable. In 1824 explorers travelled overland from Sydney to a point on Port Philip Bay. In 1826 another official effort at settlement took place not far from the original, and it too was abandoned. In 1834 the Henty brothers who had moved from Western Australia to Tasmania, came back to the main continent and settled, illegally, at a place some two hundred miles west of Port Philip.

In 1835, two parties from Tasmania settled in Port Philip Bay, on the banks of a large river. This was to be the birth of Melbourne. Whilst the Government of New South Wales did not approve of these settlements, it was too far away to have any contro,l and so the Port Philip Settlement, as a dependency of New South Wales, was born. These settlers brought large flocks of sheep and cattle across the strait and a new era of Australian pastoral activity developed. Squatters also moved in from neighbouring New South Wales. It was they who first established racing.

Melbourne's first race meeting was held as a holiday event in March 1838 and this was repeated in 1839. In the third year the races were held on flats beside the Salt River. This was to become the site of today's Flemington racecourse. The following year the Port Philip Race Club was formed, but it was short lived.

Major Group 1 Races in Melbourne

Victoria Racing Club (VRC), Flemington, Melbourne

Melbourne Cup, 2 miles, Hcp
Victoria Derby, 12 furl., SW
Victorian Oaks, 12 furl., SW
Salinger Stakes, 6 furl., Hcp
Lightning Stakes, 5 furl., Hcp
Australian Cup, 10 furl., wfa
Newmarket Handicap, 6 furl., Hcp

Melbourne Racing Club (MRC), Caulfield

Caulfield Cup, 12 furl., Hcp
Caulfield Guineas, 1 mile, SW
Toorak Handicap, 1 mile, Hcp
Oakleigh Plate, 5-1/2 furl., Hcp
Futurity Stakes, 7 furl., wfa

Moonee Valley Racing Club (MVRC), Melbourne

W.S. Cox Plate, 10 furl., wfa
Manikato Stakes, 6 furl., wfa

Flemington Race Course
Flemington Racecourse in the 1890s
Racing at that time was controlled by the committee formed for each annual meeting. Small holiday meetings, organised by publicans, were held at seaside resorts. The courses for these were the paddocks behind hotels. Country racing followed the common pattern of Australian settlements. But in these early years, they were mostly organised by the wealthy squatters and held on their own properties for their own sporting entertainment.

Ten years after the demise of the Port Philip Race Club, two new clubs were formed, the Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club. In 1864 they amalgamated to form the Victoria Racing Club which came to be the controlling body of racing in Victoria from its headquarters at Flemington. In 1851 the Port Philip settlement became independent of New South Wales as the Colony of Victoria.

The discovery of gold in 1851 brought about a migration, not only from the other Australian colonies, but from overseas, Britain and Ireland in particular. In Melbourne and the gold mining towns and settlements, which covered the whole of the colony, racing became a most important pastime. Gold gave birth to a new Australia, not just a place for growing wool but for mining, agriculture, industry and commercial enterprises. People interested in horse racing were now able to spend huge amounts of money in the industry, notably importing fine bloodstock for breeding and racing. It was a saying at the time that, whilst New South Wale bred the best horses, they had to go to Melbourne to prove themselves.

There were many small courses around Melbourne, most of which would disappear with time. However, in 1876 the Victoria Amateur Turf Club was formed with its home at Caulfield, about four miles from the city centre. It would quickly come to rival the Victorian Racing Club in importance. The capital of racing is indisputedly Victoria. Gold made it the financial capital, and the richness of its soils made it equally successful in livestock raising and agriculture. An important factor, too, is that all of these activities took place within a much smaller area than the other colonies, with the exception of the island colony of Tasmania. But it was the race of all races, the Melbourne Cup, held over two miles on the first Tuesday in November, at Flemington, that was to become the yardstick of Australian racing carnivals.


Who Went Racing?

The simple answer is , everyone. Few books on the sociology of racing have been written. The best is that of former lecturer at Edinburgh University, Wray Vamplew. In the 1970s he migrated to South Australia where he also wrote a paper on the sociology of racing in that State. I think it is a very important study.

There is no doubt that people of Irish descent have played a major role in the past, and still today in the racing industry in Europe and former British colonies of the United States, South Africa and Australasia. In spite of continental and Asian migration to Australia since the end of World War II, 40% of Australians have Irish ancestry. In the horse racing industry it is probably 90%.

As early racing went hand-in-glove with tavern and hoteliers , it is not surprising that most of the population was interested in racing in one form or another. There is a unique Australian slang term, wowser, which is defined as a prudish teetotaller. Whilst there were such objectors to racing and betting in earlier Australia, by the mid-twentieth century this had disappeared. Non-bettors and non-drinkers have always had an interest in racing in Australia. It is the one of two areas of Australian society that is egalitarian. High Court judges mingle with workaday tipsters on a racecourse. The other place where egalitarianism is found is at the Australian form of football called Aussie Rules. It is no coincidence that these two fields of sport found popularity on the goldfields and amongst the working classes. With the popularity today of syndicating the ownership of horses, people with limited funds can still be involved in trying to lead in the 'big winner'.

Where Does Racing Take Place?

"Wherever a few are gathered..." From the beginning of the development of the land, an annual race meeting could be found in countless country hamlets, towns and cities. In the early mining camps and in the huge station (ranch) areas, meetings were held. There is no difference today. In the vast outback of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, regular meetings are held at a district level. Outside of the capital cities, the countryside in each state is divided into racing districts in which meeting dates for the year are allocated. In most cases, there is a Saturday meeting and a weekday meeting within a two hour drive from the furthermost point in the area. A carnival might be run over two days. Sydney and Melbourne each have four metropolitan courses, Brisbane and Adelaide three each, Perth two, and the two centres of Tasmania --Hobart and Launceston -- one each. Each city, except in Tasmania, has several courses within a fifty mile radius of the city centre.

Horse Transport

There is the myth that Archer, the winner of the first two Melbourne Cups, walked the five hundred miles from his New South Wales stable to Melbourne. He didn't. He went by ship, as did most horses going to race meetings between, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne. This doesn't mean that there weren't many horses walked long distances over hundreds of miles to meetings. They did. Many took in local meetings along the way. Came the railways, and this became the form of transport until eventually the motor drawn van took over. Finally, air transport came into usage in the second half of the 20th century and today is used along with the horse van. Horses from New Zealand crossed the Tasman Sea by ship until the modern era, when air transport took over.

Racing Administration

The history of the administration of racing began with regimental officers in New South Wales, West Australia and Tasmania, with influential settlers gradually taking over in all the major clubs. But these men administered individual racing clubs, not those in the colony at large. Stewards were club members appointed to honorary positions. They gradually learnt to apply racing rules as formulated by the English Jockey Club at Newmarket. Slowly, the major club of each capital city became the controlling body of racing in that state. The exception was Queensland, which was the last state to have local district control of racing. Until very recent years, the controlling bodies of racing have been the premier race clubs in each state :

New South Wales -- The Australian Jockey Club ( Headquarters Randwick)
Victoria The Victorian Racing Club (Flemington)
Queensland Queensland Turf Club (Eagle Farm)
South Australia -- South Australian Jockey Club (Morphettville)
West Australia West Australian Turf Club ( Ascot)
Tasmania Tasmanian Racing Club (Elwick)

Today, in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Tasmania, racing is administered by a state government statutory body which complies with the rules of racing as run formerly by the premier race club of the state.

All city and country meetings are under the control of these bodies or clubs, which supply the stipendiary stewards to all registered meetings.

When Does Racing Take Place?

In terms of metropolitan racing, meetings developed to a once weekly basis per city, on a Saturday, with the occasional midweek meeting. There were additional meetings on a public holiday. Sunday racing was banned. From the 1970s on, Sydney and Melbourne have a midweek meeting and in later years, Sunday racing has taken place in both the cities and the country, but only on special occasions. Since the 1990s there are irregular night meetings in Sydney and Melbourne.

Racing Seasons

Climate plays a part in the organization of major racing carnivals, which are limited to the metropolitan race clubs where all Group 1 races are held. There are two seasonal carnivals, spring and autumn, held in both Sydney and Melbourne. These carnivals include classic races for two and three year olds, weight for age events, and handicaps. All Group 1 events take place at this time in these centres. Adelaide has its carnival in autumn, and Perth over the summer holiday season. Tasmania has its short season in January. Brisbane has high summer rainfall, so its carnival takes place in the dry autumn and summer months.

Types of Racing

In the early decades, and indeed, until the mid-twentieth century, the major races were handicaps over distances between ten furlongs and two miles. The traditional metropolitan Cups are still over two miles. Staying stallions were most desirable, and there was not much need to import stallions that were sprinters or even milers. Good sprinters in general, just came by "chance." What are now termed Group races were of least value in the sprint category, followed by the mile. It was the staying races that attracted the greatest stakes money.

The years following World War ll saw a change in the breeding pattern in Europe, particularly England and Ireland. The short distance horse was now preferred for a quick return on outlay. Whilst the traditional Derby distance of one and a half miles remained, "miler" stallions were preferred, as their progeny might go either way in distance. The directors of the Sydney Turf Club ( no relation to the original club of that name) decided to run a rich sprint race in the Autumn for two-year-olds. Named The Golden Slipper, it is a five furlong dash on a tight course. Fate was most kind to the STC. An extremely well-performed stallion, Star Kingdom (Star King in the UK), born in 1946, a male line grandson of Hyperion, came to Australia. He sired the first five winners of the race, and features in the bloodlines of over 40 of the 51 winners so far. The first winner, Todman, was a flying machine and won by eight lengths. Rich two-year-old races in Australia were here to stay, and today the Golden Slipper is the most valuable two-year-old race in the world, worth over $2 million (US). Also in the second half of the century, weight-for-age sprints and mile races also came into their own, especially due to commercial sponsorship. Whilst the two mile Melbourne Cup remains Australia's richest race and sentimental value will probably keep it that way, today the most valuable races are from five furlongs to ten furlongs, except for the Caulfield Cup of one and a half miles which is 'twinned' with the Melbourne Cup.

That is as far as Graded races go. Most ordinary races at each meeting are five furlongs to a mile, many being maiden races for horses that are still to find form or are late-comers to the track.

Steeple and hurdle races are run in Melbourne and Tasmania, with the most famous meeting being the two-day event at Oakbank near Adelaide.

Modern Thoroughbred Breeding

Whilst Australia has always been known for breeding good horses, from the early 19th century until the mid 20th century, the use of shuttle aircraft to bring stallions from the Northern Hemisphere for seasonal work in Australia, has brought in some of the best blood in the world. Australian yearlings are bringing increasingly high prices. There is a sizeable yearling market to South Africa, which enjoys the same Southern Hemisphere season. A number of local stallions and mares have been exported to the Northern Hemisphere for both racing and breeding. It is only the extra time and expense involved in breeding Southern Hemisphere stock to Northern times that has prevented Australian horses from participating in classics held in the US and Europe. But it will come. Our stud farms are found in all states, with the features and staff that are as good as any, anywhere.

Training Methods and Facilities

In the metropolitan areas, stables are close to the racecourses. In more recent times, the race clubs have built stabling on course, which is leased to trainers. Morning exercise is the routine. Because most courses are surrounded by heavily populated areas, it is impossible to take horses off course for walks outside of training hours. Work consists of slow and fast, varying to the horses' needs and the trainers' methods. Outside of the city, are spelling farms where horses can enjoy the leisure of a large paddock.

Horses trained in the country are usually galloped on the local course. Farms where horses are trained are rare in Australia, as are gallops in the English style. The Australian training method is more of the American style though on turf, and sand and tan, this latter being a mixture of wattle bark and sand. There are no metropolitan sand courses for racing in Australia, but some are found in the outback, where water is scarce, or in the tropics, where there is too much rain.

Betting Systems

Bookmakers have always been present in Australian horse racing since very early days. The only exception was in South Australia where, for a while in the 1930s, bookmakers were not allowed on the course. With the invention of the totalisator system in the late 1800s, it was used on-course, and since 1958 also off-course. The off course totalisator betting began in government-controlled betting shops, and today is found in licensed taverns and clubs, as well as telephone betting services. Illegal Starting Price betting still occurs, but with nowhere near the frequency it was before the off-course totalisator; off-course betting shops and phone betting with the totalisator have largely supplanted it.


From its earliest days, Australia has been a horse-racing country, though the start was slow due to the nature of settlement and the distance from Europe. When fortunes expanded -- due first to wool and cattle, and then to mining -- racing and thoroughbred breeding became firmly established. The people who settled and made Australia, which developed into a country from six colonies, enjoyed and fostered racing, without exception, whatever their social status. Today with the syndication of shares in a racehorse, racing has become even more egalitarian.

Anything to do with the racing industry is as good as any in the world, and often better. A major factor in the money that comes into the industry is that which comes from paying sponsors for races. The average Australian Group 1 race provides a greater stake than most in the racing world. Today racing is marketed to people who have money to spend, not necessarily an interest in racing per-se. The carnival atmosphere of the major annual meetings such as the Cups and Derbies, provides a great outlet for the products of fashion and entertainment. All this provides the income and incentive for the improvement of bloodstock through higher prices for horses which have the pedigrees that suggest champion status. It can be said that 99.9% of the Australian population participates in racing, even if it is only a ticket in the office sweep/lottery on the Melbourne Cup. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Australia is the world's top horse racing nation.


In spite of the passion for thoroughbred racing in Australia, there are only two authors who have attempted a comprehensive history of the sport from the beginnings until modern times. Andrew Lemon has completed the first two volumes of an intended trilogy. It is a pity further volumes have not come forwarded to date. One hopes that another will come in the future. The late sports writer Jack Pollard produced an outstanding "dictionary" type of work in Australian Horse Racing a racegoer's companion to the Australian turf. To these two men, thank you for your books' help, without which I would have found this short work much more difficult to research.

The History of the Australian Turf, Vols. 1 and 2, by Andrew Lemon, Classic Reproductions, Melbourne, Australia, 1987
Australian Horse Racing, by Jack Pollard, Sydney, Australia, 1988

Home   Historic Sires   Historic Dams   Portraits   Turf Hallmarks   Breeders   Genetics   Resources   Contributors   Search   Store   E-mail

© 2006 Thoroughbred Heritage. All rights reserved.