The Australian Racing Landscape
Over the last 150 years, horse racing in Australia has evolved significantly, witnessing changes in regulations, technology, breeding practices, and the overall culture of the sport. Here is a broad overview of the development of horse racing in Australia from the late 19th century to the present.
Australia has been home to three of the world’s most extraordinary horses. Phar Lap was a beacon of hope that inspired Australians through the tough times of the Great Depression. Later, as the new century unfolded, the remarkable mares Black Caviar and Winx stepped onto the scene, taking Australian Racing to new heights with their exceptional talent and victories.
In The Beginning
The first race meeting held in Australia was at Hyde Park in Sydney in 1810. Governor Macquarie sanctioned the race and members of the 73rd Regiment raced their horses. The story goes, that the grandstand was positioned in such a way that Mrs Macquarie did not get the sun in her eyes, and this is why we race clockwise in NSW. Following several meetings, the inaugural Sydney Turf Club was established in 1825 with Randwick established as the primary Sydney track in 1960. The first race meeting at Flemington Racecourse was held on 3 March 1840, and the first Melbourne Cup, Flemington’s most famous race, was run on Thursday 7 November 1861. By 1885 Rosehill and Canterbury in Sydney as well as Moonee Valley and Caulfield in Melbourne were established. As well as racing clubs in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.
On Saturday’s We Punt
In 1885 City Tattersall’s was officially established following a dispute with the original English-based Tattersall’s. By the turn of the century in 1900, official gambling had been set up in all 4 of the major racing states.
The interwar period saw continued growth in horse racing, with the sport becoming a significant cultural and social event. Racing carnivals, including the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival and Sydney Autumn Carnival, became major highlights.
The 1920s and 1930s are often termed the ‘golden age of racing’. Racing in 1922 epitomised this era with huge crowds flocking to the racecourses of Sydney. At Randwick during the autumn carnival a capacity crowd estimated to be 90,000 was reached with 498 trams pushed into service to transfer racegoers from Central Station to Randwick. The interwar period saw continued growth in horse racing, with the sport becoming a significant cultural and social event. Racing carnivals, including the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, became major highlights. Phar Lap, one of Australia’s greatest racehorses, dominated the racing scene during this period. His success, including winning the Melbourne Cup in 1930, captivated the nation during a challenging economic period.
The post-war boom of Australian horse racing, spanning the 1940s and 1950s, was a period marked by significant growth and prosperity for the industry. The aftermath of World War II brought about economic recovery, increased urbanisation, and a renewed enthusiasm for social and leisure activities. This optimistic environment contributed to the expansion and popularity of horse racing across the nation. The improved economic conditions and urbanisation contributed to a surge in attendance at racecourses. More people were able to attend race meetings, leading to larger crowds and increased wagering on races. The post-war era saw the introduction of new races that quickly gained prominence. For example, the Golden Slipper Stakes, a prestigious two-year-old race, was first run in 1957 at Rosehill Gardens. This race has since become one of the most significant events on the Australian racing calendar. Horse racing became deeply ingrained in Australian culture during the post-war boom. Major races, such as the Melbourne Cup, became social events, and attending the races became a popular pastime for people of all walks of life.
The post-war boom laid the foundation for the enduring popularity and cultural significance of Australian horse racing.
Higher Paydays and Higher Stakes
The Australian Pattern Committee was established in the 1960s to standardise and classify races based on their quality and significance. This committee played a crucial role in the development and grading of races, including the prestigious Group 1 category. The 1960s-1980s witnessed the introduction of several new Group 1 races, adding depth and diversity to the racing calendar. Races such as the AJC Derby, the Caulfield Guineas, and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes were elevated to Group 1 status during this period. The W.S. Cox Plate, held at Moonee Valley, was elevated to Group 1 status in 1973. This weight-for-age race has since become one of the most prestigious events on the Australian racing calendar, attracting top-class horses from around the world. The elevation of races to Group 1 status often correlated with an increase in prize money and sponsorship. This financial incentive attracted top-quality horses, trainers, and jockeys, making Group 1 races highly competitive and sought after.
The globalisation and international success of Australian horse racing in the 21st century have been significant, with the industry expanding its reach and influence on a global scale. Australian racing events, particularly prestigious Group 1 races, have increasingly attracted top-class international horses. Prominent examples include the participation of European and Asian horses in events like the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, and the Sydney and Melbourne Racing Carnivals. The integration of sophisticated online betting platforms has facilitated international wagering on Australian races. Fans and punters from around the world can easily participate in betting and live streaming of Australian racing events. The Sydney and Melbourne Racing Carnivals have evolved into world-class racing festivals that attract international attention. These events showcase a series of top-tier races, including prestigious Group 1 contests, and feature high-profile horses and connections from around the world.
Racing in the Past 10 years in Australia has been through the highs and lows of any industry on a public scale. In 2017, Racing NSW CEO Peter Vlandys introduced the slot race The Everest. The race, run for record prizemoney of $10M, quickly became one of Australia’s top 3 rated races and is now billed as “the world’s richest race on turf” with a total prize pool boasting of $20M. The races showcase the best of Australia’s dominant sprinting division, with notable winners including Redzel, Classique Legend and Nature Strip.
Racing has recently seen significant prizemoney increases thanks to consistent wagering since the turn of the century and a Covid-19 wagering boom. Significant sponsorship investment since 1986/87 has influenced a prizemoney increase of some 150%, indicating a strong and growing industry.
In the past six years, prizemoney has risen by over 50% following a lull in the early 1990s. When it comes to prizemoney Australia is second to none. In 2024 there will be 95 races worth A$1 million or greater, equivalent to a $1 million dollar race every 3.8 days. This has soared from the 21 $1 million races in 2013. Which includes a total of 74 Group 1 races held throughout Australia each racing season.
The immersion of modern technology is continuing to transform the industry. From in-app betting becoming dominant in Australia, to trainers like Ciaron Maher who now using technology to track a horse’s physical ability, recovery and heart rate. Trainers are consistently tracking stride distance, and blood testing allows trainers to identify a horse’s physical makeup and ideal distances.
At BTX Racing, we’re embracing new technologies to bring new experiences for owners and passionate fans in the industry. Stay with us on this journey as we strive to make the exciting world of horse racing even more inclusive, offering unprecedented access and experiences to owners everywhere.