Australian horse racing
Australians are the world’s biggest gamblers (per person anyway) and the national love for horse racing knows no bounds.
From the fabulous Melbourne Cup Carnival to picnic meetings at Bong Bong, the fans turn up, the racing is fierce and turnover through the totalisator and with bookmakers is relentless.
Of course, it’s not just racing that attracts gamblers in Australia, with sports betting, casinos and online gaming also running up big numbers.
But the Sport of Kings is built into the national psyche; indeed, if it were permitted the Red Terror, Australia’s legendary racehorse Phar Lap, may well have been elected prime minister during his glorious career in the 1930s.
Consider this: Australia has a relatively tiny population of 24 million yet has more racecourses than any other nation in the world.
There are 72 Group 1 races on the calendar so there is nearly always quality racing to bet on from Down Under.
Methods of betting on Australian horse racing
If you are in Australia, or most nations for that matter, you will have little difficulty in placing bets of all varieties on Australian racing.
There are the Australian totalisators, on-course bookies, off-course and internet bookies and betting exchanges to cater to your needs, though many of these options may not be available from countries such as the United States and China.
Turnover is huge on Australian racing, particularly during the major carnivals, and the industry is funded largely on the back of funds flowing through the totes and major bookies.
Live vision of Australian racing is widely available worldwide (see below), and we recommend betting only with bookmakers licensed in reputable jurisdictions.
Brief history of horse racing in Australia
Horses arrived in Australia with the First Fleet of European settlers in 1788 and it was not long before imported sires and mares were brought in to raise the quality of racing stock.
Horse racing quickly became popular around Sydney but the first organised meeting was not held until in October 1810, in Hyde Park. It was set up by visiting army officers.
The Australian Jockey Club was formed circa 1842 and held race meetings at Homebush Bay before relocating to Randwick, where racing had been held since 1833, in 1860. The first AJC Derby was run at Randwick in 1861.
The Sydney Turf Club was formed in 1943 and in 2010 merged with the AJC to form the Australian Turf Club.
Down south in Melbourne the Victoria Racing Club (merger between the Victoria Jockey Club and Victoria Turf Club) was formed in 1864, though the first official races had been held in 1838.
Racing spread far and wide and by the late 1800s there were hundreds of tracks Australia-wide racing under the auspices of the Australian Jockey Club.
Tracks and conditions improved and the quality of horseflesh was continually improved through the importation of stallions and mares. That continues today as many stallions from Europe and the United States shuttle to Australia for the breeding season. And plenty of others now go the other way.
Nowadays, too, nearly all tracks have totalisator set-ups, photo-finish cameras and starting barriers. The automatic totalisator, superseded now by computer software and large-screen displays, was invented by English-born Australian Sir George Julius, an engineer based in Sydney. Nice work, George.
How Australian horse racing works
Australian racing is conducted almost exclusively on the flat (ie, not over jumps), though a few jumps events survive in Victoria and South Australia. A large part of this aversion to jumps racing is the danger to horse and rider because of the hard ground Down Under, in comparison with places such as Britain.
There are hundreds of racecourses across Australia. But the major meetings are conducted at city tracks, which include:
Melbourne: Flemington, Caulfield, Sandown, Moonee Valley.
Sydney: Randwick, Rosehill, Canterbury, Warwick Farm.
Brisbane: Eagle Farm, Doomben.
Perth: Ascot, Belmont.
Hobart, Darwin and Canberra have race meetings regularly but these are not usually considered in the same class as the action in the other state capitals, at least outside their featured meetings.
Highlights of the Australian horse racing year
Magic Millions carnival
This rich day of racing at the Gold Coast racecourse each January is restricted to horses sold through the Magic Millions complex nearby. Nonetheless it is a fantastic day of action and the main MM yearling sales run in the lead-up and after the race day on the Saturday. The Saturday night sales session is particularly boisterous, and there has been more than one case of buyer’s remorse involving a sales-goer who has had a few too many at the racetrack and spent more than they planned.
Best races: Magic Millions Classic for two-year-olds, Gold Coast Magic Millions Guineas for three-year-olds.
Melbourne Autumn carnival
Does not have quite the glamour of the Melbourne Spring but nonetheless many of the best gallopers in the land are on show. It’s a chance for the best sprinters in the land to strut their stuff in the sprint triple crown of the Lightning, Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket Handicap. And for Victoria’s best juveniles to chase the Blue Diamond, Australia’s second-biggest race for two-year-olds. The racing takes place at a mix of Melbourne tracks including Caulfield, Moonee Valley and, of course, racing HQ Flemington.
Best races: Lightning Stakes, Oakleigh Plate, Newmarket Handicap, Australian Cup, Blue Diamond Stakes.
Sydney Autumn Carnival
Traditionally a time for Australia’s largest city to put on a horse racing show and this one rarely disappoints. It has been spruced up with the advent of The Championships (see below) in 2014, a two-day extravaganza at Randwick which has become the focal point of the autumn. The Sydney Autumn Carnival runs through March and April and includes the Australian triple crown for three-year-olds of the Randwick Guineas, Rosehill Guineas and Australian derby. And also the world’s richest race for two-year-olds, the Golden Slipper at Rosehill. Throw in The BMW, a rich race for stayers over 2400 metres, and it’s a treat for punters before we even reach the crescendo of The Championships.
Best races: Golden Slipper, The BMW, Rosehill Guineas.
Two race-days on consecutive Saturdays at Randwick that sell themselves as the grand finals of Australian racing. And they make a compelling case, too, with eight Group 1 races attracting the best horses from around Australia and a growing number of international challengers. The prizemoney for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a top-class contest over 2000 metres , has been beefed up and it aims to usurp the Cox Plate as the No.1 weight-for-age race on the calendar. In fact, The Championships themselves aim to upstage the Melbourne spring. They are not there yet, but the momentum is building. The main Easter yearling sales also are held around these meetings, so it’s a wonderful time to be in Sin City.
Best races: Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Doncaster Mile, ATC Australian Derby, T.J. Smith Stakes.
The best racing South Australia has to offer comes around in April/May with the State’s four Group 1 races held over three consecutive Saturdays. All the action comes at the Morphettville track, where racing has been conducted since 1876. The best race is the Goodwood Handicap, a 1200m sprint, the honour roll of which includes the mighty Black Caviar.
Best races: Goodwood Handicap, South Australian Derby, Australasian Oaks.
Brisbane Winter Carnival
This is Queensland racing’s moment in the sun. The carnival does not always attract the cream of Australia’s gallopers but it has become a proving ground for the following season’s superstars. Thoroughbreds thrive with a trip north for the winter sun and the experience often proves the making of them as they return to action in the Melbourne spring and step up a notch. Mind you, races such as the Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm are time-honoured and won only by top-class gallopers.
Best races: Stradbroke Handicap, Doomben 10,000, Queensland Derby, Queensland Oaks.
Sydney Spring Carnival
Not quite as exciting as the autumn version but nonetheless provides some of the best early races of the new season in Australia, including the opening Group 1 in Sydney: the Golden Rose. The top-line gallopers based in Sydney will get a couple of runs under their belts before heading south for the Melbourne riches. And Sydney-trained horses enjoy great success in Melbourne so it’s worth watching closely to compile a stable or horses to follow. Mind you, that’s not to belittle the Sydney Autumn as races such as the Epsom and Metropolitan have long histories as top-notch contests in their own right.
Best races: Epsom Handicap, George Main Stakes, The Metropolitan.
Melbourne Spring Carnival
The highlight of the Australian racing year and kicks off with the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes meeting in October. The carnival includes racing at Caulfield, Moonee Valley, Flemington and, finally, Sandown – all the Melbourne metropolitan tracks. It really kicks into gear with, on successive Saturdays, the Caulfield Guineas, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Victoria Derby Day, which marks the start of the Melbourne Cup carnival (see below). The Cox Plate is regarded as the weight-for-age championship of Australasia, though the hype around it pales in comparison with that around the Melbourne Cup.
Best races: Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate.
Melbourne Cup Carnival
These four magnificent days at Flemington deserve a section of their own, for they are considered the peak of the spring action and attract enormous interest. Crowds around 100,000 attend each of the meetings and they all have their charms. The action starts on the Saturday with Victoria Derby day, one for the purists and considered the best day’s racing on the Australian calendar. The Cup meeting follows on Tuesday and the great race literally stops the nation for a few minutes. Thursday is VRC Oaks day (or Ladies’ Day)’ while Emirates Mile day on the Saturday is marketed as family day but boasts a stack of great racing action. A carnival not to be missed for any serious follower of thoroughbred racing.
Best races: Melbourne Cup, Mackinnon Stakes, Victoria Derby, Victoria Oaks, Emirates Mile.
Perth Summer Carnival
The West Australian capital has three Group 1 races and they arrive in November and December after the spring carnival in Victoria is complete. Invariably several east coast trainers will send runners west with the aim of adding a Group 1 scalp. The Perth Cup on New Year’s Day is another highlight which always attracts a massive crowd who come along for good racing and a party atmosphere.
Best races: Railway Handicap, Winterbottom Stakes, Kingston Town Classic.
Where to watch Australian racing live
In Australia, all racing is shown on pay TV through Sky Racing and Racing.com. Victorian racing and selected other meetings are also shown live on free-to air TV.
Watching live Australian racing overseas
It’s easy to find a bookmaker willing to take bets on Australian racing and it also should not be too difficult to watch the action live no matter where you are.
All Victorian racing is shown live on free-to-air television in Australia and on Pay TV in Australia and in many countries around the world. It is also streamed live on racing.com and at the time of writing there was no geo-blocking of this website in place. The Racing NSW website streams NSW and Queensland meetings live.
Pay TV operators in many parts of the world cover Australian racing.