Australia’s horseracing history is a long and storied one. It begins with the first fleet where seven horses were transported from England aboard the Lady Penrhyn that arrived at Botany Bay in January of 1788.
By 1790 horse races were conducted using workhorses as there were no thoroughbreds in the colony. After a few years, stallions and mares were brought over from England and America, and by 1800, there were enough wealthy colonists able to import thoroughbreds. Arabian horse Old Hector was transported over in about 1806 and was an important sire for the colony with some Australian thoroughbred horses still containing his bloodline. Other Arabian horses imported before 1825 considerably contributed to the thoroughbred bloodline in the country as well.
The first official race meeting occurred in 1810 at Hyde Park in Sydney and was organized by the Officers of New South Wales Governor, Lachlan Macquarie.
Formal race clubs were established in New South Wales in the 1820s as more English thoroughbreds were imported to Australia for racing. The Australian Jockey Club was established in 1842 and held race meetings at Homebush until 1859 when they relocated to Randwick.
The first official race in Victoria occurred in 1838 at Batman’s Hill Track in Melbourne, while Queensland first recorded official race was in 1843 at Coopers Plains, a suburb of Brisbane. 1861 saw the inauguration of the Melbourne Cup, which was and still is raced at Flemington Racecourse and has become the crowning event of all horse racing in Australia. The Sydney Cup was inaugurated in 1862 and has been run at the Royal Randwick Racecourse ever since. It is part of the ATC Championships Carnival where many other important races happen including Golden Slipper and where people who watch the Sires Produce Stakes bet wisely based on the Golden Slipper win since both races, along with the Champagne Stakes, make up the ‘Triple Crown’. Perth also has some prestigious races, including the Railway Stakes and the Perth Cup which are both run at the Ascot Racecourse and were both inaugurated in 1887.
Australia has been home to some of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses in the world. Carbine was a New Zealand-bred thoroughbred foaled in 1885. He spent most of his career in Australia with a prominent member of Victorian Parliament and horse breeder, Donald Wallace. He was further trained by Melbourne-based trainer Walter Higgenbotham and won the Melbourne Cup in 1890.
Kingston Town, who was foaled in 1976, was trained by legendary trainer T.J Smith and went on to win the Sydney Cup in 1980 and the W.S. Cox Plate three times (1980, 1981, 1982), among other notable achievements.
Phar Lap is one of the most famous racehorses in the world and was foaled in New Zealand in 1926. He had major successes in Australian horse racing, dominating the sport in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Among his many wins are the Rosehill Guineas and the Victoria Derby in 1929, the Melbourne Cup in 1930, the W.S. Cox Plate and the Melbourne Stakes in 1930 and 1931. He is considered a national icon for both Australia and New Zealand and has bronze statues in both countries.
Horse racing is revered and enjoyed all around Australia to this day, with a day at the races being one of the nation’s favourite pastimes.