A Guide to the History and State of Horse Racing in Australia

Horse racing is secretly one of the biggest spectator sports in the world and is one of the most important in all of Australia. It has a storied history and encompasses many fascinating facets that make it well worth understanding.

Just how popular is it in Australia? It has about two million visitors every year on nearly 400 different courses throughout the continent. It is only behind Australian Rules Football and Rugby in popularity in the nation.

Beyond these attendance facts is the international appeal that Australian racing holds on the globe. It actually has more horse racing courses than anywhere in the world, including the United States, and is second only to that nation in the number of horses that race every year. Understanding the history of this sport and other important facts can give you an idea of why it is so popular in the nation.

The Early Stages Of Australian Racing

Horse are not native to Australia, but arrived in the nation in 1788. The fledgling nation grew to love horses for their hardworking nature and their ability to transport people and items more quickly. Bloodlines as old as 1803 still exist in the country, with many of these horses now becoming a major racing stock.

The popularity of horses through the nation lead to many amateur racing competitions. As the breed started spreading through the nation and people continued to race, more serious and professional leagues were formed. By 1810, horse racing was already a well-established activity around Sydney and was already a very successful business.

The first known meeting of horse racing officials occurred in 1810 in Hyde Park, Sydney. The Australian Jockey Club formed in 1842 and helped jockeys meet and find races. Horse racing quickly spread to Victoria, where its first official races were in 1838. Queensland followed suit in 1843, South Australia in 1843, Tasmania in 1814, and Western Australia in 1836.

Since those heady early days, horse racing has spread further and further and become a well-established tradition. This was particularly true when automated vehicles and farming equipment were introduced to the continent. These items decreased the need for horses as laborers and allowed breeders and buyers to focus more on breeding for racing.

Racing Taking Place Through The Country

There are many different races that take place throughout Australia, too many to list easily here. There are six different national races every year, the largest of which is likely the Australian Derby.

This 2,400 meter race is for three-year-old horses and older. Other popular races include the Australian Guineas, a 1,600 meter race this is popular for its shorter course, which promotes more exciting racing which can be seen in betting apps.

The rest of the races in the nation are broken up by state and territory. For example, Victoria has 11 different horse races of various popularity, including the Victoria Derby and the Zipping Classic. New South Wales has four every year, the biggest of which is undoubtedly the Sydney Cup. Other popular races in the country include the Queensland Derby, and the South Australian Derby.

Attendance at these races will vary depending on the state and the density of its population. For example, races in Victoria typically have hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, while those in South Australia are less attended. That said, they are still a popular destination for a large amount of Australians.

Important Australian Jockeys

Australia is well known for having some of the best and most respected jockeys in the history of the sport. What is interesting is that they were the first to use the “crouching” style that has become so prevalent across the racing world.

Anyone who has seen a race has seen this style, as the jockey crouches over the horse to decrease air resistance. This style of racing is very difficult to pull off physically, which is why it was ignored and neglected for so many years before Australian jockeys perfected it.

A few of the most influential Australian jockeys include people like Edgar Britt and Scobie Breasley, who is perhaps most famous for winning four British championships. Nearly every Australian jockey of renown is male because the sport does not allow women jockeys.

There are a few examples of women racing as jockeys, however, including Wilhemena Smith racing as “Bill Smith.” In 1974, special women jockeys were brought in for an event to race in “ladies only” events that increased female interest in the sport. Currently, however, women jockeys are still not allowed to participate in Australian horse racing.

The Ruling Powers Of Horse Racing In Australia

While horse racing was once a fairly wild and unregulated activity in Australia, it has since been taken control of by the Australian Racing Board. All of the different tracks have different clubs, as do horse owners and jockeys.

The Australian Racing Board unites all of these clubs and creates rules and dictates that ensure they all operate according to law and the guidelines set down by the club.

They not only set rules and enforce them in the various clubs, but they are also responsible for the maintenance of racing committees, grading races, and working with black-type status horses (will be discussed in more depth below). Beyond these duties, they also create advisory groups that ensure operation of clubs and tracks remain uniform across the nation.

For example, they work hard to ensure that all horses are fed properly, treated with respect, and given comfortable living quarters. In this way, the sport is well-regulated in the way that other sports, such as Rugby, are done through the nation. All racing courses opened must follow these rules or suffer legal and financial consequences.

Black Type Status

There are many different grades of horse racing in Australia, the most prominent of which is black type racing. Properly known as group or pattern races, these races received the nickname “black type” because horses who win in this category are highlighted with bold or black ink in sales catalogues.

Black type status is awarded on horses who win particular races due to the difficulty of the races. For example, winning in the Melbourne Cup in Australia will grant horses black type status. This essentially means the horse is a talented one that is well worth watching and which may develop into a serious and well-respected horse in the future.

Understanding this is important to fully grasping horse racing in Australia because so much of it is based on achieving this status. When trainers and breeders create a horse that reaches this level, they will not only ask for more money when selling it and likely win more often, but they can also use the horse as a profitable stud for other racers.