Horse Racing in Australia

The sport of horse racing has made an indelible impact on the culture of
Australia. Whether rooting on the equine stars of Thoroughbred and other types
of racing or indulging in the gambling side of it, the people of Australia truly
have a passion for the sport. As a matter of fact, attendance figures show it is
the third-most popular sport in the country, behind only rugby and Australian
Rules Football.

Horse racing’s presence in the country goes back almost as far as the
beginnings of Australia, with racing first showing up with regularity in the
early part of the 19th century. Since then, a booming industry has
grown up around the sport in the country. Many of the nation’s biggest races
command great attention, whether they are filled with local favorites or
contested by national star horses.

The sport has enjoyed a rich history in the last 200 years in Australia, and
it has only grown in popularity over the years. And, of course, it must be noted
that betting is a big part of it, with fans finding a variety of different ways
to back their favorites.


Since Australia was first established as a European colony, and horses were a
big part of everyday life on the continent, it made sense that they would be
imported to the new location. Some of the first horses that came over on
European ships actually served as sires and dams for the earliest race horses.
As a matter of fact, many champions in the country, even into the modern era,
can be traced back to those earliest equine immigrants.

Warwick Starting Gate

Racing was soon to follow the arrival of these initial horses. Informal
events came first, followed by an actual race meeting in Hyde Park in Sydney in
1810. With that as the benchmark, clubs dedicated to horse racing began to pop
up all over the country, and tracks were built to meet this new demand.

Many of the country’s most illustrious tracks can be traced back to the 19th
century. In addition, some of the most famous races also go all the way back
more than a century into the past. Horse racing fans in Australia are surrounded
by tradition at practically every track they happen to visit.

Types of Racing in Australia


This is the most popular form of racing around the world, and Australia is no
different in that respect. It was also the form of the earliest racing efforts
in Australia. Also known as the flats, Thoroughbred racing will be the focus of
this look at racing in the country, but there are other
types of racing
that also receive a lot of attention and thus need to be noted.


Just as in the United States, there is a vibrant harness racing community
spread across Australia. This type of racing receives a lot of attention in
terms of both attendance and betting handle. Harness racing might not be the
glamorous sport that Thoroughbred racing has become. But that blue-collar ethos
is what makes it incredibly popular with a large segment of the population.

Harness racing features horses known as Standardbreds that are bred
particularly for that type of racing. Unlike Thoroughbreds who gallop as fast as
they can throughout a race, Standardbreds must conform to a certain type of gait
when they race. There are pacers, whose front and back feet on the same side of
their body hit the ground at the same time, and trotters, whose left front and
back right will hit at once, and then vice versa, as they race.

In addition, harness racing is distinguished by the fact that the drivers
(not jockeys) are pulled along in a bike-like device known as a sulky behind the
horses. This means that the times aren’t as fast as they would be in
Thoroughbred racing. But the bikes tend to keep more horses close to the lead in
each race, which makes for a lot of thrilling finishes in the sport.

Many great Australian and New Zealand-bred Standardbreds take the opportunity
to come to the United States and race there. But the high stakes available to
them at the tracks across the Land Down Under mean that they can stay on their
home dirt and still make a good living for their drivers, trainers, and owners.


Steeplechases are typically longer than Thoroughbred races. Their
distinguishing characteristic is the fact that there are jumps throughout the
race that the horses have to handle in order to win. Although steeplechases
aren’t in vogue like they once were, Australia still hosts a substantial amount
of them. Two of the most famous in the country are the Great Eastern
Steeplechase and the Grand Annual.

Structure of Thoroughbred Racing in Australia

Australia stands apart from, for example, United States Thoroughbred racing
because of its heavy reliance on so-called weight-for-age races. These races
assign certain weights to each horse in the race, depending on their age,
experience, and other factors. The idea is to use the weight to level the field,
so to speak.

Although many racing purists feel that the weight-for-age races only punish
horses for being better than others, the system does produce extremely balanced
racing. As a result, the setup makes for great betting opportunities. There
aren’t usually overwhelming favorites who offer very little value to those
backing them with these types of races.

Australia also attempts to classify certain races in terms of the caliber of
racing. They are host to a large number of “Group One” stakes races. These races
attract only the finest talent and also bring a great deal of prestige to the
horses who win them.

The Australian Triple Crowns

Like most countries that host Thoroughbred racing, Australia does offer the
chance for the finest horses to achieve immortality by becoming Triple Crown
winners. In fact, the country does most countries one better by offering a pair
of Triple Crowns.


All three of the Triple Crown races for three-year-olds are held in the
booming horse racing mecca of Sydney, New South Wales. A recent change in venue
for one of the events hasn’t lessened the enthusiasm for the series whatsoever.
Like in other countries, winning the Australian Triple Crown has proven
exceedingly difficult.

The first event is the Randwick Guineas, a 1,600-meter turf race held each
March. This first leg had previously been the Canterbury Guineas, but in 2005,
the change was made by Australian racing authorities. It is followed by the
Rosehill Guineas, another March turf event at a distance of 2,000 meters, and
the Australian Derby, held in April at a distance of 2,400 meters.

Considering the relatively short amount of time between races and the
escalating distances, it is understandable that only five horses have been able
to complete the Australian Triple Crown. The winners were Moorland in 1943,
Martello Towers in 1959, Imagele in 1973, Octagonal in 1996, and It’s a Dundeel
in 2003.


Australia is also known as one of the few countries to offer two-year-olds a
chance at a Triple Crown. The three races are the Golden Slipper Stakes, the ATC
Sires Produce Stakes, and the Champagne Stakes. There have been six winners of
the two-year-old Australian Triple Crown, with the most recent being Pierro in
2012. Ironically, none of the two-year-old Triple Crown winners have ever gone
on to win a three-year-old Triple Crown race.

The Melbourne Cup

In many countries, the Triple Crown races are the ones that draw the most
attention. But in the case of Australia, their most prestigious event is the
Melbourne Cup. A long, grueling turf race, it has attracted some of the biggest
stars in the country’s history to try and conquer it.

The Melbourne Cup, which is held each year at Flemington Racecourse in
Melbourne, Victoria, is open to three-year-olds and up. Only the finest horses
are allowed to compete, as they are chosen based on past performances and
victories in qualifying races. It is a weight-for-age race, and it is contested
at a distance of 3,200 meters, roughly the equivalent of 2 miles, on the turf.

The first event was held back in 1861, and the Melbourne Cup has only gained
in significance and renown throughout all those years. It has become a cultural
event much like the Kentucky Derby in the United States, right down to the fancy
hats that are a must for all ladies attending the event.

But what sets it apart is the quality of the racing. The excitement of the
race is so intoxicating that it generally demands the attention of most of
Australia when it is held. As a result, it has gained the nickname “The Race
That Stops a Nation.”

Phar Lap

Each country produces a horse that is such an incredible racer that it gains
almost a mythical quality through the years. In Australia, that horse is Phar
Lap. In life, he was nearly unbeatable, but even in death, he managed to be a
fascinating figure.

The gelding’s incredible record included 19 victories in group races during
his career, which spanned the years 1927-1932. At one point, he reeled off a
14-race winning streak, and he won 32 of his last 35 races. For good measure, he
shipped to Mexico in 1932 for what turned out to be his final race and set a
track record while winning the Agua Caliente Stakes in Tijuana.

Phar Lap then made his way to California, where his handlers appeared to be
preparing him for competition against the best American horses. Unfortunately,
he died in 1932 under mysterious circumstances. The mystery persists to this
day, with some people fully believing that there was foul play at hand.

Betting on Horse Racing in Australia

Australia’s betting setup manages to incorporate quaint traditions and modern
technologies for the best of both worlds. On the one hand, there are bookmakers
available both on and off site offering wagers on the top competitors in each
race. These bookmakers generally deal in fixed price betting.

What that means is that the odds that they offer to bettors do not change at
any time before the race. This style of betting is excellent if you think that
you have odds on a horse that are beneficial. You can lock them in by grabbing a
bookie and placing your bet.

On the other hand, Australia makes room for pari-mutuel racing as well.
Pari-mutuel wagering, which is popular in the United States, takes into account
how much money is bet on each horse. That is the ultimate determiner in what the
odds are for each horse and even for each specialized bet.

The advantage to this type of betting comes if you take a horse that not many
other people think has a chance to do very well in the race. That might raise
the odds for you. If that horse should do well, you have a better chance of a
big return in this manner.

Each type of wagering holds its own benefits and drawbacks. The fixed-odds
method is generally reserved for straight bets like a win or a place. With a win
bet, you are betting that your horse will win the race, while a place bet means
that you will get a return if the horse finishes first or second.

Pari-mutuel wagering offers a little bit more flexibility in terms of the
types of bets you can place. If you do choose to go with a bookmaker, it’s a
good idea to make sure that you find one that is officially affiliated with the
track in question. Otherwise, you run the risk of being ripped off.

In any case, wagering on horse races is a favorite pastime in Australia. The
internet has made it much easier for people to partake in that pastime. There
are many horse
racing betting sites
that allow you the ability to wager on races from all
over the world, including Australia, by simply logging into your computer,
phone, or tablet.