Australia’s passion for horse racing is as enduring as the nation itself.
The first official race meeting was staged in Sydney’s Hyde Park in 1810 – just 22 years after the arrival of the First Fleet – while the latest racing season saw nearly 20,000 races conducted in eight states and territories.
Competing in those races were 35,000 horses, vying for over $800 million in prizemoney.
The $8 million Melbourne Cup – first run in 1861 – remains one of Australia’s most famous events and is a race that truly stops a nation.
As the great American writer, Mark Twain, said when attending the Melbourne Cup in 1895: “Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation.”
However, the Melbourne Cup is but one of 60 races in Australia annually that attracts $1 million or greater in prizemoney.
The $15 million The Everest, for instance, is the world’s richest race on turf, while the $3.5 million Golden Slipper is the most lucrative race around the globe for 2YOs.
But it’s not all about the prizemoney: many regional cities and towns conduct their own ‘Cups’ – with a public holiday attached – including the famous Birdsville meeting in September.
Situated 1,600 kilometres from Brisbane (and approximately the same distance from Adelaide), Birdsville boasts a population of 140 but attracts 5,000 to a race meeting which has been around since 1882.
It typifies the egalitarian nature of horse racing in Australia with people from all walks of life involved in either outright ownership or a minor percentage through syndication.
Research shows that 1 in every 244 Australian owns a share in a racehorse : a far greater proportion than in any other nation.
Indicative of Australia’s love for racing, our wagering – per capita – averages $862 per year, compared to $274 in the United Kingdom and $45 in the United States.
Additionally, Australian racing is beamed live every day throughout the world.
“You jump off a plane in Australia and everyone is smiling, both at the sales grounds and racetrack,” leading bloodstock agent, Hubie de Burgh points out. “Would I choose anywhere else in the world to race or go to a sale? I wouldn’t, I just love it.”
Australia stages in the vicinity of 2,700 race meetings annually which are spread across all but two days – Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Of the nearly 20,000 actual races, 605 are designated as black type events, with 74 at Group 1 level.
With the Australian racing season commencing on 1 August, the vast majority of the black type races are conducted during designated carnivals: commencing with Sydney and Melbourne in August through to November, the Perth Summer Carnival in November/December, Tasmania in January, back to Melbourne and Sydney for their Autumn Carnivals from February to April, Adelaide in May and Brisbane in May/June.
Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival
The most famous of Australia’s carnivals, the Melbourne Spring Carnival has captivated racing fans for 160 years, with its origins dating right back to the inaugural Melbourne Cup in 1861.
The Melbourne Spring Carnival officially gets underway with the Group 1 Memsie Stakes meeting at the end of August, before wrapping up with the Group 2 Sandown Guineas and Group 2 Zipping Classic in mid November, hosting 20 Group 1 events during that period, which is close to a third of the nation’s elite races.
However, much of the focus is on a 28 day period from early October with Caulfield’s Guineas and Cup, followed by the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley and the world famous 4-day Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington.
Overall, the Melbourne Spring Carnival features 115 black type races which alone account for close to $59 million in prizemoney.
Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival
While Sydney’s spring carnival has been bolstered considerably in recent years through the introduction of the $15 million The Everest – the world’s richest race on turf – and the $7.5 million Golden Eagle, Sydney is renowned for its Autumn racing.
Effectively opening with the Chipping Norton Stakes at the end of February, there are Group 1 races for eight successive weeks, which include the $3.5 million Golden Slipper Stakes – first run in 1957 – the $3 million Doncaster, $2.5 million TJ Smith Stakes, $2 million Derby and, most notably, the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes which was won, most fittingly, by Winx in her farewell to racing in 2019.
There are 22 Group 1s during the Sydney Autumn Carnival – 8 alone during the two week ‘The Championships’ – with black type prizemoney in excess of $40 million.
Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival
There are 86 black type races in Queensland every year, but Brisbane has the seasonal ‘sign off’ with the final Group 1s of the Australian racing season: notably the $1.5 million Stradbroke, the $1 million Doomben 10,000, $1 million Doomben Cup and $1 million JJ Atkins, which is also the last Group 1 for juveniles. The Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival runs from mid May to the Queen’s Birthday weekend in the first week of June.
Magic Millions Carnival (January)
Where the surf meets the turf. Staged in one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations – Queensland’s Gold Coast – January’s Magic Millions Carnival coincides with 6 days of sales action at the Bundall sales complex : immediately across the road from the Gold Coast Turf Club. While there are 18 black type events in Brisbane during November and December, the Magic Millions Carnival is very much a festive affair from the first days of January. The ‘carnival’ includes a barrier draw – conducted at Surfers Paradise beach – for the $2 million Magic Millions 2YO Classic. The race day itself offers over $10 million in prizemoney.
Perth Summer Racing Carnival
While Western Australia’s 78 black type races run continuously from August to July, Perth’s major carnival commences almost immediately upon the completion of its Melbourne counterpart. Perth’s three Group 1s are staged in successive weeks in November/December and feature the Railway Stakes, Winterbottom Stakes and Kingston Town Classic – each worth $1 million in stakes.
Adelaide Racing Carnival
South Australia stages 4 stakes races at its iconic Adelaide Cup meeting in March – a public holiday – which also corresponds with the Adelaide Magic Millions Yearling Sale. However, Adelaide’s major carnival traditionally commences in the first week of May and features 4 Group 1s over a three week period: opening with the Schweppes Oaks and Robert Sangster Classic on the first program, followed by the South Australian Derby before culminating with one of Australia’s most prestigious sprints: the Goodwood Handicap, which was first run in 1881 and won in 2012 by subsequent Royal Ascot winner Black Caviar.
Place in Society
Australia has ridden through history on the horse’s back and is considered as much a part of our culture as any other activity.
While a large number of regional cities and towns throughout Australia conduct at least one meeting annually, the carnivals in capital cities attract wide media coverage: particularly Melbourne’s Spring Carnival.
And while there are currently 74 Group 1s and 60 races worth $1 million or greater in prizemoney, it is just as much the ‘colour’ that captures the rapt attention of millions around the globe: be it the first internationally trained horse to the win the Melbourne Cup (Vintage Crop), the first female to ride a Melbourne Cup winner (Michelle Payne) or British model, Jean Shrimpton, ‘scandalising’ the world in 1965 by wearing a mini skirt in the members’ area at Flemington.
Australian racing is one of the few sports that has the ability to take readers from the back page to the front.
Racing Australia is responsible for representing the thoroughbred industry on a national level, although each state and territory is managed by an individual organisation and charged with enforcing the rules of racing.
Racing Australia’s primary function is to set and amend the rules of racing for each state’s integrity department to then administer, while the national body also maintains the Australian Stud Book as a record for racing and breeding.
With representation from each state and territory, Racing Australia also fosters relationships with government as well and builds on Australia's reputation internationally.
Racing Australia, and the individual state bodies, are responsible for the licensing and governance of trainers, jockeys, bookmakers, bookmakers’ clerks, stablehands and strappers, while owners are also registered.
To ensure the integrity of racing, millions of dollars are allocated annually on the latest drug testing equipment and with wagering – per capita – estimated to be $862 per year, strict guidelines are enforced to sustain confidence in wagering.
Breeding Bonus Schemes by State
Over $800 million in prizemoney is distributed annually throughout Australia, with stakes levels increasing by 84% in the past decade.
Additionally, Australia’s prizemoney is considerably enhanced by ‘bonus schemes’ in each state.
Established in the 1980s, VOBIS is the oldest, continuously running scheme in Australia and features three tiers : Super VOBIS (for all 2YO & 3YO races throughout Victoria), VOBIS Gold (an additional 18 races in the VOBIS Gold Premier Race Series) and VOBIS Sires (for runners in the $1 million The VOBIS Sires Showdown and the $500,000 VOBIS Sires Guineas). With over $22 million on offer annually, horses can gain eligibility in three categories : (A) Sired by a Victorian based stallion; (B) Breedback, where the dam visits a Victorian based stallion the following season; or (C) a Victorian based breeder utilising an interstate stallion.
New South Wales
BOBS (Breeder Owner Bonus Scheme) bonuses are paid out on racetracks throughout NSW, adding a payment of up to $20,000 for each win as a 2YO and 3YO.
In the last season, over $13 million was paid out in cash bonuses and Double-Up vouchers, bringing the total since the scheme’s inception in 2003 to over $141 million.
To be eligible for BOBS, a horse must be sired by a BOBS eligible stallion and nominated for the scheme.
QTIS (Queensland Thoroughbred Incentive Scheme) bonuses are programmed on 2YO and 3YO races in Queensland and are paid to the first three placegetters, with an additional 50% paid for any filly which wins a QTIS race.
This means a filly winning a Saturday metropolitan QTIS bonus race will secure a bonus of $36,000. QTISx bonuses also offer cash bonuses ($50,000) or sales vouchers ($100,000) payable to Queensland bred horses winning Group 1 races in the state. QTISx cash bonus or voucher options are also available on all other Black Type and numerous feature races.
Breeder bonuses are programmed on all QTIS & QTISx races. To be eligible for the scheme horses must be the progeny of a stallion standing in Queensland at the time of conception (Category A) or the progeny of a non-Queensland based stallion, provided the dam is covered by a Queensland domiciled stallion in the year after the foal is born (Category B).
SABOIS is Thoroughbred Racing SA’s Breeders’ and Owners’ Incentive Scheme. It maximises interest in qualified horses and provides financial rewards to breeders or nominators, owners, trainers and jockeys over and above prizemoney earned.
Bonus payments in the 2019/20 season totalled $1.3 million from SABOIS races conducted at racetracks across South Australia. To be eligible to participate, horses must be nominated as South Australian sired horses (Category 1); South Australian ‘breedbacks’ (Category 2); horses of South Australian based breeders (Category 3).
The West Australian Bonus Scheme – Westspeed – was first established at the commencement of the 1999/2000 racing season and has subsequently grown to a point where it now distributes $7.5 million in bonuses every year.
Payments will grow to more than $10 million a season with the introduction of Westspeed Platinum which doubles the bonuses paid to the progeny of Western Australian based sires.
With bonuses attached to 2YOs, 3YOs and 4YOs, eligible runners include those sired by a WA based stallion (Westspeed Platinum), produced by a WA based breeder with at least 50% ownership, or a horse whose dam was ‘bred back’ to a WA based stallion the following season.
Through TASBRED, more than $1.5 million in additional bonuses are available via 72 races in Tasmania every year for eligible 2YOs, 3YOs & 4YOs.