Australian Horse Racing
Australia loves horse racing like no other country in the world. Despite its much smaller population, Australia draws crowds to its horse racing events that can rival those of even the biggest events in the US and the UK. As gambling is considered to be such an integral part of the classic Aussie character, Australian horse racing is big business and widely followed.
Despite its popularity, horse racing is only the third most highly attended sport in Australia. For a country that is incredibly serious about football, cricket, tennis and just about every other sport under the sun, though, this is still quite an achievement. Even though major races like the Melbourne Cup and Victoria Derby can attract upwards of 100,000 spectators, horse racing still ranks behind football in terms of public attendance.
Australian has many major horse races that attract the punters. They arenít always as rich as the major races of the UK or US, but the biggest Australian horse races are just as hotly contested, with wins in events like the Melbourne Cup being recognized around the world as particularly impressive. The most famous and important thoroughbred events in Australia include the legendary Melbourne Cup, the Victoria Derby, the Crown Oaks (formerly the VRC Oaks), the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate, the Golden Slipper Stakes, the Magic Millions and the Blue Diamond Stakes.
The Melbourne Cup is the biggest day in Australian horse racing and so important that it achieves international renown. In the city of Melbourne, there is a public holiday on Melbourne Cup day, and it is considered proper form in workplaces, and even schools, to watch the race on television all around the country. Woe to the employer who tries to squeeze any productivity out of workers when the Melbourne Cup is being run. The race is a handicap over 3200 metres on turf for three-year-olds and up. It is run on the first Tuesday of November each year at Flemington Racecourse and has been held since 1861.
The Victoria Derby marks the beginning of Melbourne Cup Week and is open to three-year-old thoroughbreds. It is 2500 metres long on grass, though this distance is relatively new, having first been longer and then shorter than the current distance. Attendance of the Victoria Derby rivals even that of the Melbourne Cup, due in part to the fashion competitions for the male that have become an integral part of celebrations at the major race days. The Victoria Derby is held at Flemington Racecourse and was first run in 1855.
The Crown Oaks is yet another major race in the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival which also features the Melbourne Cup. Known as the VRC Oaks initially, sponsorship of the race has led to its current name of the Crown Oaks. The race is 2500 metres long and open to three-year-old fillies only. It is held the Thursday immediately after the Melbourne Cup and draws massive crowds due to Ladies Day Ė the Fashions on the Field celebration for the female attendees. While obviously the race itself attracts its own crowd, the fashion competitions certainly help to boost attendance numbers.
One of the most important races for judging the suitability of horses for the Melbourne Cup is the Caulfield Cup. A handicap race of 2400 metres for three-year-olds and older on turf, the race is the richest of its type in the world. Winning both the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup is a respected achievement in Australian horse racing, known colloquially as the Ďcups doubleí. The race has been held since 1879 and was originally run in autumn, but was changed to a spring event in 1881. It is held at Caulfield Racecourse each year.
The Cox Plate is held in late October of each year. It is a Weight for Age event for three-year-olds and older over 2040 metres on turf. Along with the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups, the Cox Plate is considered to be one of the championship races of Australian horse racing. Organized by the Moonee Valley Racing Club at Moonee Valley racecourse, the Cox Plate has the biggest prize for a Weight for Age event in Australia.
The Golden Slipper Stakes is the biggest event for younger horses, specifically two-year-olds, and is run over 1200 metres on turf at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse. In the past, the event was held the Saturday before Good Friday. From 2009, however, the Golden Slipper Stakes will be run on the first Saturday in April. It is one of the richest events in Australian horse racing, with prize money in excess of AUD $3 million.
The Magic Millions actually refers to a thoroughbred auction, but it is accompanied by a race series that is only open to horses that have been sold at the auction in previous years. While most of the individual races arenít widely followed, other than the Magic Millions Classic, the overall Magic Millions event is a landmark one in Australian horse racing and breeding.
The Blue Diamond Stakes is run over 1200 metres with set weights, open to two-year-olds. It is one of the richest two-year-old races in Australia, and much like the Golden Slipper it is used as a measure of some of the best two-year-old horses.
Racing in Australia isnít just restricted to these major events, though. The Australian horse racing scene features races all year round. Itís a major industry that employs thousands of individuals and keeps many more punters entertained.More popular group 1 races in Australia are the Caulfield Guineas, Thousand Guineas, Patinack Farm Classic and Golden Rose.