Horse racing in Australia is a big business and, combined with the much smaller sport of greyhound racing, the total gambling turnover for the sport is over $17.5 billion per year. As opposed to the dogs, horse racing has long been considered a glamourous sport and attracts a lot of wealthy racegoers.
Australia hosts some of the biggest events in the world when it comes to horse racing with big purses attracting famous horses from across Australasia, Europe and the Americas.
In this guide, we take a look at the top seven events on the Aussie horse racing calendar that you shouldn’t miss. Not only do they provide great entertainment to attend but are usually some of the most watched, and wagered on, events in Oz which can sometimes tip the odds in your favour.
Weight for Age Events
This type of handicapping uses a scale of weights that the horse must carry in addition to the saddle, kit and jockey. As the name would suggest, the weight varies depending on the age of the horse. These kinds of events try to level the playing field in physical maturity of thoroughbreds. The system takes into account the distance and is often considered one of the fairest methods for handicapping in the sport.
Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m, Royal Randwick)
Run at Sydney’s Royal Randwick Racecourse, this event is the third richest race in Australia with a $4 million purse. The prize money was increased in 2014 from $500,000.
It is run by the Australian Turf Club as a Group 1 race and it regularly attracts a field of some good middle-distance runners.
The race has been held since 1851 and was formerly known as the Queen’s Plate (1851-1873) and the AJC Plate (1874-1954). The original distance was 4800m and has varied over the years but has been 2000m since 1986.
The signature event in the Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes is held in April each year.
W.S Cox Plate (2040m, Moonee Valley)
Another prestigious race and Australia’s fourth richest purse at $3 million, the W. S. Cox Plate is a middle distance flat racing stakes.
It is held at the end of October at the Moonee Valley Racecourse in Melbourne and has been since its inauguration in 1922.
Entry is for horses aged three years and over and is run by the Moonee Valley Racing Club as a Group 1 event.
Named after the founder of the club (William Samuel Cox), the W.S. Cox Plate attracts a good field with the favourites having an overall win rate of 41%.
It’s an exciting race of elite thoroughbreds and can produce some close finishes.
In the history of the race, only one horse has won the event as well as the Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup; Rising Fast (1954).
Unlike weight for age events which merely factor in the age of a horse with some adjustment for the distance, handicap events produce a much more competitive field. The system of handicapping effectively equalises the starting line-up by placing greater handicaps on ‘in-form’ or better horses. Handicapping is often seen in less valuable or older horses but is also used in some prestigious events including the Melbourne Cup and the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree, UK.
The key to selecting a winner is on judging which horses will be able to overcome their individual handicaps to place first.
Melbourne Cup (3200m, Flemington)
The Melbourne Cup is an annual race holding the prestigious title of being the richest two-mile handicap in the world and Australia’s second richest turf race. The purse for 2017 was $6.2 million.
Known as the ‘race that stops a nation’, the event is a public holiday in the city of Melbourne and in some parts of Victoria. It is held on the first Tuesday of November every year.
Held since 1861 at Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse, the event is the most wagered on single race in Australia. It is estimated that almost $1.5 billion in bets were placed on the 2017 race.
The event attracts huge numbers of racegoers with the 2017 event recording an attendance of 90,536 spectators. In recent years, gate entry figures have exceeded 120,000.
Favourites don’t fare favourably in the event with only a 23% win record and outsiders can do very well. In 2015, Prince of Penzance won at odds of 100-1.
The fastest race time for the event was recorded in 1990 by American bred Kingston Rule who finished in 3 minutes and 16.3 seconds.
Some interesting facts about the Melbourne Cup? The youngest jockey to win this prestigious event was Peter St. Albans. Riding Briseis in 1876, St Albans was just 12 years old at the time. The young jockey was eight days short of the official minimum age limit of 13.
Makybe Diva became the first (and only) horse in the cup’s history to win three times. The highest stakes-earner in Australia of all time, Makybe Diva is a legend of the Melbourne Cup and the only filly to have one the event more than once.
Newmarket Handicap (1200m, Flemington)
Also held at Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse, the Newmarket Handicap is run in March as part of the VRC Autumn Racing Carnival.
With a purse of $1.25 million, the event is Australia’s most prestigious sprint race and, though it’s over with pretty quickly (race record is 1:07:36), the event is hugely popular. There is a big field of horses and with maidens ineligible there is usually notable interest.
The Newmarket Handicap has been running since 1874 but rarely surprises with any long-priced winners. The last such horse was Foursome in 1934 who started at 50-1. By contrast the overwhelming favourite for the 2011 event was Black Caviar with odds at 2-11.
Caulfield Cup (2400m, Caulfield)
Though currently a handicap flat racing event, the Melbourne Racing Club is looking to convert the entry conditions to a Weight For Age class.
Held in mid-October, the Caulfield Cup has a $3 million purse and has been run annually since 1879.
It attracts a good field of domestic and international horses and is one of the ways to qualify for the Melbourne Cup which is held a fortnight later. The race is one of the richest of its kind both in Australia and internationally.
The flagship event for Caulfield, it is an iconic race which delivers some powerful racing.
Interest facts about the Caulfield Cup? In 1909, there was a dead heat finish between Blue Book and Aborigine crossed the line together. Judges couldn’t separate the pair even by a nose and they were both declared the winner.
Another for of handicapping, set weights are a condition of certain races and are applied on the basis of a horses sex and age but can also be subject to additional handicapping or penalties.
The Golden Slipper Stakes (1200m, Rosehill)
A sprint race held by the Australian Turf Club since 1957, the Golden Slipper Stakes offers a $3.5 million purse. It is considered the premier event of its kind for two-year-old horses and one of the richest in the world for this age.
Held on the Saturday before Good Friday the stakes are the feature race in the Golden Slipper Carnival at Rosehill Gardens, Sydney.
With young horses and a big prize of $2 million for the winner, it attracts some underexposed entrants making it an exciting event to add to the racing calendar.
Favourites don’t finish well at the event with only a 30% record.
The race has been won pretty evenly by a mixture of fillies, colts and geldings though bay, chestnut and brown horses faring better. The event has only been one once by a black horse and twice by greys.
Victoria Derby (2500m. Flemington)
A middle-distance flat race with a $1.5 million purse, the Victoria Derby has been held since 1855 in Melbourne. It is the opening event of the VRC Spring Carnival and is known as Derby Day, often attracting more attention of the fashions off the field than the racing itself.
The Victoria Derby predates the Melbourne Cup by six years and is one of the world’s oldest races.
It’s a classic race for three-year-olds to prove their staying power and is the last chance to qualify for the Cup meaning there is often a lot more at stake than just the purse. The race can produce some surprises and makes it an exciting one to have a punt on. However, in recent years most winners have placed in the top three of their lead-up race.
The Everest (1200m, Royal Randwick)
Sydney’s Royal Randwick hosted a brand new event in 2017; a $10 million race called the Everest deposing Melbourne of the title ‘Australia’s Richest Turf Race).
The race ran in October as part of the clubs Sydney Spring Carnival and was won by 5 year old gelding Redzel. Ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, father and son trainers Peter and Paul Snowden brought home a big pay day of $5.8 million for the consortium of 17 owners.
Well attended and an exciting Weight For Age race, the event is not yet established enough to be eligible as a Group race but we will definitely be adding this to our calendars.
Featured image via Flickr.