Horses weren’t always raced in Australia. In fact, the first horses to arrive in Australia only set hoof on deck as late as 1788. These first horses were lost (allowed to escape) by a convict herdsman from the Cape of Good Hope.
And so, from superbly humble beginnings was born the third most supported sport after AFL and rugby league: thoroughbred horseracing.
Off To A Garrison Start
The first race-meeting ever staged was organised by officers of the 73rd Regiment. This was in October 1810 and competed in Parramatta, New South Wales. Interestingly enough, a horse named Parramatta won that particular race. And so the stage was set for a successful Australian turf off the back of the massive success of garrison racing.
Then, in 1825, Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, later hailed the “Patron Saint of Australian Turf”, founded Australia’s Sydney Turf Club. Here, two race days were scheduled for April, and three for the month of September. And as for racing at Parramatta, this was scheduled for March.
The next significant development came in 1827. This was the year that would see a club opened in Campbelltown, and three annual races scheduled in celebration of the grand opening. That same year also saw the Australian Racing and Jockey Club founded, which club raced at Parramatta, causing the region to continue its rivalry against Sydney.
Melbourne, Adelaide, Tasmania
The first course at Caulfield, near Melbourne, was opened in 1858. This was however a course for amateurs and launched with a race for “bullocks” running hurdles.
Onwards to Adelaide, Australia’s most populous city started racing around the same time as Melbourne. Adelaide’s involvement ultimately led to the running of a St. Leger in 1855, and a Derby in 1860. Both were staged by the South Australia Jockey Club.
Racing in Tasmania had reportedly gotten underway a short while before Melbourne and Adelaide, with three separate races reported to have been run in 1943 at Hobart. And so were born four distinct Australian racing communities – leading to the very first Champion Race competed between states at Melbourne in 1959.
Thoroughbreds And The Bookies
The initial racehorses ran in those early days were all Capers. Thoroughbreds were only imported by the time 1939 rolled around – from England.
The most successful of thoroughbreds come from England to Australia was Cap-a-Pie. Imported in 1838 or 1839, Cap-a-Pie would go on to become one of the greatest stallions in the history of Australian horseracing.
Australian horseracing exploded from then on out, with the Jockey Clubs in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, all offering prizes for winners. Those early betting rings were well attended – with all leading Melbourne bookies described in the history pages as having been citizens of influence. Politicians backed by bookies were during those early years sure to win campaigns and elections.
Melbourne’s very first betting shop opened in 1884, with betting in Brisbane during the 1880’s described as “heavy”, and assuming a variety of formats – including private totes, plunges, and even plunges wagered on horseracing events in Sydney as well as Melbourne.