Victoria Racing Country Tracks
Everyone in Victoria knows about the major metro tracks where most of Australia’s major races take place. Flemington, Caulfield, Moonee Valley and Sandown are familiar names to racing punters and the general public.
In addition to the major venues, there are 70 or so race clubs throughout the state, many of them within easy driving distance of Melbourne that offer the opportunity to see a more relaxed version of thoroughbred racing, free of the crowds and hubris that is part of the marquee races at the metro tracks. Many great champion turf horses had their early runs on these country tracks and none of them objected in the least, or cared for that matter.
Anyone who attends a meeting at one of these tracks might be witnessing the next Black Caviar or possibly even the next coming of Phar Lap. Here is some information on the bigger country venues that make for a simple day trip.
The Ararat Turf Club oversaw the activities of this course that has been in operation since 1857, four years before the first Melbourne Cup, until 1998 when the Wimmera Racing Club was formed. In the early days, this location in the Grampian’ was originally popular with squatters running sheep and other livestock.
About two hours’ driving is all it takes to visit this spectacular region with myriad attractions in addition to some of the best country racing Victoria offers. Stawell, Ballarat and Terang racecourses are nearby.
The Bairnsdale Racing Club is some of the finest country racing Victoria offers. There are seven meetings during the year with plenty of supplemental activities.
The oval shaped course on this country racing track is tight by some standards at 18 metres, but banked turns mean that horses can carry top speed into and out of the sweeping turns. Bairnsdale is about three hours east of Melbourne in a beautiful coastal region.
The Ballarat Turf Club stages close to 30 events per year on one of the premier country racing tracks in Victoria. There are midweek races throughout the year and several major trainers use Ballarat country racing to train thoroughbreds seen at the metropolitan tracks.Plan on driving for about 80 minutes from the Melbourne CBD.
The Benalla Gold Cup in October is the highlight of eleven meeting per year at this picturesque country racing track. It is a family friendly venue and has facilities for year-round functions beyond racing. It is several hours north of Melbourne.
Bendigo Jockey Club got its start in 1858 and offers turf racing throughout the year. This country racing facility was completely overhauled in 1998. The 24 metre width is generous by country racing Victoria standards and banked turns slingshot gallopers into long straights. Bendigo is picturesque and only about 150 km from Melbourne. The Bendigo Cup is country racing at its finest, serving as a significant lead-up race for the Cup.
Country racing less than three hours from Melbourne on smooth clay soils highlights this venue that got its start around 1866. Country racing nearby includes Ballan right by Geelong and Woodford at Warrnambool. Camperdown features a relaxed atmosphere, activities to occupy the kids, and plenty of nearby lodging and restaurants for those who want to extend their escape from the hustle.
Casterton country racing embodies the definition of country racing Victoria venues. It is the western–most country racing track, with the exception of Edenhope, not far from the SA border. It will take between four and five hours to drive. Casterton Racing Club offers the largest live hedge steeplechase course in the country.
About 150 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, Colac has been in the racing business for almost 150 years. The facility has kept pace with the times and offers three full racing days in December, February and March. Soft loam soil and quality turf with a long climb on the back straight offers a test of stamina.
In the same vicinity as Casterton and Edenhope, Coleraine operates the oldest steeplechase in the country. This picturesque country between Melbourne an SA has plenty of places to stay and eat, along with attractions that include a car museum that is well received by fans of both horses and internal combustion powered modes of transportation.
Sunday racing is the claim to fame for Cranbourne. Twenty-two Sunday race meetings are held each year. The big event is the Cranbourne Cup in October. A primary attraction for country racing fans is the proximity just 40 miles southeast of Melbourne. Some famous horses have trained and competed here, including Apache Cat, Zarita and Hall of Famer Manikato.
At 277 kilometres distance from Melbourne, the Donald and District Racing Club dates back to 1875. The first racecourse in Donald was actually the main street. Today, a modern facility offers an indoor viewing area with excellent catering facilities. Several chutes offer a long straight off the jump. There are seven race dates, primarily in the winter and early spring.
About 200 kilometres due north of Melbourne, this course has country racing featuring 11 TAB meetings per year. A meeting on Melbourne Cup Day is a key event. The unusual shape of the course provides for intriguing strategy. The course is somewhat narrow, so fields are limited to 14 in most instances.
The westernmost country racing in Victoria takes place at Edenhope under the supervision of the Edenhope Racing Club. New by some measure, it started up in 1935. The Edenhope Cup is the big show. Tight turns provide an advantage to horses in most cases. There is a dining room and an outdoor BBQ. There are TAB facilities and plenty of family oriented activities.
Just 75 km west of Melbourne, Geelong is home to the Geelong Cup and 35 race meetings per year, making it one of the mainstays of Victorian country racing. The symmetrical oval has a mildly uphill finishing straight on the 24-metre wide grass track. There is also a synthetic track. Geelong is not far from Moonee Valley.
Hamilton is about four hours’ drive from Melbourne CBD. It has between 10 and 12 meeting per year and still has some hurdle races. The Hamilton Cup is the main feature of flats racing. It is held in April. The Jumps Fest takes place in August.
Hanging Rock Racecourse
Country racing fans will enjoy close proximity at two meetings on New Year’s Day and Australia Day. It is famous for the volcanic formation Hanging Rock and being the scene of a well-received 1975 movie called Picnic at Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock is under an hour’s drive from the Melbourne CBD.
About 300 km to the north and west of Melbourne, the course held the first Horsham Cup in 1861, the same year the Melbourne Cup got its start. The current facility is well regarded as a training facility. The course is unique for its three-turn oval design. Turns are cambered and chutes provide equal starting for all runners.
Being less than an hour’s drive from the Melbourne CBD, Kilmore competes with the metro courses by offering plenty of conveniences for visitors, including parking, race day packages and more. The Kilmore racing club conducts flat and harness here, although the undulating nature of the course requires a liberal definition of the word flat. The club holds over 40 meetings per year.
A nearly circular design distinguishes this course that conducts 15 meetings per year. The big event is the Kyneton Cup, which is run just after the Melbourne Cup for those whose Cup fever has not subsided. It is less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne.
Mildura sits 550 kms north and west of Melbourne. It holds nine events each year, most offering TAB betting. Cambered turns and quality turf are features. The region offers other attractions, making it an ideal destination for an extended getaway.
Country racing has been in Moe for almost a century. It is about 140 kilometres east of Melbourne, about midway to Sale. The track is close to what could be called a rectangle or maybe even a square. There is plenty of room for spectators and offers hospitality packages for 15 meetings throughout the season.
Racing fans think highly of this course less than an hour from Melbourne. There are 20 meetings annually. The top operations go here for a chance to claim part of over $2million in prize money per year. At 1800 metres circumference, it is a tight course with an unusual shape that only a geometry expert could describe.
Mortlake is 220 kms from Melbourne. It has been spruced up recently to the point of being some of the best country racing Victoria offers anywhere in the state. The Mortlock Racing Club runs the venue and stages two TAB meetings each year.
Murtoa has been around since 1879 and has persisted in fine country racing fashion. It is close to Lake Marma, about 300 kms northwest of Melbourne. The track is somewhat smallish at 1600 metres. It is predominantly flat and the track holds up well to wet weather.
Less than an hour form Melbourne, Pakenham offers the atmosphere of the country without requiring a long trek. The facility is open daily for different activities, and plenty of trainers get their horses ready here, so even when racing is not going on, there is a chance to see many fine thoroughbreds. It will soon offer night racing.
The Penshurst and District Racing Club. They conduct one meeting per year on Boxing Day. The course is west of Melbourne. It features some of the most pristine country racing to be found and is also centrally located to six or seven other country racing venues in the region.
Less than three hours to the east of Melbourne, the Sale racecourse hosts 21 meetings per year. The big day in the Sale Cup on the last Sunday in October. A nice field will also turn up for the Sale Quality in February. The track is triangular in shape, so in a 1200-metre sprint, there is just one turn. Sale also conducts jumps racing.
Easy access by road and rail within a 100 km of Melbourne makes Seymore attractive. Many wineries in the region offer another incentive to visit. It is undergoing a renovation beginning in 2015 after the Seymour Cup is run. Approximately 40 trainers prepare their horses here. St. Arnaud Racecourse The first race here took place in 1867.
St. Arnaud holds Racecourse
Just two meetings a year. It is listed as being 1600 metres in circumference. The back straight is slightly uphill and the home straight tilts downward. It is about 250 kms northwest of Melbourne and about another 100 km in the same direction past Bendigo.
This well-known country racing venue is about 220 kms west of Melbourne. Originally, it was known as Pleasant Creek and was poplar with the mining crowd when gold was discovered in the late 1800s. Ararat, Horsham and Donald racecourses are nearby. Crowds turn out for the Stawell Gold Cup on Easter Day.
Stony Creek Racecourse
One hundred-fifty kilometres south and east of Melbourne, Stony Creek in the South Gippland region is synonymous with country racing. It has an all-weather surface and holds multiple meetings every year. At 16 metres on the straights and slightly wider turns, horses need to accept tight packs at times.
Swan Hill Racecourse
Even though it is 340 km north of Melbourne, Swan Hill attracts country racing crowds to the extent that trips should be booked six months or more in advance. The Swan Hill Jockey Club carnival in June is considered to be the premier event country racing in Victoria offers.
With a colorful history Tatura holds eight race meetings per year. It is kept in excellent condition and has undergone continual improvement. The track is irrigated to provide reliable racing. Tatura is 180 kms north of Melbourne.
Terang is located about 200 km west of Melbourne. It is part of a five-course assemblage of Western Otway Racing Club. A key historic feature of this country racing venue is an iron grandstand running almost the entire length of the straight that was built in the late 1800s after fire destroyed the wooden predecessor. Terang was designed by the same man who designed Flemington.
The Latrobe Racing Club runs this country racing venue since 2007. At just 1600 metres circumference, inside barrier draws offer an advantage. An undulating turf surface is completely irrigated for a consistent course that features cambered turns.
The Wangaratta Turf Club conducts 10 meetings per year at this Flemington look-alike 235 kms from Melbourne. It used to host pony races, steeplechases and hurdles. At 1730 metres in circumference, it makes use of two chutes to give a nice run to the first turn. There are three training tracks here, including one sand and one dirt track.
This country racing course first held racing in the 1860s. The present site was closed due to lack of spectators in the 1890s. The Wimmera Racing Club now manages the facility. Easter Saturday and July’s Warracknabeal Cup are the key feature races. It is about 340 km due west and a bit north from Melbourne.
Located 260 kms west of Melbourne in the coastal town of Warrnambool, the May Racing Carnival is the feature attraction of this country racing venue, regularly attracting over 30,000 spectators. It is a big course with wide turns and a long straight. Steeplechase racing is conducted here as well.
Werribee could almost be considered a metro track since it is only 30 kms west of Melbourne. The Weribee Cup offers big prize money and has the reputation of being the feature country racing event of the year. The triangular track features tight, banked turns and has excellent drainage and complete irrigation facilities.
Three hundred kms to the north and east on the way to Wagga Wagga, Wodonga is situated close to Albury. There are eight race meetings held during the year. The Murray region derives plenty of fiscal benefit from the course from the racing and other functions, such as corporate events and entertainment.
Yarra Valley Racecourse
Racing has been going on at this course just north of Melbourne since 1858. Racing Victoria has in the past proclaimed as the Victorian Racing Club of the Year. It was upgraded to include irrigation systems and enhanced drainage in 2008. There is plenty of racing to be found here, including weekday harness.
There are 70 or more country racing courses in Victoria, so this list is not all-inclusive. Some of them operate on a rather limited basis with only a couple of races per year, but offer a nice country environment for all manner of events.
Disbursed all around the state of Victoria as they are, they make excellent opportunities to see the entire country from the coast to the hills with punting opportunities and many chances to soak up the early history of the state.