Sydney Horse Racing
Horse racing in New South Wales in general and Sydney in particular has a long and impressive history. There are at least 60 racecourses throughout the state. Country tracks close to Sydney include Hawkesbury, Kembla Range, Gosford, Newcastle and Wyong.
Sydney Horse Racing - A Dream Life
The four major metropolitan thoroughbred racing venues are Royal Randwick, Rosehill Gardens, Canterbury Park and Warwick Farm. These days, the Australian Turf Club supervises Sydney horse racing at the four big courses. Here is a closer look at these four, with some details about the history of racing in Sydney, information about the races held on the metro tracks and maybe even a bit of the things that have added colour and intrigue to the proceedings over the years.
Mention Sydney horse racing and most people with any interest will immediately conjure images of Royal Randwick. It's been in operation the longest, since June of 1883 when a match race between two horses was held on the site. Proper Sydney horse racing meetings were held until 1838, but the volume of racing was such that the track conditions deteriorated to the extent that it was suitable for training only.
Competition returned in 1861 when the Australian Jockey Club held the first AJC Derby, which was won by Kyogle. Some of the greatest horses in the history of Sydney horse racing have won this race, many whose names appear on the roles of Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and W.W. Cox Plate winners.
The race is one of the jewels of the Australian racing calendar for three-year-olds at set weights, covering 2400 metres. Phar Lap, Peter Pan, Tulloch, Kingston Town and Octagonal are but a few of the horses to have won this prestigious Group 1 race over the years. Other big events of the Sydney horse racing scene run at Randwick include the Doncaster Handicap, Sydney Cup, Epsom Handicap and the AJC Oaks.
The month of April is far and away the biggest month at Randwick for high stakes Sydney horse racing. For some idea of the magnitude, there are four Group 1 races on 2 April 2016. Five other races on the card for the meeting known simply as Derby Day, or more recently, The Championships, along with the Australian Derby, are either Group 2 or Group 3.
The following week comes very close with another four Group 1 races, including the Sydney Cup, along with two Group 2s and one Group 3. The month finishes out on the third weekend with the AJC Champagne Stakes and the All Aged Stakes. Derby Day, or The Championships, is far more than just a day of Sydney horse racing.
Social events of all types are planned as long as a year in advance. Some women make the race into a fashion show as Australia has a history of combining racing and fashion. As far back as 1810, newspapers spoke of a race in Hyde Park as being a stage where “all the beauty and fashion of the colony were in attendance.
All Sydney horse racing fans are intimately familiar with that dubious chapter of thoroughbred history known as the Fine Cotton Affair. That clumsy ruse took place in the 80s at Eagle Farm, but Sydney horse racing had a series of incidents that went well beyond substituting one horse for another in the tale of Erbie, a galloper of the 1930s that did not simply stand in for one plodder, but several. Racing historians consider Erbie the ring-in king for having claimed a dozen or more wins under other names before being exposed in 1934, one year after he last competed in Sydney horse racing.
Erbie was a winner in South Australia running as the mediocre Redlock. His owner/trainer pocketed a thousand pounds when Erbie got into the race with a bottom weight and won the Trial Stakes with a form that did not fool the Sydney Herald’s racing journo, Bert Wolfe. When Erbie as Redlock won by 12 lengths at Kadina, Wolfe exposed Erbie’s owner Charlie Prince through his intimate familiarity with Erbie’s racing characteristics. As in the Fine Cotton Affair, dye was used to cover up the blaze on Erbie’s forehead and his brand had also been adulterated.
Erbie ended up in horse-jail and the read Redlock was subsequently found biding his time in a paddock at Malmsbury.
The specifications for Royal Randwick are thus: circumference of 2224 metres with a 410-metre straight to the post. There are multiple tracks at the venue. The main track, known as Course Proper, because it is of course, very proper, is the largest track in New South Wales. The Kensington Track is the second largest in Sydney horse racing. There are several other training tracks of various surface and more than 20 trainers prepare close to 700 horses at the complex.
Further to the west, close to the suburb of Parramatta about 23 kilometres from the centre of Sydney, Rosehill Gardens is another fine Sydney horse racing venue. Rosehill Gardens was built in 1885. The name is derived from a hill behind Government House that had been named Rose Hill by Governor Arthur Phillip in the early days of the colony of New South Wales.
It was in 1883 when the land for the course was set aside from a part of the Elizabeth Farm estate of John Macarthur.
As of 2016, Rosehill Gardens offers some of the premier events on the Sydney horse racing calendar. There are 10 Group 1 events, 16 Group 2 races and nine Group 3 events. There are of course, many more that come in as Listed and black type events.
Without doubt, the premier race held at Rosehill Gardens is the Golden Slipper Stakes, one of the top races for two-year-olds, ranking right alongside the Magic Millions and the Blue Diamond Stakes. It's a 1200 metre sprint at set weights that is open to either sex. At this time, the race is held on the Saturday in April, so when the big races of Randwick are considered in the mix, Sydney horse racing punters may be challenged to make wagering decisions.
The Golden Slipper Stakes is one of the newer races, having first been run in 1957 and won by the champion Todman. The T A D Kennedy Stakes, widely known as the Coolmore Classic, is another important race held at Rosehill. It is for fillies and mare aged three years and upwards. Like the Slipper, it is run at set weights, but it is 1500 metres in length. It is even shorter in tenure than the slipper, having gone off for the first time in 1973, when it was won by Miss Personality.
Hall of Famer Sunline is the only runner to win the Coolmore twice, in 2000 and 2002. Some of the Group 2 races are dedicated to some of the finest examples of Sydney horse racing history, such as the Ajax, Apollo and Phar Lap Stakes.
The Group 1 Golden Rose Stakes in September is the first major race at Rosehill each season. The last part of March is when the fireworks get underway, with seven of Rosehill’s Group 1 races going off. The George Ryder Stakes and the Rawson Stakes, or Ravnet Stakes as it has been called since 1991, share the honours for being the oldest of the significant races held at Rosehill. Both were run for the first time in 1903.
Manikato, Lonrho and Emancipation are three names from Sydney horse racing history that have won the George Ryder. Sky High, Tulloch, Super Impose and Better Loosen Up grace the winners’ role of the Ravnet. At 2048 metres circumference with a 408-metre straight, Rosehill Gardens is nearly the size of Royal Randwick, but of the major Group races run at Rosehill, none exceeds 2400 metres.
In between Royal Randwick and Rosehill Gardens, 10 or 11 kilometres to the west of Sydney, Canterbury Park serves a unique role. It is primarily used for weekday Sydney horse racing, but is called into action for weekend meetings when rain compels Randwick and Rosehill to move races and give their tracks time to drain.
It is located next to the Canterbury railway station, and many punters and Sydney horse racing fans ride the train to see the racing after a short, 10-minute stroll or a three-minute taxi ride. The first course at the site was built by Cornelius Prout on land that he owned. It experienced a resurrection and renaissance of sorts in 1871 when Frederick Clissold and Thomas Austen Davies started racing back up.
These days, Canterbury Park, along with Moonee Valley in Melbourne, are the only two tracks in the country with lighting to enable racing at night. The main grandstand handles seating for races, along with dining facilities and accommodations for corporate events. While not as big or glamorous, or home to the big events of Sydney horse racing, Canterbury occupies a unique niche in Sydney horse racing by offering night racing and filling in for Rosehill and Randwick when necessary.
Being a smaller racecourse, significant Sydney horse racing events are rare at Canterbury. The track has held the Group 2 Canterbury Stakes, the Perfect Vision and the Phar Lap Stakes. A Group 3 race, the Nivea Visage Stakes, has also been held there.
The Canterbury Stakes, a Group 1 race as of 2016, is being run at Rosehill in March. It has also been run at Randwick. The race was first run in 1929, when the winner was Australian Racing Hall of Fame galloper Amounis. Chatham, Sky High, Shannon, Manikato, Emancipation and the recent More Joyous, some of the more illustrious names of Sydney horse racing history, have all proudly claimed victory.
The Phar Lap Stakes was run at Canterbury in 2008 only and was won by Acey Ducey. Toltrice prevailed when the race was first run in 1973 and a glance down the list of winners turns up the name of famous sprinter Apache Cat in 2006.
As Sydney horse racing venues go, Canterbury is a smallish 1580 metres, making it the smallest of the four metro tracks. That circumference and the 317-metre straight make the track better suited for shorter races, one possible exception being the Listed 1900 metre Frank Underwood Cup. When that race was first run in 1979, it was won by Bensynd, one of Gunsynd’s output that did not, unfortunately, ascend to the level of his illustrious sire.
Warwick Farm is the last of the Sydney horse racing venues on our list of metropolitan tracks. It is just next to the city of Liverpool in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs, some 30 kilometres from the heart of the Capital.
Like Canterbury, Warwick Farm is primarily a scene for mid-week Sydney horse racing. There are some weekend races. It is known as a family-oriented venue with a more casual atmosphere. The history of the track is intertwined with Sydney horse racing and one of the more famous Australian thoroughbreds of all-time, Grand Flaneur, winner of the 1880 Melbourne Cup and other significant races.
The property was initially developed in the 1880s. Mr. William Alexander Long bought land from J. H. Stroud’s Warwick Park land grant. In 1884, Long developed property across the river with the well-known name of Chipping Norton. Hard financial times for Long forced him to sell the land to William Forrester, who changed the name of the property to Warwick Farm, as that name matched his initials. Forrester had two Melbourne Cup winners, Gaulus in 1897 and the Grafter in 1898, both of which he trained. The Australian Jockey Club took possession in 1922 and embarked on a series of improvements to bring the course up to the standards of Sydney horse racing. Warwick Farm’s most significant race of the Sydney horse racing calendar, arguably, is the Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes, run in late February. It is a 1600-metre weight-for-age event. It was inaugurated in 1925 and was at that time run at 1 -1/4 miles, or 10 furlongs.
Amounis won in 1927 and Phar Lap in 1930. Bernborough, Tulloch, Sky High, Rain Lover, Emancipation, Super Impose and Lonhro are past winners. Tie the Knot won four consecutive beginning in 1999. Warwick Farm, on the same day the Chipping Norton is run, holds three Group 2 and two Group 3 races, all 1400 metres or less.
Even though it lacks some of the draw of the major races held at Randwick and Rosehill, Sydney horse racing enthusiasts enjoy racing at Warwick Farm on many occasions.
Warwick Farm has a unique triangular shape with a circumference of 1937 metres. Having only three turns as it does, the home straight is only 326 metres, but it is 23 metres wide at the post. There is one sand track and two of grass for training, making this Sydney horse racing venue popular with trainers making preparations for Randwick and Rosehill.