China has the Great Wall. India has the Taj Mahal. Italy has the Sistine Chapel. England has Big Ben and lots of other stuff.
Melbourne has plenty to offer, too, but one of the big attractions for Thoroughbred racing fans is Flemington Racecourse.
Fame is often evidenced by some sort of nickname and Flemington Racecourse is known to many simply as “headquarters.”
History of Flemington Racecourse
The land on which Flemington Racecourse is situated is considered Crown land, as back in those days of Queen Victoria, England was still a world power, even as some of the Imperial colonies were well established as independent entities or headed in that direction.
Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 and was quite popular, so when a parcel of New South Wales was amputated in 1851 and a name was needed, Victoria was the natural choice.
Flemington was already hosting races on the site. The land was initially leased to the Victoria Turf Club by 1848. Eighteen years later, the club merged with the Victoria Jockey Club, three years after the first running of the Melbourne Cup, forming the Victoria Racing Club, the governing body we today know affectionately as the VRC.
Flemington Racecourse Proper Opened Officially In 1840
The Flemington Racecourse has been maintained and improved through the years. Forty-five million dollars was invested in a new grandstand in 2000 and as recently as 2018, a new members’ grandstand was built.
At full capacity, such as during the Melbourne Spring Carnival, more than 120,000 people can be wedged into Flemington, including the grandstands and the grounds.
Some might think that attendance is highest for the Melbourne Cup, but those who think that would be wrong, as the record belongs to Victoria Derby Day, when almost 130,000 souls crammed the grounds for the Victoria Derby in 2006.
That same year, on the day of the Melbourne Cup, it was announced that Flemington Racecourse had been added to the Australian National Heritage List.
Flemington Racecourse Melbourne
The facility was once considered distanced from the Melbourne city centre, a staggering 6.5 kilometres away. Those hardy early pioneers willing to venture to the wild, untamed land to the north of the city centre, who had to ask, “Where is Flemington Racecourse located?” would often take a ferry to Flemington Racecourse to take in the races or a Flemington Cricket Club match.
Hard to get lost on a boat, provided the captain knows where he is going.
Others took trains, which were quicker, if not as romantic, but also surer from the navigation perspective.
The ferries still run, although it is on an excursion-basis for private groups.
The train is still a good option to get to Flemington race meetings, with drops at the Newmarket station, followed by a 10-minute walk. The 57 tram drops riders right on Flemington Drive.
Other options include taxis, ride sharing and hire cars. There is a drop off for dropping off passengers.
There are a couple public car parks and a limited number of free spaces for cars entering from Epsom Road onto Flemington Drive on race days. During the Melbourne Cup Carnival, there is some parking available.
Anyone who wants to create an impression can book a chopper from Microflite and arrive in style, but this option should be booked well in advance and have a backup plan in case the weather prevents helicopter flights.
Those unfamiliar with Flemington race track or Flemington race days might want to consider installing the Flemington app, which will provide copious information about the locations of bars, dining, other entertainment and most important, betting facilities. The app includes a handy Flemington seating map to assist in locating seats.
Flemington Racecourse Details
Flemington Racecourse dimensions are what could be termed asymmetrical, as the course is not a true oval, but resembles an oval that has been squashed at one end. The phrase often used is “pear shaped.”
A key feature is a long straight that begins outside the oval and extends for 1200 metres. Many sprint races of 1000 and 1200 metres are held on the straight. The sprinters from Sydney like the setup because they do not have to deal with turning to the left after growing accustomed to running clockwise at NSW tracks.
The Victorian horses like the straight because they are taught early on that the fastest way between two points is a straight line.
The Flemington straight is known as the “Straight Six,” harkening back to the days when races were measured in furlongs and 1200 metres is almost precisely six furlongs.
The turns at the end of the track adjacent to Headquarters Tavern are quite tight, but so far as we know, there has never been an instance of a Thoroughbred failing to navigate the turn and run straight into the Maribyrnong River.
The finishing straight is 450 metres in length for races above 1300 metres, slightly longer than the back straight. This is the best place from which to watch longer Flemington races and spectators in the Bird Cage and the Hill Stand get great views of the horses as they wind up for the home stretch.
The diameter of Flemington Racecourse is 2312 metres.
Flemington Racecourse Events
Flemington Racecourse is used year round for racing, with some spells for maintenance.
Most of the better quality Group level races are during the spring months, but there are also some good events, such as the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes and the Australian Guineas in the autumn months.
March features are the Group 1 Flemington races Australian Cup and the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap.
April and May are generally quiet in terms of Group racing. The same is true for June and July of course, but the Group action resumes in August with the onset of a new Thoroughbred racing season.
The first Group 1 of the season at Flemington Racecourse, with allowances made for shifts in the schedule for various reasons, is the Makybe Diva Stakes in September.
September, October and November are the prime months for high-level Flemington races. The latter part of October and the first part of November is when VRC Flemington hosts meetings in which many of the races are Group 3 and above.
Some examples include the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes and the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes.
The first week of November features the Group 1s VRC Oaks, Emirates Stakes and the VRC Sprint Classic, and of course, the Melbourne Cup.
In all, Flemington Racecourse stages 13 Group 1 races, 10 Group 2 races and 14 Group 3 races.
Race types include handicap, quality handicap, set weights, set weights with penalties and weight-for-age.
Flemington Track Conditions
Thoroughbred racing punters pay close attention to Flemington track conditions as they look for good punting opportunities.
Certain horses, Makybe Diva comes to mind immediately, seem to like softer travel and history from her time of winning three successive Melbourne Cups 2003 – 2005 indicates that her trainer, Lee Freedman, held Flemington stewards’ feet to the fire by suggesting that if they did not water the turf, he would hold her out of the 2005 Melbourne Cup.
In spring months outside of draught conditions, Flemington is often soft, but not to the degree that would endanger horses.
There are plenty of places to find Flemington track conditions online and those looking for punts can rely on the bookies to keep the latest information available.
At the bigger Flemington meetings, those with nine or 10 races on the card, Flemington track conditions assume a larger role in the later races, when most of the prestigious features are run nearer the end of the meeting.
In the final weeks of October leading up to the Melbourne Cup, internet traffic is way up for searches such as, Flemington Track Conditions Today, Flemington track conditions, or simply, Flemington Melbourne.
Knowing Flemington track conditions on the day of the race anyone is considering wagering on is essential for any punter who wants to make the best and most logical selections.
Final Thoughts About Flemington Racecourse
Armed with a Flemington Racecourse map, the Flemington app, a smart phone with a favourite bookie mobile app and pockets full of cash provide for a day Flemington Melbourne visitors will not easily forget.
The Flemington Racecourse is also a nice excursion on non-race days, as well, and more than a few people will venture out for a day of sightseeing, some with the intention of getting familiar with the layout before visiting on the day of a big meeting.
Flemington Racecourse offers various tour options, where visitors can take in the Flemington Heritage Centre, the preserved stall of Phar Lap’s great-great-granddaddy Carbine and the impeccable groomed gardens that make Flemington Racecourse a destination for dedicated punters and casual visitors alike.
VICTORIA RACING CLUB
400 Epsom Road
Ph. (03) 9258 4666
Fax (03) 9258 4605
Flemington Racecourse Barrier Guide
- 1000 metres: Located in a chute off the home straight. It provides runners a straight run to the finishing post. Barriers don't really come into play unless there is a track bios on the day.
- 1200 metres: Similar to the 1000 metres start. This start is located at the end of a chute at the top of the home straight. This provides a straight run to the winning post.
- 1400 metres: This starts in a chute off the course proper providing a short straight run of 200 metres before a double sweeping turn to the home straight. Inside barrier draws are a definite advantage.
- 1600 metres: Located in a small chute off the course proper. Runners are on a curve until straightening for home at the 450 metres. Inside barriers are a definite advantage.
- 1800 metres: This start is situated on the course proper at the back section of the track. There is a straight run of nearly 300 metres before the first turn. Inside barriers have an advantage.
- 2000 metres: This start is located on the side of the track on the course proper. Inside barriers are favoured.
- 2500 metres: Starts on the course proper in the home straight. There is only a straight run of 200 metres to a tight double turn. Inside barriers are a slight advantage.
- 3200 metres: This start is located in a chute off the home straight. It provides runners with a straight run of 900 metres before the double turn. Barriers are of little importance.