The first horses arrived in Australia aboard the ship Lady Penrhyn on the 26th of January, 1788.
This date is considered synonymous with the founding of Australia. This is not at all surprising since England supplied the first colonists, and had been racing horses for hundreds of years prior.
Coupled with the Australian cultural love of a good wager, it's no wonder Thoroughbred racing has become the third largest spectator sport in Australia, behind only Australian Rules Football and Rugby League.
The first auction of horse bloodstock took place in 1805, and racing was well established around Sydney by 1810 with the first official race being held at Hyde Park in October of that year. It is estimated that the Thoroughbred population of the entire country was around 1100 horses, most having been imported from India and South Africa.
Significant Dates in Australian Horse Racing History
1814 - Races held in Tasmania
1836 - Racing commences in Western Australia
1838 - First official races in Victoria held in March
1842 - Australian Jockey Club (AJC) founded
1843 - Queensland holds it first races. South Australia near Adelaide has its first races
1878 - First stud book to trace bloodlines compiled by William Yuille
1883 - Almost 200 country clubs abiding by and racing under Australian Jockey Club rules.
In just over 100 years, horse racing and Thoroughbred breeding was firmly established in Australia.
The Australian Racing Board is the main governing agency. Comprised of representatives of the Principal Racing Associations of the six states and two territories, the board oversees close to 400 race clubs and 32,000 races per year in which almost 200,000 starters (36,000 horses) compete for prize money exceeding $400 million.
The eight local governing bodies:
Victoria - Racing Victoria Limited - home of the Melbourne Cup
NSW - Racing NSW - home to the Australian Turf Club
S.A. - Thoroughbred Racing S.A. Limited
Queensland - Queensland Thoroughbred Racing Board
Western Australia - Racing and Wagering Western Australia - government owned sanctioning body
Tasmania - Tasmanian Thoroughbred Racing Council
Northern Territory - Thoroughbred Racing NT - formerly the Darwin Turf Club
Australian Capital Territory - racing governed by the Canberra Racing Club
These various bodies are mainly charged with establishing uniform rules for racing and to co-ordinate the national racing schedule.
Golden Slipper Stakes
W S Cox Plate
Horse Racing to Date:
Today, punting is the third most attended spectator sport in the country. Figures for the 2007-2008 racing season show over 2 million admissions, which doesn't account for off-track wagering in any way, very respectable for a country with a total population under 22 million.
Australia ranks behind only the US in the number of horses starting, and third behind the US and Japan in prize money, but can claim the distinction of having the most tracks, all of which are astounding when total population of these three countries is compared.
There are over 30,000 race horses training. It is estimated that over 14.5 billion was wagered in 2009, which works out to almost $700 for every man, woman and child in the country. This breaks down further to $4.5 billion bet with bookmakers, with the remainder being handled by the Totalisator Agency Boards. Over half of the total was off-track wagering, and internet betting is growing exponentially.
The history of horse racing in Australia is vast and filled with lore of legendary horses, jockeys, trainers, breeders and owners. It could and does fill many books, has been depicted in films, and will continue to be a significant aspect of Australian culture.