The official Australian horse racing season runs from the beginning of August until the end of July
Major racing events are planned to fall between football and cricket seasons so as to not have to compete for spectators and punters.
Races of various levels, from the prestigious Group 1 classification, including the big three Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and W.S. Cox Plate, all the way down through the Group level races to unlisted, are organized into carnivals for the sake of promoting the sport and capitalizing on the festive atmosphere that surrounds racing.
Carnivals are held nationwide in both the eastern and western states. Due to the various factors of population and prestige associated with the races contained within the various carnivals, the Spring Racing Carnival is considered to be the biggest and best. The three week period that kicks off with the 2012 Caulfield Cup on 20 October, follows with the W.S. Cox Plate the following Saturday and culminates with the Melbourne Cup, being run on 6 November this year, attracts the attention of both serious and casual racing fans alike.
The Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival begins in September and concludes at the end of November. It is further sub-divided into the Caulfield, Geelong, Moonee Valley, Flemington and Sandown Carnivals according to where the various events are run.
The first Group 1 race on this year's schedule is the Golden Rose, a 1400 metre set weight sprint for three-year-olds held at Rosehill racecourse. It is part of Sydney 's Spring Carnival. Another significant Group 1 event this year is the Underwood Stakes, taking place in September at Caulfield racecourse in Melbourne . It is an 1800 metre weight-for-age event that serves as a test of stamina for sprinters that typically run less than a mile, and stayers warming up for longer distances.
Since Australia's two major cities, Melbourne and Sydney, both conduct Spring Carnivals, the big Group 1 races are scheduled so as not to conflict against each other. Horses and their connections benefit by enabling them to plan their campaigns to allow for adequate spelling according to each horse's strengths. Punters also benefit by being offered a steady diet of quality races on a regular basis.
Melbourne and Sydney also offer Autumn Racing Carnivals.
Sydney 's is perhaps the more prestigious of the two. The major races take place at Rosehill and Randwick . The marquee event takes place in April at Rosehill, that being the Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes.
This race attracts international attention due to its offering the most prize money of any two-year-old race, closing in on $4 million in prize money. That same day also features four other Group 1 level races. There are events for the sprinters and the stayers contest the 2400 metre BMW. This particular April Saturday, when the Group 2 and 3 races are taken into consideration, offers almost $7.5 million in prize money.
Melbourne 's Autumn carnival contains nine Group 1 races. There are three being held in February at Caulfield. These are the Blue Diamond Stakes, Futurity Stakes and the Oakleigh Plate. All three are sprints.
The highlight of Melbourne's Autumn schedule will be held at Flemington in March. The 2000 metre Australian Cup and the 1200 metre Newmarket Handicap both offer $1 million in purses and attract high quality fields.
The Brisbane Racing Club holds the Brisbane Racing Carnival in May and June. The carnival kicks of each year with a Group 3 event conducted in honour of legendary jockey George Moore, a 1200 metre quality handicap. Doomben features the Group 1 Doomben 10,000 in May. The richest of Brisbane 's carnival is held in July each year, the 1400 metre Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm. Eagle Farm also hosts the last major race of this carnival, the Group 1 Winter Stakes in June..
Australia's fifth largest city, Adelaide, also hold a racing carnival from March through May at Morphettville Racecourse. There are a total of four Group 1 races conducted under the auspices of the South Australian Jockey Club. The Goodwood, held on the final Saturday of the carnival, along with the South Australian Derby, run a week prior, are the top events in terms of prize money. Each offers $500,000. The Robert Sangster Stakes and the prestigious Australasian Oaks follow with $400,000. Early in the carnival, the Group 2 Adelaide Cup offers 3200 metres to test the stayers. The Group 3 South Australian Sires Stakes is well recognized for giving notice to the racing world of two-year-olds that bear watching for future potential.
The Perth racing carnival in Western Australia is different from the others in that it is held over the course of the summer and the winter, unlike the others, which are held either in the spring or the autumn.
Races that occur during the summer take place at Ascot racecourse; those held during the winter take place at Belmont Racecourse. While there are only a total of three Group 1 races for the entire year in Perth 's racing carnival, the Railway Stakes offers a million dollar mile following an open handicap format. Held in honour of one of racing's all-time great champions, the Kingston Town Classic at Ascot offers $500,000 for any horse that successfully conquers the perplexing 1800 metre distance that taxes sprinters, yet forces stayers to leave nothing in reserve. The $500,000 Winterbottom Stakes, held at Ascot alongside the Railway Stakes, completes the Group 1 offering for Perth's carnival.
Like Perth, Tasmania races during the summer. There are no Group 1 events, but Tasmania's island status does make the logistics of transporting thoroughbreds a serious consideration. Combined with the abbreviated nature of this carnival, which is only offering four races this year, and the modest population of the island, it would be unrealistic to expect anything that would rival the major metropolitan carnivals of the other states. The Group 3 Hobart and Launceston Cups, at 2200 and 2400 metres, respectively, are the primary events. Fields are naturally made up of locals, with an occasional horse from the mainland.
The Gold Coast Magic Millions Carnival is somewhat unique compared to all the others. It attracts attention from across the nation for two reasons. First, entrants must be horses from the Magic Millions auction. Second, $4.5 million in prize money is up for grabs. It is also worth noting that the racing is clockwise like NSW.
The auction has produced multiple Group 1 winners. Seven of the last 10 Golden Slipper Stakes winners attract noteworthy trainers such as Lee Freedman, Gai Waterhouse and David Hayes, along with interests from Godolphin, all perhaps looking for bargains to match the $15,000 investment that produced Shoot Out.
As Australia's third largest spectator sport, much emphasis has been placed on creating a fun atmosphere, combining the best aspects of entertainment, social events and wagering opportunities to make horse racing a year-long highlight of the sports calendar.