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In recent years the main event of the social racing calendar was that of The Spring Carnival however as the years have progressed and race money has grown the significance of the Autumn Racing Carnival it has become just as important for connections, trainers, jockeys and horses from all backgrounds.

The Autumn Racing Carnival takes place between the end of February and travels deep into April each year with horses from all walks of life able to compete for big money prizes on key race days across the period.

While Sydney has traditionally had the share of the key races during the period with the likes of the Doncaster Mile, ATC Australian Derby and Sydney Cup all having in excess of 100 years of history, Melbourne has begun to muscle in on the action with new injections to prize pools to draw runners to the state.

We take a look at the key races during the period and why they have become prominent races to watch across the season.

Melbourne Racing Carnival

Before we fire into the depths of key racing during the Autumn Racing Carnival it’s important to be clear that Spring has always been Melbournes key racing festival however in recent years, particularly with the introduction of new races Autumn Racing has become so much more important to the state's industry.

Racing in Melbourne during the Autumn Carnival takes place over a 6 week period from mid February through to the end of April. The Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival takes place at the cities three key metropolitan tracks - Moonee Valley, Caulfield and Flemington.

There are nine Group One races which take place during the Carnival which accommodate all types of race horse in all formats of racing.

Races in Melbourne’s Autumn Racing Carnival begin in February with one of it’s oldest contests run at Caulfield Racecourse.

Melbourne Racing Carnival Key Dates

The CF Orr Stakes - 12th Feb 2022

The CF Orr Stakes marks the return of high caliber racing to the state of Victoria as the 1400m contest at weight for age conditions takes place at Caulfield Racecourse on Saturday 12th February 2022.

First run in 1925 the CF Orr Stakes only became a Group 1 race in 1993 and run at Caulfield since 1997 after being run previously at Flemington, Moonee Valley as well as Sandown in former editions.

The CF Orr Stakes is the first of the three sprint races to kick off the Autumn Racing Carnival and has been won by some of the horse racing greats such as Black Caviar (2012), Lonhro (2004) and Redoute’s Choice (2000) who have used the event as a springboard to go on and win bigger Autumn races.

The Black Caviar Lightning Stakes - 19th February 2022

A prime example of how the CF Orr is used to start an Autumn Campaign would be that of the Lightning Stakes namesake - Black Caviar!

Black Caviar had the 1000m Lighting Stakes renamed in her honor after she won the contest three times in a row between 2011 and 2013. 

The Black Caviar Lightning Stakes date back to 1955 and isn’t one of the most historical races in Melbourne but nonetheless important. The Lightning forms part of a three race sprint trilogy that also includes the Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket Handicap.

The Oakleigh Plate - 26th February 2022

The Oakleigh Plate forms the second leg of the Melbourne Autumn Sprint Trilogy with the Group 1 contest taking place over 1100m at Caulfield Racecourse.

Oakleigh Plate day is a particularly important race day on the calendar as it also features two other Group One races on the same racecard. The Futurity Stakes over 1400m and the Blue Diamond Stakes sandwich the Oakleigh Plate on a huge Autumn day of racing.

The Oakleigh Plate has to be the headline act on the day though with its origins dating as far back as 1884 when the first ever Oakleigh Plate was won by Malua. In more recent times the sprint feature has been won by some big names including Wakeful (1901), Snippets (1988) and Sntizel (2006).

Australia Guineas - 5th March 2022

Roughly 100 years after the introduction of the Oakleigh Plate (1884) the Australian Guineas were brought to the Melbourne Autumn horse racing schedule with it first being run in 1986.

The Australian Guineas are run over a distance of 1600m and for three year olds with set weight conditions. In recent times the Australian Guineas have grown in there popularity after prize money was increased to $1m.

The Guineas takes place at Flemington Racecourse with the Blamey Stakes at Group 2 level serving as the perfect accompaniment for this 1600m feature.

Newmarket Handicap - 12th March 2022

The Australian Guineas however only forms a prelude to the 12th March at Flemington however as the weekend dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ features two outstanding Group One contests and is often seen as the biggest day of racing in the Melbourne Autumn Carnival.

Super Saturday features the Group One Australia Cup over 2000m however it is the Newmarket Handicap, where the nations best sprinters tackle the Flemington Straight Six over 1200m that generally drives the excitement.

The Newmarket Handicap is one of Australia’s oldest sprint races having been first run back in 1874. In recent years the contest has drawn huge interest with the likes of Black Caviar (2011), Exceed and Excel (2004), Hay List (2012) and Takeover Target (2006) all winning editions of the race. 

All Star Mile - 19th March 2022

The newest edition to the Melbourne Autumn Carnival is the $5m All Star Mile which is as it suggests a mile long contest that is rotated around Melbourne's big three tracks with the 2022 edition heading to Flemington.

The All Star Mile is based around the Japanese style All Star race the Arima Kinen where horses are selected for the race based on the number of public votes they receive with the top 10 and 5 wild cards selected to tackle the mile.

The unique race day brings a completely new style of race to Australia which can benefit any stable nominated to run. An example of this was shown in the very first edition of the race where $19,000 purchase Mystical Journey won the $5m race for his Tasmanian owners. 

William Reid Stakes - 25th March 2022

The William Reid Stakes rounds out the Melbourne Autumn Carnival but also closes out an impressive period of night racing under the floodlights at Moonee Valley. The 1200m contest was first run in 1925 and named after a former Moonee Valley committee member who died in 1923. Reid originally came from Scotland but was a prominent horse owner during the early 1900s.

The William Reid has had a number of big name winners including the great Manikato who won the race for five consecutive years between 1979 and 1983.

Sydney Racing Carnival

The Sydney Racing Carnival is more commonly seen as the Autumn Racing Carnival and the more significant one over its Victorian counterpart given the prize money on offer as well as the whopping 19 Group One races that take place between March and April.

Given the volume of racing over the period the key races are split between Sydney’s two premier tracks. Rosehill Gardens which sits prominently in the west of Sydney and Royal Randwick which is located in the east of the Harbour City.

In more recent times Racing New South Wales have tweaked the racing calendar slightly to drive greater interest in their race days during the carnival by creating three significant Saturdays with multiple Group One features.

The main racing action does begin in February in the state with the likes of the Apollo Stakes, Lightfingers and Eskimo Prince Stakes all excellent lead up races to March and April however it is March 5th where racing really begins to heat up.

Sydney Racing Carnival Key Dates

Randwick Guineas Day - 5th March 2022

The first major day of racing in the Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival has to be the Randwick Guineas day where the racing is high quality from the start of the card right through to the final race of the day.

As well as being headlined by the awesome Randwick Guineas for three year olds over 2000m the day also boasts the Canterbury Stakes at Group One level, The Todman, Challenge Stakes, Riesling Stakes at Group Two grade as well as the Weona Girl Qlty and Aspiration Quality at Group Three grade.

The Randwick Guineas has to be the most significant race on the day though as it is seen as the first leg of the triple crown for the three year olds looking to make an impression.

Coolmore Classic (Ladies Day) - 12th March 2022

The Coolmore Classic over 1500m at Rosehill may not be the biggest race day on the calendar but is seen by Racing NSW as the official launch day of the Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival and marketed as Ladies Day for racegoers.

The Coolmore Classic at Group One level is a race specifically for fillies and mares to compete over the unique 1500m distance at set weight conditions. The winners of the Coolmore can also become exempt from the ballot for the Doncaster Mile and Queen of the Turf should they win.

Seen as the opening major race day in the state the Coolmore Classic is supported by two Group Two races in the Ajax Stakes and the Phar Lap Stakes.

Slipper Day - 19th March 2022

If nothing else comes from reading this article, mark this date in the calendar as soon as possible because this is without doubt one of the best days of racing you will see in Australia with no less than 5 Group One contests on the same card.

The Golden Slipper Day is the premier two year old contest in the country with the 1200m contest boasting a huge $3.5m in prize money for the best two year old horse in the country.

Slipper day also features four other huge Group One races that include George Ryder Stakes, Ranvet Stakes, The Galaxy and the Rosehill Guineas. Between 2016 and 2019 the day was overshadowed by perhaps the greatest racehorse ever as Winx ran and won the George Ryder on four consecutive occasions. 

Tancred Stakes Day - 26th March 2022

For the month of March the Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival is held in Sydney's west with all racing taking place at Rosehill Gardens. The Tancred Stakes at Group 1 level over 2400m signifies the closing of racing in Sydney’s west before action heads to Randwick in April.

The Tancred Stakes are also joined by the Group One Vinery Stud Stakes for three year old fillies as well as a number of Group 2 and 3 contests to close out the western suburbs part of the carnival.

The Championships Day 1 - 2nd April 2022

As racing crosses across the city Randwick opens up the first official day of the Championships known as the Grand Final of Australian Horse Racing where the best of the best in the horse racing world will compete over two days for over $21m in prize money.

The first day of The Championships boasts four Group One contests that include The Doncaster Mile Handicap, The TJ Smith for sprinters, The Australian Derby for three year olds and the ATC Sires Produce for two year olds as well as a number of other black type races to create a huge card.

The TJ Smith has been a particularly eye-catching race in recent years with Chris Waller trained Nature Strip dominating the past two editions of the race and the Gray Flash Chautauqua winning three consecutive times from 2015. 

The Championships Day 2 - 9th April 2022

The Championships continue for a second race day as we see another four Group Ones take place at Royal Randwick once again.

These key races include the Sydney Cup for the stayers, the ATC Oaks for the three-year-old fillies, the Queen of the Turf for the fillies and mares and the big one, the weight-age Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 2000 metres.

Again the raceday is arguably one of the most memorable for the four consecutive years we saw the Queen Of The Turf Winx win the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

All Aged Stakes Day - 16th April 2022

The final day of what feels like an eternity of racing finishes with the All Aged Stakes contest over 1400m under weight for age conditions.

The day also features the Champagne Stakes over 1600m and the JRA Plate at Group 3 level which is heavily supported by the Japanese Racing Association which are sponsors of the plate.

Overall we’re about to see an incredible 9 weeks of racing across Victoria and New South Wales with a huge number of Group One contests taking place as well as some of the best racing talent locally and internationally on display!!

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