Horse Racing in Australia
The sport of horse racing has made an indelible impact on the culture of Australia. Whether rooting on the equine stars of Thoroughbred and other types of racing or indulging in the gambling side of it, the people of Australia truly have a passion for the sport. As a matter of fact, attendance figures show it is the third-most popular sport in the country, behind only rugby and Australian Rules Football.
Horse racing's presence in the country goes back almost as far as the beginnings of Australia, with racing first showing up with regularity in the early part of the 19th century. Since then, a booming industry has grown up around the sport in the country. Many of the nation's biggest races command great attention, whether they are filled with local favorites or contested by national star horses.
The sport has enjoyed a rich history in the last 200 years in Australia, and it has only grown in popularity over the years. And, of course, it must be noted that betting is a big part of it, with fans finding a variety of different ways to back their favorites.
Since Australia was first established as a European colony, and horses were a big part of everyday life on the continent, it made sense that they would be imported to the new location. Some of the first horses that came over on European ships actually served as sires and dams for the earliest race horses. As a matter of fact, many champions in the country, even into the modern era, can be traced back to those earliest equine immigrants.
Racing was soon to follow the arrival of these initial horses. Informal events came first, followed by an actual race meeting in Hyde Park in Sydney in 1810. With that as the benchmark, clubs dedicated to horse racing began to pop up all over the country, and tracks were built to meet this new demand.
Many of the country's most illustrious tracks can be traced back to the 19th century. In addition, some of the most famous races also go all the way back more than a century into the past. Horse racing fans in Australia are surrounded by tradition at practically every track they happen to visit.
Types of Racing in Australia
This is the most popular form of racing around the world, and Australia is no different in that respect. It was also the form of the earliest racing efforts in Australia. Also known as the flats, Thoroughbred racing will be the focus of this look at racing in the country, but there are other types of racing that also receive a lot of attention and thus need to be noted.
Just as in the United States, there is a vibrant harness racing community spread across Australia. This type of racing receives a lot of attention in terms of both attendance and betting handle. Harness racing might not be the glamorous sport that Thoroughbred racing has become. But that blue-collar ethos is what makes it incredibly popular with a large segment of the population.
Harness racing features horses known as Standardbreds that are bred particularly for that type of racing. Unlike Thoroughbreds who gallop as fast as they can throughout a race, Standardbreds must conform to a certain type of gait when they race. There are pacers, whose front and back feet on the same side of their body hit the ground at the same time, and trotters, whose left front and back right will hit at once, and then vice versa, as they race.
In addition, harness racing is distinguished by the fact that the drivers (not jockeys) are pulled along in a bike-like device known as a sulky behind the horses. This means that the times aren't as fast as they would be in Thoroughbred racing. But the bikes tend to keep more horses close to the lead in each race, which makes for a lot of thrilling finishes in the sport.
Many great Australian and New Zealand-bred Standardbreds take the opportunity to come to the United States and race there. But the high stakes available to them at the tracks across the Land Down Under mean that they can stay on their home dirt and still make a good living for their drivers, trainers, and owners.
Steeplechases are typically longer than Thoroughbred races. Their distinguishing characteristic is the fact that there are jumps throughout the race that the horses have to handle in order to win. Although steeplechases aren't in vogue like they once were, Australia still hosts a substantial amount of them. Two of the most famous in the country are the Great Eastern Steeplechase and the Grand Annual.
Structure of Thoroughbred Racing in Australia
Australia stands apart from, for example, United States Thoroughbred racing because of its heavy reliance on so-called weight-for-age races. These races assign certain weights to each horse in the race, depending on their age, experience, and other factors. The idea is to use the weight to level the field, so to speak.
Although many racing purists feel that the weight-for-age races only punish horses for being better than others, the system does produce extremely balanced racing. As a result, the setup makes for great betting opportunities. There aren't usually overwhelming favorites who offer very little value to those backing them with these types of races.
Australia also attempts to classify certain races in terms of the caliber of racing. They are host to a large number of "Group One" stakes races. These races attract only the finest talent and also bring a great deal of prestige to the horses who win them.
The Australian Triple Crowns
Like most countries that host Thoroughbred racing, Australia does offer the chance for the finest horses to achieve immortality by becoming Triple Crown winners. In fact, the country does most countries one better by offering a pair of Triple Crowns.
All three of the Triple Crown races for three-year-olds are held in the booming horse racing mecca of Sydney, New South Wales. A recent change in venue for one of the events hasn't lessened the enthusiasm for the series whatsoever. Like in other countries, winning the Australian Triple Crown has proven exceedingly difficult.
The first event is the Randwick Guineas, a 1,600-meter turf race held each March. This first leg had previously been the Canterbury Guineas, but in 2005, the change was made by Australian racing authorities. It is followed by the Rosehill Guineas, another March turf event at a distance of 2,000 meters, and the Australian Derby, held in April at a distance of 2,400 meters.
Considering the relatively short amount of time between races and the escalating distances, it is understandable that only five horses have been able to complete the Australian Triple Crown. The winners were Moorland in 1943, Martello Towers in 1959, Imagele in 1973, Octagonal in 1996, and It's a Dundeel in 2003.
Australia is also known as one of the few countries to offer two-year-olds a chance at a Triple Crown. The three races are the Golden Slipper Stakes, the ATC Sires Produce Stakes, and the Champagne Stakes. There have been six winners of the two-year-old Australian Triple Crown, with the most recent being Pierro in 2012. Ironically, none of the two-year-old Triple Crown winners have ever gone on to win a three-year-old Triple Crown race.
The Melbourne Cup
In many countries, the Triple Crown races are the ones that draw the most attention. But in the case of Australia, their most prestigious event is the Melbourne Cup. A long, grueling turf race, it has attracted some of the biggest stars in the country's history to try and conquer it.
The Melbourne Cup, which is held each year at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria, is open to three-year-olds and up. Only the finest horses are allowed to compete, as they are chosen based on past performances and victories in qualifying races. It is a weight-for-age race, and it is contested at a distance of 3,200 meters, roughly the equivalent of 2 miles, on the turf.
The first event was held back in 1861, and the Melbourne Cup has only gained in significance and renown throughout all those years. It has become a cultural event much like the Kentucky Derby in the United States, right down to the fancy hats that are a must for all ladies attending the event.
But what sets it apart is the quality of the racing. The excitement of the race is so intoxicating that it generally demands the attention of most of Australia when it is held. As a result, it has gained the nickname "The Race That Stops a Nation."
Each country produces a horse that is such an incredible racer that it gains almost a mythical quality through the years. In Australia, that horse is Phar Lap. In life, he was nearly unbeatable, but even in death, he managed to be a fascinating figure.
The gelding's incredible record included 19 victories in group races during his career, which spanned the years 1927-1932. At one point, he reeled off a 14-race winning streak, and he won 32 of his last 35 races. For good measure, he shipped to Mexico in 1932 for what turned out to be his final race and set a track record while winning the Agua Caliente Stakes in Tijuana.
Phar Lap then made his way to California, where his handlers appeared to be preparing him for competition against the best American horses. Unfortunately, he died in 1932 under mysterious circumstances. The mystery persists to this day, with some people fully believing that there was foul play at hand.
Betting on Horse Racing in Australia
Australia's betting setup manages to incorporate quaint traditions and modern technologies for the best of both worlds. On the one hand, there are bookmakers available both on and off site offering wagers on the top competitors in each race. These bookmakers generally deal in fixed price betting.
What that means is that the odds that they offer to bettors do not change at any time before the race. This style of betting is excellent if you think that you have odds on a horse that are beneficial. You can lock them in by grabbing a bookie and placing your bet.
On the other hand, Australia makes room for pari-mutuel racing as well. Pari-mutuel wagering, which is popular in the United States, takes into account how much money is bet on each horse. That is the ultimate determiner in what the odds are for each horse and even for each specialized bet.
The advantage to this type of betting comes if you take a horse that not many other people think has a chance to do very well in the race. That might raise the odds for you. If that horse should do well, you have a better chance of a big return in this manner.
Each type of wagering holds its own benefits and drawbacks. The fixed-odds method is generally reserved for straight bets like a win or a place. With a win bet, you are betting that your horse will win the race, while a place bet means that you will get a return if the horse finishes first or second.
Pari-mutuel wagering offers a little bit more flexibility in terms of the types of bets you can place. If you do choose to go with a bookmaker, it's a good idea to make sure that you find one that is officially affiliated with the track in question. Otherwise, you run the risk of being ripped off.
In any case, wagering on horse races is a favorite pastime in Australia. The internet has made it much easier for people to partake in that pastime. There are many horse racing betting sites that allow you the ability to wager on races from all over the world, including Australia, by simply logging into your computer, phone, or tablet.