Horse racing – indelibly etched in the Australian spirit

| January 8, 2020

Horse racing has a long and colourful history in Australia. Since 1788 when horses arrived with the first wave of British settlers, Australians have raced horses to compete for coveted prizes.

Racetracks are the lifeblood of country towns across Australia.

As racing became more organised, around the turn of the century, the quality of bloodstock improved. Wealthy folk began to import thoroughbreds to gain the upper hand against their business colleagues. 

In 1810, the first official program of horse racing was conducted. Races were run on a dry and dusty track at Hyde Park in Sydney.

Melbourne soon caught the racing bug and held its first official meet in 1838 on Batman’s Hill. 

In 1862, the Melbourne Cup was first run, and two years later the Victoria Racing Club was established.

Horse racing is thus an indelible part of the history of Australia and has always been a major sport in this country. 

Horse racing permeates the language, the culture and the spirit of Australia. It determines our vernacular, dominates our poetry and infiltrates our music and arts.

It is a major form of entertainment for workers and wealthy alike. Horse racing brings people together, lifts their spirits in times of depression, war and inevitable change.

Today, unfortunately, some sections of the community are opposed to the sport of horse racing. Perhaps they prefer best online usa casinos where there are no horses involved. While everyone has a right to their opinion, these people are naïve and fail to understand the importance of horse racing to the spirit, culture and history of this nation.

Horse racing has been vitally important to the nation’s growth, both economically and spiritually. Almost every country town has, or once had, a racetrack. In Victoria, places like Donald, Charlton, Geelong, Warrnambool and Stony Creek and Yarra Glen each had a racetrack as the central pillar of their community. 

Communities looked forward to their major social event, their Cup Day, and everyone comes out to engage in the revelry and celebration.

Attending the country races is an experience that no-one should miss. The local flavour, colour, excitement and atmosphere is to be remembered for a lifetime.

They say that if you want to experience the unique local culture in a particular location, try to get to the local race meeting.

Race meetings at far off places like Birdsville, Ipswich, Warrnambool and the Sapphire Coast are amazing events that help paint a picture of Australian life.

In my reckoning, an understanding and appreciation of Australian culture is not complete until one has attended race meetings in these remote locations.

Where hopes and dreams of owners are tested. Where fortunes are made and shirts are lost. Romance and mateship. It’s all part of horse racing. 

Black Caviar, the Australian thoroughbred legend who won 25 races in unbeaten succession started her career on a country racetrack. Owners cling to this with all their focus, that their young filly might one day reach the same dizzy heights.

Broadly speaking, Australians are invested in future glory more than any other people. Undeniable hope helps them deal with adversity, that one day things will get better. This is the entrepreneurial spirit, the great Australian resilience, born on the racetrack, the Aussie field of dreams.

It is said that Phar Lap lifted Australians out of the depression. His heroic career celebrated by the entire population. His exploits lifted the spirits and provided hope for the future.

One wonders whether Australia could do with another Phar Lap to lift us out of the unprecedented loss of life and land in the current bushfire crisis.

Australians deeply feel the pain of others. Our hearts broke in the 2002 Cup, as Damien Oliver pointed to the heavens to salute his lost brother, tragically killed in a race fall. 

Australians are fully invested in everything horse racing. The joy and the sadness, the triumph and ecstasy, as well as heart break. This is why the Melbourne Cup is so indelibly etched in Australian culture. It’s what separates horse racing from aussie online pokies and other forms of punting.

The relationships that people have with horses. Tommy Woodcock and Reckless. Reg Fleming with So You Think and Hartnell. Chautauqua and his frustrated connections – the most famous recalcitrant, loved by all and currently pursuing a new career in equestrian sports. There is no stronger bond than between an Australian and his horse.

The tragedies that unfortunately occur in racing, as in any other life endeavour, are felt across the nation. When champion Dulcify met his tragic fate in the ’79 Cup, the nation wept inconsolably. The outpouring of grief unprecedented, such is the effect these horses have on the Australian people. They are like family.

I attended a business networking breakfast recently at a local country racetrack. There were speakers at the gathering, local trainers, Payne, Cumani, Alexander, and a jockey or two. One could sense the passion in their speeches, the dream of achieving success. I couldn’t help but think about how close their philosophies are with the Australian spirit. This is a spirit born on the racetrack and carrying with them, the hopes and dreams of a nation.

We did win the Cup this year, the Australian-trained horse. We beat the world. As a nation where horse racing is part of our DNA, this was a great achievement and something to be enormously proud. For horse racing is in our blood. Racing is the very fibre of our being. Those who wish to ruin it, are not of our ilk.

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