A colonial administrator from Scotland was responsible for introducing the sport of kings to Australia back in 1810. Major General Lachlan Macquarie had developed a fondness for horse racing during his time in the British Army, and he hosted the first meeting at Hyde Park in Sydney after he was appointed Governor of new South Wales.
The sport has flourished in Australia over the ensuing 210 years. It now stands alongside Britain as one of the leading global hubs for horse racing, with famous meetings that can rival Royal Ascot and Cheltenham, but which country has the better overall scene?
The Case for Britain
Horse racing been a fixture of British life ever since the year AD 200, when the first organised races were held at Wetherby in Yorkshire. It soared in popularity during the subsequent millennia, and it is now the second largest spectator sport in Great Britain.
The British racing scene is steeped in heritage. Chester is the world’s oldest surviving racecourse, and it has held meetings ever since 1540. Leith Races were established in 1591 and Doncaster followed in 1595. Many of the country’s leading races have been running since the 1700s and 1800s. The sport’s traditions and rules originated in Britain, and it spread a love of racing around the world, from the United States to Australia.
Nowadays, racing generates around £4 billion per year for the UK economy. The flat season broadly takes place during the summer months, and the National Hunt season comes to the fore when the temperatures drop.Embed from Getty Images
There are many famous jumps meetings, including the Cheltenham Festival. British Bookmakers say they take around £500 million ($652 million) on the Cheltenham Festival, while Irish bookies take another €452 million ($533 million) on the four-day event. The Grand National at Aintree is possibly the world’s most popular race, as more than 600 million people around the world watch the madcap action each year.
The flat season is also packed full of prestigious meetings such as Royal Ascot, the Guineas Festival at Newmarket and Glorious Goodwood. The Derby at Epsom is the most prestigious race in Europe, and it inspired famous races like the Kentucky Derby. Some of the world’s leading runners, jockeys and trainers head to Britain to bid for glory in races like the Derby and the 2000 Guineas.
Famous racecourses in Scotland include Ayr, Musselburgh and Perth, while Newmarket, Ascot, York, Epsom, Goodwood, Doncaster, Cheltenham, Aintree, Haydock, Kempton and many more courses host plenty of exciting races in England.
Meetings attract all manner of celebrities and members of the Royal Family, creating a classy atmosphere, but British racegoers are not afraid to let their hair down, lower the tone and create carnage.
The Case for Australia
Australia cannot quite match Britain in terms of heritage, tradition, pomp and ceremony, but it makes up for that by offering fabulous prize pools for its most important races. The Derby at Epsom is the richest race in Britain, with a prize purse of £1.5 million. The Grand National dishes out £1 million.
Those are paltry tallies compared to the Melbourne Cup, which carried prize money of AU$8 million (£4.5 million) in 2019. The Melbourne Cup is the only race that can compete with the Grand National in the popularity stakes. It is also enjoyed by a TV audience of more than 600 million people around the world.
Australians wagered around AU$125 million (£52 million) on the Melbourne Cup in 2019, making it a huge event. It is dubbed the race that stops a nation, as it brings the country to a standstill. The prize money and the prestige of winning the Melbourne Cup attracts an extremely strong field of runners from around the world. If you check here for the latest odds, you will see that the best horses from the UK, Ireland, Japan and elsewhere head to Australia to compete, and that is not necessarily the case for Britain’s biggest races.Embed from Getty Images
Interstate rivalry is also fuelling a boon for Australian racing. In 2017, Sydney unveiled The Everest, which became the richest turf race in the world. It is not as prestigious as the Melbourne Cup, but the size of the prize pool attracted the world’s elite runners. In 2019, prize money reached $14 million (£8 million), leaving it behind only the Saudi Cup and the Dubai World Cup as the third richest race in the world.
That has kept the Victoria Racing Club on its toes, and the Australian horse racing industry is going from strength to strength. There are many more famous races throughout the year, including the Cox Plate and the Caulfield Cup, and Australia recently boasted the world’s best racehorse in Winx, the unbeaten wondermare who retired in 2019.
There is no jumps racing in Australia, but harness racing is popular Down Under, and there is always something intriguing to watch. On an international scale, Australia has more racecourses than any other nation, and it has the third largest total prize money per year, after the United States and Japan.
It has to be a draw. Britain has the heritage, the links to royalty and the prestige, but Australia has caught up over the past 50 years. It has larger prize pools and ambitious leadership teams in Victoria and New South Wales, so it could soon outstrip Britain if it maintains its upward curve.