Australia is renowned for its vibrant horse racing culture. With events like the Melbourne Cup, The Everest and the Golden Slipper capturing the nation’s attention. While these prestigious races are the jewels in the crown, the heart and soul of Australian horse racing can be found in the country tracks. Where local communities come together to celebrate their love for the sport.

Country horse racing is the soul of Australia’s racing culture. These events bring together a blend of tradition, community spirit, and a genuine love for the sport. Unlike the bustling city tracks, country racecourses offer a more laid-back and family-friendly atmosphere that draws locals and tourists alike. The first recorded horse race in Australia dates back to Hyde Park in 1810. As the sport gained popularity, more formal tracks began to appear in various regions.

The first country racing club was established in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1825. Followed by the Maitland Racing Club in New South Wales in 1830. These clubs played a crucial role in organising and standardising country races.

The Rise of Iconic Tracks

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several iconic country racecourses were established. Furthermore, these tracks not only served as venues for thrilling horse races but also became integral parts of local communities.

  1. Stawell Racecourse, Victoria: Founded in 1856, this historic track is home to the prestigious Stawell Gift foot race and has a rich horse racing heritage.
  2. Birdsville Racecourse, Queensland: Located in the remote Outback, the Birdsville Races have become an Australian legend, attracting visitors from across the country.
  3. Dubbo Turf Club, New South Wales: The Dubbo Racecourse, dating back to the late 19th century, is a testament to the enduring appeal of country racing.

Dubbo Gold Cup

Dubbo Turf Club hosts 17 race meetings a year. These include the prestigious Dubbo Gold Cup, Queen of the West, Silver Goblet, Derby Day/Golden Eagle Day, and Melbourne Cup/Big Dance Day meetings.

This year’s Gold Cup Day boasted an eight-race program including the $100,000 Dubbo City & Gilgandra Toyota Dubbo Gold Cup. Which is a qualifying race for the $3 million Big Dance. Other feature events on the day included the $50,000 Evergreen Turf Vincent Gordon Flying Handicap, $50,000 Arrowfield Country Magic Plate and $40,000 Castlereagh Hotel Cup.

Country racing has faced its share of challenges, including declining attendance in some areas and the need for modernisation. Dubbo Turf Club has listened to its audience and adapted by adding these bigger race days to its calendar. Therefore, it was no surprise that this year’s Dubbo Gold Cup nominations were the strongest we have seen yet. Big Dance eligibility immediately makes it more attractive for Sydney trainers to head west. Additionally, it also gives the country trainers an avenue to race in the big smoke.

Dubbo has the largest number of trained starters in 2022/2023. In addition, it’s also home to back-to-back country trainer of the year, Clint Lundholm. This year trainers such as Annabel Neasham, Bjorn Baker, Edward Cumings, David Payne, Kim Waugh, Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott all held nominations. The interest in the race even went as far as Victoria with Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young nominating their Irish import.

(Clint Lundholm,middle)

Bjorn Baker found the race a promising acquisition, accepting four horses. His four-pronged attack paid off with Iknowastar saluting with Rachel King. With Baker taking the Dubbo Gold Cup home to Sydney, he now has a starter in the Big Dance in Sydney on Melbourne Cup Day.

The Big Dance

The inaugural $3 million Big Dance at Royal Randwick, will be run and won on the first Tuesday in November, with the meeting now known as Big Dance Day.  28 Country Cups from across various regions of NSW will be used as qualifying races for the race. The final field for the Big Dance drawn from the winners and second-placed horses of these designated Country Cups. This initiative just made country racing alluring.

Stridyl were trackside at the Dubbo Gold Cup and it was a superb day. It was full of eager racegoers, ladies dressed to the nines for the Fashion On the Fields and winners plenty. There was a wonderful mix of high-flying metro trainers and jockeys as well as country legends. Racing has a lot to offer, you can find it in the big smoke or in the country. However and wherever you want to watch it, I promise it won’t disappoint.