14th October 2009
It was one hundred and ninety-nine years ago that the first horses were sent around Hyde Park in what was termed at the time as ‘the first liberal amusement instituted in the Colony’. While Lachlan Macquarie was credited as the patron and founder it was really the first officers of the first battalion of the 73rd Regiment who organised the meeting. These were the soldiers that had accompanied Macquarie on his voyage to the colony. The first race was run on Monday 15th October 1810 the meeting stretching over 3 days – Monday (15th), Wednesday (17th) & Friday (19th). Not to be lulled into any sort of malaise the off days saw cock fighting at a house near the park.
Each of the three days of racing featured one main race, with one or more minor events to fill out the program. The modern racegoer would have found the whole preceding quite strange, the main race was run in ‘heats’ – the best of three attempts over the distance, with half an hours rest between tries. So the first race was ‘a Plate, value fifty guineas, given by the Subscribers to the Sydney Race Course’, the best of three 2-mile heats. The horses carried set weights under a weight for age scale. Captain Ritchie won the first race with a six year old grey gelding named ‘Chase’. He won the first two heats so their was no need for a third, two days later ‘Chase’ won the main race of the second race day, a Cup valued at fifty guineas, and given by the ladies of the colony, this time he had to compete in all three heats running a total distance over the two days of ten miles! The final day again featured a 50 guineas prize – a purse given by the Magistrates of the colony, ‘Chase’ was ineligible to enter, having won the previous races, and this time victory went to Mr Benn’s ‘Scratch’ in two heats.
At Hyde Park ‘the concourse of spectators formed by far the most numerous assemblage of persons ever before collected in the colony’. The finishing straight ran along Elizabeth St from Park St with the post close to Market st. Although these festivities of 1810 constitute the first official race meeting in Australia it was almost twenty two years into the life of the colony. There had been informal races and evidence points towards races four to five years earlier but nothing as spectacular.
Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the first official race in Australia – it might just be time to celebrate!
Taken from: The History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing – Vol One; Harold Freeman & Andrew Lemon ISBN 0-9588578-1-4