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19th July 2005


There is a plethora of Group or feature races run each year around Australia.  Generally the history behind the naming of the races goes unnoticed.

It is not rocket science to work out how the Kingston Town Stakes, Tulloch Stakes, Melbourne Cup or South Australian Derby got their name, but let’s go over some of the more obscure names and trace their origins.

In Melbourne during October each year they run the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes.  Mackinnon was born in Scotland and immigrated to Australia.  A lawyer by profession, he was chairman of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) for 19 years.  To the present day no other chairman has been in office longer.  A racehorse owner, Mackinnon scored his biggest win when Kingsburgh won the 1914 Melbourne Cup at odds of 20-1.

At the same time as Mackinnon was running the VRC, a gentleman called A. V. Hiskins was secretary of both the Moonee Valley Racing Club and the VATC (Victoria Amateur Turf Club).  A. V. Hiskins is remembered each year when they run the A. V. Hiskins Steeplechase.  Incredibly L.K.S. Mackinnon and A. V. Hiskins both died just days apart in August 1935.

The W. S. Cox Plate is one of the elite Group 1 weight-for-age contests of the world.  It is named after William Samuel Cox who bought a farm from Richard Feehan and turned it into a racecourse.  That racecourse became the present Moonee Valley circuit.  History records that Cox died in 1895.

Each year at Moonee Valley they run the Group 2 Feehan Stakes to remember the name of Richard Feehan for selling his farm to W. S. Cox.

During 1895 the then chairman of the VRC – Charles Brown Fisher – went broke when a combination of floods and droughts hit his vast land holdings.  At the time of his financial demise he owned a 12,500 square mile property that was the largest cattle station in the world.  He had also owned the first winner of the South Australian Derby run in 1860 – a horse called Midnight.  Each year until 1978 the C. B. Fisher Plate was run and won.  It is no longer on the racing calendar.

The Bagot Handicap is run annually in January over 2,500 metres at Flemington.  It is named after Robert Cooper Bagot – an architect and engineer.  He was the first secretary of the VRC.  From when he commenced as secretary in the mid 1860’s he was quoted as saying, “where the women go the men will follow”.  Some 140 years later he is still being proven correct.

The Standish Handicap is run each January in Melbourne.  It is named after Captain Robert Standish, a police chief who had chased Ned Kelly and other bushrangers.  Standish is credited with coming up with an idea to run a race and call it the Melbourne Cup.  Of the concept a newspaper editorial at the time read, “its effect would be to make any brumby bought out of a mob for thirty shillings the equal of the finest horse in the land.  It is a mad idea, doomed to failure”.  Whilst news of the death of explorers Burke and Wills just a week before the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 cast a shadow over the race (as much of the colony was in mourning at the news) the inaugural Melbourne Cup had a crowd of 4,000 and the “mad idea” has never looked back since!

The Bobbie Lewis Quality Handicap – a Melbourne Group 3 race run in September over 1,200 metres is named after a jockey Robert (call me Bobbie) Lewis who rode four Melbourne Cup winners (1902 The Victory, 1915 Patrobas, 1919 Artilleryman and 1927 Trivalve).

Melbourne’s Alister Clark Stakes – a Group 2 race over 1,600 metres – was first run and won in 1939 and is named after a former chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club.

A naval officer named Henry John Rous arrived in Australia in 1827 by boat.  He was the son of the Earl of Stradbroke.  First run in 1890 Brisbane’s feature annual sprint – the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap – is named after the Earl of Stradbroke.  In later life Henry John Rous formulated the weight-for-age scale that is still an integral part of today’s thoroughbred racing.

When all the St Leger’s are run around Australia each year, they are named after a race bearing the same name that originated in England and is regarded as the world’s oldest thoroughbred classic.

The Sydney Turf Club wanted nominations in 1831 for the inaugural “Australian Colonial St Leger” but got only a few nominations.  The first St Leger Stakes was run in Sydney at Homebush in 1841.  In Sydney, the St Leger has not been run since 1960, but the name continues in several other States.

Dorothy Ryder suggested the name “Golden Slipper” as a good name for a 2YO feature race.  The name she suggested today adorns the richest 2YO race in the world.  Her husband was Sydney Turf Club director George Ryder.  Each year in March or April a 1,500 metre weight-for-age contest at Rosehill is named after him.

The Rosehill Group 2 feature of the Theo Marks Stakes – formerly the Theo Marks Quality – was first run in 1946 – four years after the death of the 77 year old man that the race was named after.  A chairman of the Rosehill Racing Club for 22 years and a member of the Australian Jockey Club for 25 years, Theo Marks was a very big punter.  He lost a fortune punting and retired from the punt only to win Tattersall’s Lottery and he became a successful punter from then on.  One publication claimed his gambling habits were such that in his career he turned over one million pounds ($2 million) – a veritable fortune considering the era he lived in.

With Thanks to Phil Purser