In those vast stretch of grass, legends were made.
We could argue that the Flemington Racecourse has more history than any other track in the world.
And if every great horse, trainer, and jockey has a story to tell, so does one of the finest racing surfaces in the world.
Think you’re going to be bored? You’ll be surprised what’s on the other side of the tracks. No doubt, its history goes more than horse racing.
Without further do, this is the History of the Flemington Racecourse 101, made exciting as the races it holds, in the ten most fascinating facts and more.
1. The Flemington Racecourse is the oldest Metropolitan Track
Consider this: The city of Melbourne was founded in 1835. Five years later, a racecourse was laid.
That’s how distinctively Australian the Flemington Racecourse is.
The first race meeting was held along the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River on March 3, 1840.
The site was perfect for horse racing with a large area of flat land. Beside that was a hill to the north-west, ideal for viewing races.
Thereafter, a rough grandstand of rough scaffolding was constructed on the swampy banks of the river. Although it wasn’t until 1848 before the grand stand would take shape.
2. The name “Flemington” came from a property in Scotland
It wasn’t named after anyone as rumors go.
The truth is, the Flemington racecourse was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse.
The land on which the course was laid out was owned by two brothers, William and Thomas Lang.
But the race course passed through a famous hot spot where people of the town flocked called “the Flemington properties”.
It was so named by the first landowner, James Watson.
Watson named the land he purchased ‘Flemington’ after his wife, Elizabeth’s property in Flemington, Morayshire, Scotland.
On the same land, Watson also built several establishments including the Flemington Hotel. All of which he auctioned later on after suffering financial strife.
Still, by the 1850s, the Melbourne Racecourse was popularly called as the Flemington Racecourse, and it has been called since then. Power to the people.
3. The Australian Championship Sweepstakes was the first telegraphed sporting event
Before the Melbourne Cup was born, the Australian Championship Sweepstake made headlines in 1859.
The inter-colonial event saw horses from Victoria, New Zealand, Tasmania and Sydney competing at the Flemington racecourse.
It was the first Australian sporting event telegraphed in Sydney. It was so huge, a crowd of 40,000 was estimated to gather at the event.
Why is this is crucial to the history of the Flemington racecourse?
Because the race generated funds to improve the development of the course.
Furthermore, this gave authorities the idea to create an event far more prestigious, like an annual handicap race. The Melbourne Cup was conceived. Two years later, the first cup run was held in 1861.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to the Melbourne Cup
4. The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) smoothened the history of the Flemington Race course
Thank you VRC.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Flemington Racecourse.
In 1863, the Melbourne Cup was gloomy. No interstate horses were entered. It was also the smallest cup field ever, with only 7 runners.
A tragedy struck before the event. In addition, there was the lack of competent management and competition between the two rival racing clubs. Namely, the Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club.
Unethical practices, at that time, were also rampant. The track was sabotaged and both clubs were in debt. It was the lowest of the lows in the Australian racing club history.
So, on March 9, 1864, Henry Creswick led the idea to merge the two clubs and cover their debts along with the problems of the racing industry.
Thus, the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) was formed.
5. A Law had to be passed to secure the land of the Flemington Racecourse
The track is that important to the government and to the people.
The Victoria Racing Club had grand plans for the Flemington Racecourse when it was formed.
But it was endangered by the fact that they were just leasing the land. They had no power whatsoever if their contract was terminated. Any plans to improve the racecourse may just go to waste.
It’s a good thing, the Victorian government intervened in 1871 and passed the Victoria Racing Club act.
To protect the club’s investment moving forward, the government entrusted land ownership to the VRC.
After all, the government intended to improve the state of racing in Melbourne through the health of the Flemington Racecourse in Victoria.
6. The “Straight Six” was Stretched out of an Accident
What makes the Flemington racecourse one of the greatest in the world?
It’s the only one with the “Straight Six”.
At 1200 meters (six furlongs) straight, the Straight Six is an advantage for sprinters. It makes it easier for horses to come from well back in the field and make a dramatic win past the post (where people can see).
Has it always been this long?
No. In the first Melbourne Cup, it wasn’t. On that day, down past the grandstand to the river turn, came an accident wherein two horses fell.
Both had to be put down. After the tragedy, it was further lengthened to become the “Straight Six”.
7. One Secretary of the Victoria Racing Club was a Gardener
That would explain the roses.
The first two secretaries of the Victoria Racing Club had this in common: they were passionate about plants.
Byron Moore and Robert Copper Bagot heavily influenced the lush setting of the Flemington Race Club.
Bagot was the first secretary of the Victoria Racing Club who led for 17 years.
He redesigned the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1861, replaced the coarse grass, improved the lawns and drained the marsh in the center of the course.
But it was Henry Byron Moore, the succeeding secretary, who initiated cultivating impressive gardens, in particular, the rose gardens at Flemington in 1881.
History has it, he was a musician and an enthusiastic gardener.
Today, thousands of rose plants that have made the Spring Carnival bloom has been renowned as a Flemington trademark. These roses are ingrained in the history of the Flemington racecourse which leads us to the next fact.
8. The Flemington Race logo was derived from the Rose Garden
Have you ever noticed the logo of the Flemington racecourse has more to do with roses than racing?
It draws inspiration from the famous rose gardens.
That still makes sense though. After all, the Flemington racecourse is famously known for its spacious lawns and lovely roses.
Hence, roses were made dynamic in the Flemington racecourse logo.
With the rose petals representing the live energy behind the sport. It’s a unique and iconic race club logo.
9. The Melbourne Cup wasn’t the biggest crowd drawer of the Flemington Racecourse
They histories do go hand in hand.
In the first Melbourne Cup, 4000 guests flocked the Flemington racecourse. Every year, up to 400,000 enthusiasts fill the course but it wasn’t the Melbourne Cup that gathered the biggest crowd in the history of Flemington racecourse.
The Victoria Derby did.
It was the 2006 Victoria Derby that drew an attendance of 128, 089. That surpassed the biggest crowd of the Melbourne Cup in 2003, with 122, 736 racegoers. It was the year Makybe Diva won her first cup.
10. The Flemington Racecourse is on the Australian heritage list
Not a surprising fact, but look at it this way. How many racecourses in the world are a heritage site?
Only places with natural, cultural and historical value belong to this list.
The Flemington Racecourse was listed on Australia’s National Heritage List on November 7, 2006, for the following main values:
- First, as the racetrack synonymous with the Melbourne Cup, it’s the turf of social and cultural tradition that brings Australians together.
- Second, the history of the Flemington racecourse makes it the oldest among all tracks anywhere in the nation.
Plus, there are so many more reasons that make it worthy of history.
That being Flemington is more than a world-class racecourse. Nowadays, it’s a premier entertainment venue with events other than racing regularly held in its expanse throughout the year such as the Melbourne Showgrounds and the Royal Melbourne Show.
There’s only one race that stops the nation. But by now you know, so much more has happened at the history of Flemington Racecourse.
Let’s breeze through the significant features of the course by the numbers and features.
- After multiple renovations, the three grandstands can house a crowd capacity of over 130,000 people
- The Flemington racecourse is set on 125 to 127 hectares of land, with a full circumference of 2, 312 meters and a final straight of 450 meters
- Flemington has its own railway branch line, shuttle bus and a tram route to make transportation convenient for the massive crowd
- Since 2000, the Victoria Racing Club has spent over $70 billion to improve the Flemington racecourse
- The most popular features of the Flemington racecourse include the following:
- The main race course
- The 1924 Inter-war stripped classical style members’ stand
- The 1880s bluestone stand remnants and bluestone walls
- Convalescent Jockey’s Lodge
- The 1920s Members’ Stand and betting ring
- The 1930’s tote buildings
- Notable works of art include the Harold Freedman murals in the Hill stand and extensive paintings in the Members’ Drive
- The statues of Phar Lap, Bart Cummings, and Makybe Diva
- The world-famous rose garden that is the most picturesque highlight during the
Spring Racing Carnival
Historical Timeline of Events
From its founding to the future, fall in love with the history of Flemington Racecourse in this never-before-seen timeline.
Hey, it doesn’t hurt to be extra educated.
1840 – First known as the Melbourne course, the first race meeting was held beside the Maribyrnong River
1850 – The Melbourne course became known as the Flemington racecourse
1859 – The Australian Championship Sweepstake race was held, the first sport ever to be telegraphed and paved way for the bright future of Flemington racecourse
1860 – The hill became the main vantage point for the race after the finishing base was relocated
1861– The First Melbourne Cup was run and the first railway line to the course opened taking spectators directly to the course.
1864 – The Victoria Racing Club was formed out of merging the Victoria Jockey Club and Turf Club
1871 – The Victoria Racing Club Act was passed, giving the Victoria Racing Club legal control over Flemington Racecourse
1873 – The first secretary built a new larger members’ grandstand, known as Bagot’s Cowshed, at the base of the hill. It reportedly cost around £13,000.
1882 – Bookmaking changed when the VRC introduced strict controls and licensing fees for bookmakers. Bookmakers were allowed to roam only on either the Flat, the Hill, the Elms, the Ring. Additional lands were also purchased to expand the space of the general viewing public
1883-1886 – Four new grandstands, including the bluestone stand, were built and are now among the few structures remaining at the course.
1887 – The birdcage was created
1890 – The Hill was redeveloped, with a new stand constructed at the rear, and other facilities were also provided.
1893– The Jockeys’ Convalescent Lodge, designed by the architect William Salway was built.
1896 – The first newsreel filmed in Australia was taken at Flemington Racecourse on Cup day by Maurice Sestier
1912 – A new double-story public grandstand was built located in the former carriage paddock, capable of housing 6,000 people
1922-1924 – The Victoria Racing Club made radical redevelopments costing the club more than a quarter of a million pounds. This resulted in an increase in the admission cost. A new three-story two-deck members grandstand was erected, timber structures were demolished, Bagot’s stand became a public stand, and the trainers’ and Jockeys’ stand at £7,500.
1931 – Five Tote buildings were constructed after the totalizator for betting was legalized in 1930
1942 – The armed forces occupied parts of the racecourse during the war years
1948, 1952, 1953 – Fire set the wooden Hill and Tattersalls Stands ablaze
1950 – The VRC laid out a master plan that would define the future design of the Flemington racecourse. Old Hill Stand was constructed and the Lawn Stand replaced the Bagot’s Cowshed, among others.
1955 – The Lawn Stand was built
1960 – “Fashions in the Field” made its runway debut in the Centenary Melbourne Cup in 1960 while early structures have been demolished to make way for improved facilities
1984 – The Prince of Wales Stand was built
1979– The present Hill stand was completed at a cost of around $5,000,000, commissioned from the architects Edward Bilson & Associates
1990– The North Community Stables and the Aquanita were redeveloped, including the Carbine Lodge stables to the east of the racetrack, augmenting the earlier Chicquita Lodge stables south-east of the race track adjacent to Smithfield Road.
1997 – The Hill area was re-developed at a cost of $8.5 million when the VRC constructed its largest grandstand to date making it as the best spot to watch a race
2000– The $45-million-dollar grandstand opened which redefined the history of Flemington Racecourse as a world-class entertainment hub.
2006 – The Flemington racecourse was added to the Australian National Heritage List
2016 – The last Melbourne Cup in front of the 92-year-old, 9000 square meters, Members’ Old Grandstand, which was demolished in the same year to pave way for the construction of VRC’s most ambitious redevelopment to date
2018 – A brand new $128 million state-of-the-art Club Stand is set to open in time for the 2018 Melbourne Cup
You may also like: Melbourne Cup 2018
Races Run at Flemington Racecourse
Finally, let’s take a look at the main events.
Flemington hosts 23 race meetings throughout the year.
It is home not just to the Melbourne Cup but to other major horse races including the Australian Cup, Victoria Derby, VRC Oaks, Mackinnon Stakes, New market handicap and Lightning Stakes.
More of the details of the complete races held at the Flemington Racecourse here:
|Ascot Vale Stakes||1200||November|
|Australian Guineas/Cadbury Guineas||1600||February|
|Cantala Stakes/Emirates Stakes||1600||November|
|LKS Mackinnon Stakes||2000||November|
|The Age Classic||1200||November|
|VRC Oaks/Crown Oaks||2500||November|
|A.V Kewney Stakes||1600||March|
|Edward Manifold Stakes||1600||October|
|Hilton International Stakes||2000||November|
|Rose Of Kingston Stakes||1400||October|
|VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes||1400||March|
|Aurie’s Star Handicap||1200||August|
|Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes||1200||March|
|Bobby Lewis Quality||1200||September|
|Chatham Stakes/Yallambee Stud Stakes||1400||November|
|Frances Tressady Stakes||1400||March|
|Hotham Handicap/Saab Quality||2500||November|
|Let’s Elope Stakes||1400||September|
|Rory’s Jester Stakes||1200||November|
|C S Hayes Stakes||1400||February|
|VRC Carbine Club Stakes||1600||November|
|VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes||2500||November|
The Future of Flemington Racecourse
Everyone’s taking it to the next level.
Including the Victorian government, Victoria Racing Club, and gaming corporation Tabcorp. All three have pooled their resources to ensure a brighter future for the Flemington Racecourse.
The result is a $128-million five-level grandstand underway, in time for the 2018 Melbourne Cup.
This new grandstand is set to replace the old one with a 360-degree view of the Flemington Racecourse.
Expect that there will be more flowers, petals and plants throughout the building.
Because on top of that five-story grandstand is a roof garden where people can relish a stunning view of Melbourne’s city skyline.
The goal is to redefine the “unrivaled race day experience” in Australia, setting the benchmark for other racecourses to follow not just in Australia, but around the world.
What Makes a Horse Race Track Legendary?
We can say it’s the prestigious grounds.
Possibly adding the world-class events. But in the case of the Flemington Racecourse, the rich history should never be forgotten.
From those uneven, heavily thicketed, rough paddocks lie the greatest stories ever told—about horses, trainers, jockeys and millions of lives changed when they stopped to watched a race.
It’s just a track. But it’s historically impacted a nation.
Hence, it’s another place on earth worth adding into a bucket list.
If you’ve been here yourself, or if you’re planning to join a race day, you’ll know.
The Flemington Racecourse lives up to its reputation.