Hobart Cup Day at Elwick Racecourse, undated (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Early racing consisted of one-against-one challenges, using horses not bred for racing. The first recorded race took place in 1813 at a course at New Town, when John Ingle raced his grey mare Whyena against the Hobart paymaster's black filly Sally for the best of three 2-mile heats, the loser to pay the winner 20 guineas. Such races became popular in both Hobart and Launceston, and developed as thoroughbreds for racing were imported from England from the 1820s.

Both Hobart and Launceston made a number of false starts in attempting to establish racing. The Cornwall Turf Club made the first serious attempt in Launceston in 1830, at a site still circled by Racecourse Crescent, and now surrounding the NTCA ground. After short-lived attempts at Newnham and Invermay, racing found its long-term home at Mowbray.

The Tasmanian Turf Club, formed in 1826, attained its maturity in 1865 when the first Launceston Cup was run at Mowbray. Sandy Bay beach was the early site for racing in Hobart from 1827, then a site was developed at Moonah, but when the railway bisected it, in 1874 a group of Tasmanian Club members bought the Elwick farm and established the present course. The first Hobart Cup was run in 1875. Elwick and Mowbray continue as Tasmania's principal racing venues.

From the 1820s to the present races have also been held in many country towns. Cressy's John Field and Hobart's John Lord each bred two Melbourne Cup winners Malua and Sheet Anchor bred by Field at Cressy, and Nimblefoot and The Quack bred at Lord's York Plains property. Malua had an amazing run of victories, including the Newmarket and the first Oakleigh Plate (1884); the Adelaide Cup, the Melbourne Stakes and the Melbourne Cup (1885); the Geelong and Australian Cups (1886); and the Grand National Hurdle (1888).

The wealthy supporters of racing and breeding who died out in the late nineteenth century were not replaced. In the twentieth century Tasmania entered upon a long period of mediocrity in racing and stagnancy in breeding that was to last for seventy years. The arrival of the Irish stallion Lanesborough in 1964 provided an unexpected stimulus. His son Beer Street, bred at Devonport by Dr Michael Wilson, won the Caulfield Cup of 1970, and two years later another son, Piping Lane, bred by the Prevost family of Epping Forest, won the Melbourne Cup. Shortly afterwards, in 1975, the Totalisator Agency Board came into being. Its revenue has become an essential financial base, and racing has prospered. In the twenty-first century a high standard of racing is provided at Elwick and Mowbray, which each hold about thirty race meetings a year. A smaller number of meetings is held at Spreyton in the north-west.

Tasmania has produced a number of outstanding jockeys. In 1972, Geoff Prouse became the only jockey to ride a seven-race card at an Australia metropolitan meeting. From 197084 Max Baker won every major Tasmanian race except the Hobart cup, and at Elwick in 1981, on Anzac Day, he rode every winner on a five-event programme. Overall, he won 1124 races around Australia. Beverley Buckingham was the first and only woman to win the senior jockey's premiership. She rode 900 winners including three Hobart Cups and a Launceston Cup, but her career was cut short by a serious race fall at Elwick in 1998.

In the last two decades Tasmanian jumpers such as Monsist, Tengah Hari and Misty Weather have won top races in Melbourne. In that period, Sydeston, the best flat performer and the finest Tasmanian-bred horse since Malua, won a Caulfield Cup and numerous other top races.

Further reading: P Pierce, From go to whoa, Melbourne, 1994.

Bert Wicks