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Beginner's Guide to ... Racing

Where did it all start?
Australia's first official race meeting was held in Sydney over 200 years ago, Monday 15th October 1810, on newly designated public land which Governor Macquarie named Hyde Park.

Just how important is it?
Thoroughbred racing in NSW is a time honoured tradition which lies at the heart of many Australians and contributes significantly to the economy of NSW, being one of the State’s major employers.

The industry has over 50,000 participants providing 16,000 full time jobs, many of which are in regional areas.

In NSW alone there are 129 race clubs conducting 740 race meetings each year at 122 racetracks. Prizemoney distributed in 2023/24 will be approximately $360 million.

The language of racing:

Below is a brief glossary of some key terms used in racing you may have been dying to know. Try out these terms with your friends at the track and sound like a real professional. For a comprehensive list of racing terms visit our Reference Manual.

  • HANDICAP RACE: a race where horses are assigned various weights according to performance in order to equalize the winning chances of each. The allocated weight – e.g. 56 kg - is carried by the horse by totalling the jockey’s weight, saddle and race gear. In NSW handicaps are allocated utilizing the Benchmark system of handicapping
  • SET WEIGHTS RACE: a race in which weights are apportioned to horses according to a pre-published scale either due to number of races previously won, age and sex or a combination of these
  • WEIGHT FOR AGE RACE: A set weights race in which weights are apportioned to horses solely according to their age and sex. Many of the best Group and Listed events are run at Weight for Age.
  • MAIDEN: A horse which has not won a race.
  • GROUP AND LISTED RACES: Describes the highest quality races. Group 1 is categorized as the highest level, followed by Group 2, Group 3 and Listed. Also known as Black Type because reference to these races appears in sales catalogues in bold typeface. Horses with Black Type in their pedigrees are more highly regarded and carry greater value at sale or when used for breeding. Some of the top Group 1 races conducted over the Sydney Autumn Carnival and their category type are:
Track Ratings Explained

All racetracks are given a rating and scale (from 1-10) on the day of a meeting to describe their condition. The ratings are as follows:

CATEGORY
SCALE
DESCRIPTION
FIRM
1
Dry, hard track
FIRM
2
Firm track
GOOD
3
Track with good grass coverage and cushion
GOOD
4
Track with some give in it
SOFT
5
Track with a reasonable amount of give in it
SOFT
6
Moist but not badly affected track
SOFT
7
More rain-affected track that will chop out
HEAVY
8
Rain-affected track that horses will get into
HEAVY
9
Wet track getting into a squelchy area
HEAVY
10
Heaviest category track - very wet, towards saturation
Distances Demystified

Races vary in distances, and depending on the horses pedigree, it is usually suited to a typical distance over another. The main categories of distance are:

  • Sprints: 1,400m or less
  • Mile: 1,600m
  • Middle Distance: 1,800m to 2,100m
  • Staying: Longer than 2,100m
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