Darwin Racecourse, commonly known as the Fannie Bay Racecourse, is a horse racing facility in Darwin in Northern Australia. The racecourse is located in the Fannie Bay suburbs and is home to the Darwin Turf Club, which has been operating since 1955.
Darwin Racecourse features numerous race meetings annually, of which the most significant is the Darwin Cup. This article offers a brief insight into the history, physical attributes, and facilities of Darwin Racecourse.
Darwin Racecourse History
Horse racing in Northern Australia has been held since the late 1870s, when the races held at Darwin and Palmerston were regarded as distinguished events in the region. Race meetings were conducted within mining communities and areas in the bush. The annual horse race meeting was considered one of the most significant sporting and social events.
The first horse races were conducted in Palmerston along the beach at Fannie Bay, while the first race held in the locality of the current Fannie Bay Racecourse was conducted in 1873. In 1882, racing became an organised sport with the establishment of the Northern Territory Racing Club in 1882. The club continued to organise races in the Northern territory until World War II.
The present-day Darwin Turf Club was formed in May 1955. The first Darwin Cup was held in October 1956. The track was unfinished at that time, so the race was run over a distance of 1200 metres which was later changed. In 1974, Cyclone Tracy hit the Northern Territory and inflicted major damage to the Fannie Bay Racecourse.
Darwin Turf Club made efforts to revive racing in the region by adding more racing features, introducing the Triple Crown Bonus, and raising the prize money. The 1988 Darwin Cup was the first race to be held in the Northern Territory with prize money of $100,000. It was a big turnaround for a club and track that had been considerably damaged by Cyclone Tracy fifteen years before.
Today the Darwin Cup is one of the most significant and valuable sporting events of the Northern Australian Territory and is attended by thousands of people every year.
Darwin Racecourse Facilities
Darwin Racecourse is located only ten minutes away from the Darwin Airport and seven minutes from the Darwin Central Business District. Some of the exclusive features of this picturesque racecourse include the recently added Ted Bailey Grandstand, Schweppes Pavilion, The Wood Lounge, the Betting Ring, bars, function rooms, and exclusive marquees. The grounds are surrounded by lush tropical gardens offering a serene ambiance.
The track at Darwin Racecourse is oval in shape and has a total circumference of 1780 metres, while the home straight is 340 metres long and 15 metres wide. The racetrack at Darwin is not a regular dirt track and is different from other racecourses as it is made from a mix of sand and oil, unlike the conventional turf overlay used in most tracks.
Darwin Racecourse has a single starting chute which is used for 1300 metre races. The racecourse has various starts, which are marked within the track to make the racecourse capable of catering to races having distances from 900 metres to 2000 metres.
Out of all the race distances, the 1300 metre sprint has the lengthiest straight that stretches from the starting barriers, marked at 560 metres. The 1800 metre race has the shortest straight with 90 metres only.
Darwin Racecourse Fixture Calendar
Fannie Bay or Darwin Racecourse features 39 race days annually, offering racing action around the year. The most significant event that takes place at Darwin Racecourse is the annual Darwin Cup, also known as the Great Northern Darwin Cup, which is held on the first Monday of August every year.
The first Darwin Cup held in 1956 had prize money of $470 for the six feature races of the event, while four horses competed in the Darwin Cup. The winner of the race was Satan’s Son, who, to date, is the only non-thoroughbred ever to win the Darwin Cup. Today it is the leading sporting event in the region, with up to 20,000 spectators in attendance. The race has a distance of 2050 metres and offers prize money worth $200,000.
The Darwin Cup is part of the Darwin Racing Carnival, an eight-day festival spread over five weeks of racing throughout July and August. Races are held every Saturday and some Wednesdays as well.