A Guide To Townsville Racecourse

Townsville Racecourse, locally known as Cluden Park Racecourse, is a horse racing facility in Townsville, Queensland. Managed by the Townsville Turf Club, the racecourse has been a part of the Queensland Heritage Register since 1992. 

Located on the outskirts of Townsville, this historic course is home to the Townsville Cup, one of the most significant events in Northern Queensland. Here is a brief insight into the history and facilities of Townsville Racecourse. 

History of Townsville Racecourse

The first sporting institution in Townsville was the Burdekin and Flinders Turf club which was formed in 186, two years after Townsville was formed. The club’s first patron was Sir George Ferguson Bowen, the then-governor of Queensland. 

The first race at Townsville was held in August 1866. It was a three-day event, which paved the way for other races to be conducted in Townsville. In those days, horse races were conducted in numerous locations, including Hermit Park and Cleveland Park. In 1874, the club was granted a 62 acres reserve for building a racecourse, and the club was renamed the Townsville Turf Club. 

In the 1880s, after the discovery of gold and the building of a railway line to connect Townsville to the Charters Towers goldfield, it was proposed that the racecourse be relocated to take advantage of the railway access. The new site was only a few minutes from the Cluden Railway Station at Cluden Park, three miles away from Townsville via rail.

A racetrack was made, and a temporary stand was built to conduct the first race in 1882, while by 1883, the racecourse had a proper grandstand, press stand, a totalisator and booths. In 1896, Cyclone Stigma wreaked havoc on Cluden Park as the grandstand, training sheds and stables were destroyed. Reconstruction started soon, and new grandstand accommodations of 700 people, a lunchroom, a totalisator, stables, and gates were built. The existing grandstand was renovated as the St. leger Stand. 

The totalisator system at Cluden had been in use since the 1860s, but in 1887, a semi-automatic was installed for betting. By 1913, a fully automatic system was introduced in Australia. During the Second World War, the Townsville Racecourse was employed by the Australian Army as a military camp. 

Renovations and redevelopment have been a constant on the Townsville racecourse, particularly after Cyclone Leonta in 1903 and Cyclone Anthea in 1972. In 1983, the facilities at Cluden Park were majorly upgraded, including new totalisator facilities, a glass viewing area, new parking, and catering facilities. 

Townsville Racecourse Facilities

Townsville Racecourse track has a circumference of 1680 metres, while the home straight is 310 metres. It has five chutes, and the home turn has a long sweep, giving back runners a fair opportunity to come forward via the field. A unique feature of the track is the downhill run that begins from the 1000-metre chute.

Despite numerous reconstructions and renovations, particularly after damages caused by various cyclones, the structure at Cluden Park Racecourse has retained its character and most of its original form. These structures are consistently in use, and overall the track’s appearance has not changed much since it opened. The refreshment and bar facilities beneath the grandstand may be modern but reflect the racecourse’s original character. 

The totalisator at the course is a timber-framed structure covered with fibro and weatherboard and is very much like the one made in the early days. One of the entrance gates from 1896 has been retained as well. The gate is made from timber and comprises two ticket offices at the turnstiles and entry points. 

The main entrance gates, the original totalisator building and the grandstand, were listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992. 

Racing at Townsville Racecourse

Cluden Park or Townsville Racecourse is home to more than 36 thoroughbred races conducted annually. When the racecourse is not hosting races, it hosts a wide range of community events, including concerts, weddings, comedy festivals, Christmas parties, expos, and wining and dining events.

The most notable race on the Townsville racing calendar is the Townsville Cup. The race is conducted in August annually. It has a distance of 2000 metres and is held under quality handicap conditions. With a purse worth $150,000, it is one of the most significant racing events in Northern Queensland, with around 12,000 to 15,000 people attending the event every year.

The first Townsville Cup was held at Cluden Park in 1884, and today, it is regarded as one of the region’s richest and most historic races. 

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