Racecourse History

Eagle Farm Racecourse, at the end of Racecourse Road Ascot has been the centrepiece of the Queensland racing industry since the first race meeting was held in August 1865.

Many racegoers on that opening day came by the river steamers Nowra and Premier to Hamilton Wharf and then walked to the course. Others came by horse-drawn vehicles. According to The Brisbane Courier “all the vehicles usually plying for hire about the town were ‘laid on’ for the racecourse and were all filled”. Others drove horse and buggies or rode, travelling along the riverside road to Hamilton amid plumes of dust.

River steamers and horses remained the major source of transport until the railway arrived in 1882 when a branch line was built from Eagle Junction to the course. The new station was named Racecourse but when the line was extended to Pinkenba in 1897 this was changed to Ascot. A tramline was built to the course in 1899.

The popularity of horse racing grew with the colony, and soon Eagle Farm racecourse became the centre of a flourishing industry based on the sport. Stables sprang up through the suburbs of Hamilton, Hendra and Doomben and the morning’s silence was broken by the clip-clop of horses being led by strappers to and from the racetrack for their daily exercise.

The area became home to racing’s champions such as George Moore, Neville Sellwood, Noel McGrowdie and Mick Dittman – all Australian Hall of Fame jockeys.

Hall of Fame trainers Fred Best, Brian Mayfield-Smith and Bruce McLachlan established stables in the racing precinct.

On the racecourse, grandstands were built in the Paddock (1889) and St Leger (1913) enclosures and a Totalisator building was constructed in 1889. The iconic entrance gates were built in 1913 and a Members’ Stand opened in 1925. In time all became listed on the Queensland Government’s heritage register mostly because of their Victorian or Federation style architecture.

The racecourse also gained heritage status because of its social significance for, according to the Queensland Government’s Heritage Register, “generations of racegoers from all strata of Queensland, interstate and international society, who have attended the Eagle Farm races for social interaction, recreation and the enjoyment of this sport”.

The course was controlled by the Queensland Turf Club, which took responsibility for the conduct of racing throughout Queensland and drew up a code of rules modelled on the rules of the English Jockey Club.

The club introduced a series of classic races along the lines of the English classics – the Derby, St Leger Stakes, the Oaks and Guineas that over the years have been won some of Australia’s best racehorses. The Derby winners include Fitz-Grafton, High Syce, Lough Neagh, Tulloch, Tails, Kingston Town, Strawberry Road and Rough Habit.

In 1890, the QTC introduced a signature race, the Stradbroke Handicap, which has become recognised as one of the most sought after sprint prizes attracting runners from interstate and New Zealand. The first winner Pyrrhus came from the Armidale district of NSW, and the remarkable local galloper Fitz-Grafton won when only a two-year-old in 1903. Highland won in 1925 and 1926 and later won the W.S.Cox Plate in Melbourne and winners in the past 50 years include Kingster, Wiggle, Kilshery, Mullala, Mister Hush, Cabochon, Divide And Rule, Rajah Sahib, Triton, Campaign King, two-time winner Rough Habit and Show A Heart.

Gunsynd started his racing career in 1969 at Eagle Farm and became the richest prizemoney winner in Australia.

Racing and training at Eagle Farm was interrupted in December 1941 when the military authorities commandeered it and neighbouring Doomben racecourse for use as staging camps for US troops preparing to go into the Pacific war theatres. The racecourses were selected because they had suitable water, power and sewerage infrastructure and were strategically located on a railway line and close to the major port facilities.

When racing was resumed in 1946, an estimated 45,000 turned up on the first day. The Courier-Mail reported that the city council ran 150 trams to the course – one running on the Ascot line every 40 seconds. Seven special trains also ran, leaving at five minute intervals after the last race.

Eagle Farm has been the setting for several non-racing milestones in Queensland’s history.

In 1883, the fledgling Northern Rugby Union invited its colonial rival, the Southern Rugby Union based in Sydney, to send a team to Brisbane to play an intercolonial match. Eagle Farm racecourse was selected as the venue, and Queensland recorded its first win against New South Wales.

The course was the venue for some of the Federation celebrations in 1901 and included a military parade.

The first of several Royals to visit Eagle Farm was Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1920. Prince Edward came representing his father King George V to thank Australia for its participation in the Great War, but took the opportunity to ride trackwork while in Brisbane and rode several horses on two mornings he turned up at the track offering to ride.

In 1926, Prince Albert, the Duke of York, and his wife Elizabeth spent a day at the races at Eagle Farm during their seven days in Queensland. Prince Albert later became King George VI.

It was not unusual for early aviators to use racecourses for landing grounds on their pioneering flights because the tracks presented cleared, flat areas for putting their planes down. The Bundaberg-born aviator Bert Hinkler landed in the home straight at Eagle Farm when he flew into Brisbane on March 6, 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from Britain to Australia. It was reported that 12,000 people were at Eagle Farm to greet Hinkler, and thousands more lined the streets when given a motorcade into the city.

For only the second time in its history Eagle Farm was closed to racing in August 2014 so that the track could be reconstructed. An inground drainage system was built and a new grassed racing surface laid and the track re-opened to racing on Stradbroke Day in June 2016.

The track reconstruction was the first stage in a planned makeover for the course that will include infield stables and car parking, a shopping precinct off Nudgee Road and three residential towers at the top of the home straight.

Bibliography:
Queensland Heritage Register.
Queensland Turf Club: A Place in History. Coughlan, Helen & Pascoe, Noel
Thoroughbred Racing History Association

 

Eagle Farm

Eagle Farm has been the venue for several milestones in Queensland’s history, some of which had nothing to do with racing.

In 1883, the fledgling Northern Rugby Union invited its colonial rival, the Southern Rugby Union based in Sydney, to send a team to Brisbane to play an intercolonial match. Eagle Farm racecourse was selected as the venue, and Queensland recorded its first win against New South Wales.

The course was the venue for some of the celebrations for the Federation in 1901 and included a military parade.

The first of several Royals to visit Eagle Farm was Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1920. Prince Edward came representing his father King George V to thank Australia for its participation in the Great War. Prince Edward took the opportunity to ride trackwork while in Brisbane and rode several horses on two mornings he turned up offering to ride.

In 1926, Prince Albert, the Duke of York, and his wife Elizabeth spent a day at the races at Eagle Farm during their seven days in Queensland. Prince Albert later became King George VI.

It was not unusual for early aviators to use racecourses for landing grounds on their pioneering flights because the tracks presented cleared, flat areas for putting their planes down. The Bundaberg-born aviator Bert Hinkler landed in the home straight at Eagle Farm when he flew into Brisbane on March 6, 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from Britain to Australia. It was reported that 12,000 people turned up at Eagle Farm to greet Hinkler, and thousands more lined the streets when given a motorcade welcome into the city..

In 1830, the English aviator Amy Johnson was a guest of the Queensland Turf Club committee at its May 31 meeting. Johnson had not long become the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia and was being feted at civic receptions in all major cities.

Racing ceased at Eagle Farm (and nearby Doomben) in December 1941 when World War II came to the Pacific. Military authorities took control of the two racecourses so that huge staging camps could be built to house US troops as Brisbane was turned into a garrison city. The tracks remained closed to racing until May 1946.

A tramline was built in 1899.

 

A Visual History


American-Servicemen-at-the-gates-of-Eagle-Farm-Racecourse,-1924_Racourse Road AscotAmerican servicemen at the gates of Eagle Farm racecourse 1944. The racecourse was used as a military camp from 1941 until 1945.

2. Camp Ascot, the US military camp during World War II.

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Portion of the Race Day crowd at Eagle Farm, 1936.

The crowd in the Paddock enclosure at Eagle Farm, 1940.

Eagle Farm Racecourse, 1900

Eagle Farm racecourse, 1900. The course had not long been extended from a mile in circumference to a mile and a quarter.

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Jockeys mounted before going on to the track for a race at Eagle Farm in 1928.

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Edward, Prince of Wales, riding trackwork at Eagle Farm in 1920.

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Trainers and jockeys at Eagle Farm in 1899. The background as the rear of the Paddock Stand.

sir-john-goodwin,-aviator-amy-johnson,-lady-goodwin,-may-1930_n_edit
State Governor Sir John Goodwin, aviator Amy Johnson and Lady Goodwin at Eagle Farm races in May 1930.

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Tulloch and jockey George Moore after winning the 1961 Brisbane Cup.

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Bert Hinkler lands at Eagle Farm after flying from Bundaberg while making his way in stages to Sydney not long after completing a record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia.