ANZAC Day is our national day of remembrance commemorating Australians and New Zealanders who served in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. The date recalls the landing of ANZAC troops at Gallipoli 106 years ago.
ANZAC Day 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the Victoria Racing Club’s inaugural ANZAC Day race meeting. It has been a regular, though not quite continuous, part of Flemington’s long history ever since.
Australia as a Federation has never been quite unified in observing ANZAC Day. The idea of a national holiday goes back to 1920, to be “solemnly observed” – specifically meaning no horse racing. In 1925 Victoria passed its ANZAC Day Observance Act, closing shops, theatres and hotels and forbidding sports gatherings.
This legislation stayed in force well beyond the Second World War. Other states eased restrictions. Victorian legislation in 1960 allowed the VRC to conduct races on ANZAC Day under strict conditions including a late starting time.
The VRC planned its first ANZAC Day races for 1960 – but torrential rain saw the meeting cancelled, meaning 1961 was Flemington’s first ANZAC Day race meeting. On the card was the Nurses’ Stakes, Army Handicap, Navy Handicap, Air Force Steeplechase and Victory Highweight. Jockey Jack Purtell won the feature Gallipoli Handicap, on Sporting Spirit. This formula continued with minor variations for the next dozen years
In 1972 the venerable three-year-old autumn classic, the VRC St Leger, became the ANZAC Day feature. In its new spot it was won by such good horses as Lord Dudley, So Called and Gurner’s Lane.
The program has evolved. Individual heroes, battles and places of wartime significance have been commemorated in race names from the First World War through to Vietnam and beyond.
The day also allows us to honour the thousands of brave Australian war horses, especially those from the First World War. They are never forgotten at Flemington on ANZAC Day.
Behind the scenes, and rarely told, are many other stories of war service. Of eight VRC chairmen across 56 years from 1935 to 1991, seven had served with conspicuous merit as officers in either the First or Second World War. Racing continued at this racecourse under difficulties during both wars, and the VRC was a huge contributor to patriotic funds.
The centrepiece of the modern VRC ANZAC Day race meeting is the official commemoration in the Mounting Yard. To this, everyone brings their own memories. It’s racing’s way of saying, “Lest we forget”.
Join us on ANZAC Day Race Day to pay your respects to our war time service men and women and the gallant horses who stood with them. All profits on the day will be donated to the ANZAC Day Proceeds Fund. General Admission and VRC Member Unreserved Tickets available via Ticketek.