By Cathy Jones
The Racecourse for Sydney was located at Hyde Park from 1810 to 1826, Grose Farm (Sydney University) from 1826 to 1840 and Homebush from 1841 to 1859. In 1860, the racecourse was moved to Randwick, its current location.
The site of Homebush Racecourse has been various reported, but according to historical accounts, maps and research by local historian Dave Patrick, the course was located between Saleyards Creek and Boundary Creek on undulating ground sloping up to Parramatta Road at Homebush. The course was located on land owned by William Wentworth (the Homebush Estate). The racecourse is located near Parramatta Road Homebush and opposite John Fleming’s grant (which is roughly Sydney Market’s today). However, the full course including paddocks extended into areas which are today’s Sydney Olympic Park.
The Wentworth Estate
William Wentworth inherited the Homebush Estate upon the death of his father D’Arcy Wentworth in 1827. D’Arcy Wentworth [1762? – 1827] arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790 as ship’s surgeon on the Neptune. After Macquarie became governor, Wentworth was made principal surgeon and chief magistrate in the colony. He came into possession of ‘Home Bush’, a farm owned by Thomas Laycock, in 1808. The land was located between Powells and Haslams Creek. Laycock’s farm ‘Home Bush’, the name later adopted as a locality, literally meant ‘Home in the Bush’. D’Arcy Wentworth added to the Laycock land and increased his holdings to 920 acres by 1810.
Developing the Racecourse
Prior to 1925, Wentworth established a private racetrack near Parramatta Road. Like his father, William Charles Wentworth [of one of the three Blue Mountains explorers] had an interest in horsebreeding and turf racing that continued after D’Arcy Wentworth’s death in 1827. In the same year, William Wentworth was elected steward of the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and its president in 1932. In 1840, the Australian Race Company was brought into existence and Homebush was selected as the site for the new racecourse. The racecourse was expanded with facilities such as a stand, enclosures, stables and training grounds.
The first meeting was held on March 16 and 18, 1841 attracting a crowd of 8000 people. An account of the first day of racing at Homebush stated:
“The day was beautiful in the extreme, and at an early hour parties on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles of every-description, thronged the various thoroughfares, leading to the scene of operations. At about 12 o’clock, the vast concourse, computed, at from eight to ten thousand persons, took up their stations in the vicinity of the grand stand, which presented a most lively and interesting scene. Sydney, Parramatta, Liverpool, Windsor, and the surrounding country, all sent their quota to the field – the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the ugly and the beautiful, were here all intent on spending a happy day, and we trust few were disappointed. The arrangements made by the stewards were deserving of the utmost praise, and contributed to that unanimity, good feeling, and order which prevailed, throughout; police on foot and horseback, paraded the course the whole day. So numerous was the turn out of the elite of Australian society, that it would be invidious to particularise only a few. The band of the 28th regiment, and a band from Sydney contributed not a little to keep up the attraction of the proceedings, which from commencement to end, went off to the heart’s content of the most sanguine admirer of the turf.”
The first Metropolitan Cup was won by G. Hall’s Hercules and the St. Leger by R. Rouse’s Eleanor. In 1851 NSW Legislative Council voted £100 as a prize for a special race at Homebush entitled the Queen’s Plate, which was discontinued in 1857 by the newly-elected Legislative Assembly. The Australian Jockey Club supplied instead an A.J.C. Plate, which was won by G. T. Rowe’s Veno.
Veno was a famous horse— a golden chestnut — the Phar Lap of his day, and was bred by Mr. W. Clark, of Coolah, in 1849, and owned by Mr. G. T. Rowe, of Edensor Park, near Liverpool. To this horse belongs the distinction of practically incepting the racing rivalry between New South Wales and Victoria.
Just about this time a wonder-horse also existed in Melbourne, Alice Hawthorne. She was a light grey mare, bred by Mr. Andrew Chirnside, the great Victorian sportsman. Her dam was a half-bred Arab of unknown parentage and her sire the Imported Delapre. The mare was broken in as a stock horse and used for two years in this way on the station. Mr. Chirn-side tried her out one day with a crack horse which was beaten decisively. He thereupon put her into training, and she won everything before her. Her fame spread to New South Wales, and steps were taken to match her against Veno, Mr. Rowe’s Sydney champion; and Veno, ridden by Johnny Higgerson (the Jimmy Munro of his day), proved the victor. The stake was £1000 aside.
The land was described in 1842 as ‘the whole area of cleared paddocks was a mass of horses “upwards of a thousand horsemen graced the field…..the course between the grandstand and the Stewards as filled with horsemen who choked up the space in the vicinity of the winning post. As the runners went on to the course a rope was stretched across to keep them off the running course”. The Booths on the course, as well as supplying ‘eatables and drinkables” for the patrons also supplied fodder and water for the horses”.
A special ferry was established for race days along the Sydney to Parramatta route. The services were advertised as: ‘THE STEAM PACK RAPID….will start from the Commercial Wharf at Ten O’Clock precisely on each day of the Races – land Passengers at the Course and return with them to Sydney each night. FARES – four shillings each.’ The river transport depended on the tides for Homebush Bay, which were fringed with mangroves along the shore and mud flats around the Powell Creek entrance prevented a wharf or jetty being built. At low tide ferry boats had to stop at a distance from the shore and racegoers had to wade through a stretch of mud to get to the racecourse.
The article in The Sun in 1930 questioned why the racecourse moved from Homebush to Randwick and stated:
“What led to the transfer of racing operations to Randwick was the in ability of the turf club to obtain conditions that would enable them to have definite control of the ground. They had no spending power to erect buildings and effect necessary improvements. The land was privately owned, and those concerned evidently were not imbued with ideas favorable to the perpetuation of racing at Homebush. It is said of it that as a natural course it was far superior to the Randwick land, known then as the Sand Track. It also had the advantage of being within easy distance of the new railway line, which was opened in 1855. On May 30 and June 1, 1859, the A.J.C. held its last race meeting at Homebush and started racing at Randwick on May 29, 30, and 31, 1860.
For well-nigh 20 years Homebush was well in the public eye as the principal race ground of New South Wales. It was still marked out for fame as regards live stock, horses, cattle, and sheep, saleyards being located in its broad areas. Progress was churning up Sydney almost from the first, and bit by bit undertakings carried out in the heart of the city were pushed out further afield”.
Although the AJC moved operations to Randwick in 1860, the Homebush course continued holding major races until the 1870’s. A new course was constructed in the mid 1860’s overlapping the old course. This new course had Boundary Creek directly down it’s centre. The creek was bridged with an earthern viaduct 200 yards long and 20 wide allowing the horses to race around the rim of the creek valley. The arches of the viaduct were later blocked to form a dam during the abattoir era.
RACING CRIES (1930, December 20). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 7 (LAST RACE RESULTS). Retrieved May 15, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225341161
Old Turf Records. (1895, September 21). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), p. 32. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71220244