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The VRC, Flemington Racecourse and the Melbourne Cup all have a long and storied history. Read on about our first 150+ years …
‘The secret to our proud history at Flemington is that progress is part of our tradition.’
ROD FITZROY, VRC CHAIRMAN 2007.
Founding of the Club
The first race meeting at Flemington Racecourse was held on 3 March 1840, and the first Melbourne Cup, Flemington’s most famous race, was run on Thursday 7 November 1861.
In March 1864, 32 gentlemen with an interest in racing met at a hotel in Collins Street, Melbourne. These men established the Victoria Racing Club, merging the Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club. An interim committee of 12 was elected as the foundation members of the VRC.
So from 1864, this new VRC took over racing at Flemington. In 1871, it took control over all racing in Victoria.
The Victoria Racing Club Act of 1871 gave the VRC control of Flemington racecourse and authority over race meetings across the state. The VRC managed the registration of horses, owners’ colours, and the licensing of jockeys, trainers and bookmakers. Until 1914, when paid stewards were engaged, VRC committee members officiated on race days.
The early VRC committees had a vision for Flemington – they wanted it to become one of the world’s great racecourses.
Robert Cooper Bagot, the founding Secretary, encouraged people to come to the races. Under his watch, the club established gardens, renovated the track, built grandstands and offered its members free tickets for lady guests. Bagot lobbied the State Government to support the Melbourne Cup – and his efforts paid dividends. Melbourne Cup Day soon became an official public holiday.
The legacy left by the founding members of the Club is recognised today. For example, the Bagotville Race was introduced as a nod to the great racecourse and the illustrious history established by visionary founder Robert Cooper Bagot, as well as Henry Byron Moore. A keen gardener, Moore oversaw landscape works and rose plantings that remain a feature of Flemington. Near the end of his life he masterminded a huge expansion of facilities at the racecourse.
The VRC today
The VRC has ran Flemington and the Melbourne Cup in good times and in bad, through war, droughts, floods and economic depression.
Today, the VRC still operates Flemington under a Board of Directors. The Club’s 30,000 members enjoy excellent facilities including access to members-only areas, guest passes, and reciprocal privileges at the Melbourne Cricket Club, social events, fine dining and admission to selected country race meetings.
The VRC continues to achieve its vision of maintaining Flemington as a world leader in racing, event management and entertainment.
|1864||The Victoria Racing Club forms and takes over management of racing at Flemington|
|1873||Increasing attendances lead to the construction of the first substantial structure at Flemington. The new bluestone grandstand housing 3,000 patrons is opened at the foot of the Hill|
|1875||The Melbourne Cup is first run on a Tuesday to coincide with the Prince of Wales’s birthday public holiday|
|1890||Carbine carries the heaviest weight ever to victory in the Melbourne Cup, 65.77kg|
|1896||Australia’s first moving picture footage is taken at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day|
|1923||Flemington’s first major building redevelopment begins. Horse stabling, mounting yard, betting, members grandstand, and car parking facilities are relocated from the Elms river side of the course to their current location|
|1930||Phar Lap wins the Melbourne Cup|
|1934||Peter Pan becomes the first horse since Archer in 1862 to win dual Melbourne Cups|
|1954||Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh visit Flemington for the VRC Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Greeted by 71,000 people this historic visit was the first time a reigning monarch had toured Australia|
|1956||Australia’s first triple dead heat was recorded on film at Flemington on 3 November in the Hotham Handicap. The winners were Ark Royal, Pandie Sun and Fighting Force|
|1962||The world’s first Fashions on the Field competition was staged at Flemington|
|1965||Trainer Bart Cummings wins his first Melbourne Cup with mare Light Fingers|
|1979||The new Hill Grandstand is completed incorporating seating for 6,000 over three floors, escalators, bars, totes, restaurants, reserved seating, private boxes, improved race broadcasting facilities and a new judges’ box|
|1985||The Melbourne Cup becomes Australia’s first million dollar race.|
|1986||Pope John Paul II conducts an open air Mass at Flemington, attracting 120,000|
|1993||Vintage Crop becomes the first internationally trained horse to win the Melbourne Cup|
|2000||New members’ Grandstand building is officially opened on AAMI Victoria Derby Day, providing dining for an additional 2,000 Members, a large betting lounge, stadium seating and premium club facilities|
|2003||Makybe Diva wins her first of three consecutive Melbourne Cups|
|2005||Celebrated Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti performs for the last time in Australia at Flemington|
|2006||Flemington Racecourse is added to the Australian National Heritage List on 7 November, recognising its outstanding heritage significance to the nation|
|2007||Flemington unveils its largest redevelopment project in over 80 years incorporating the removal and reconstruction of the entire track, elevation of public lawns, replanting of gardens, new horse stall precinct and finishing post|
|2008||Bart Cummings trains his 12th Melbourne Cup winner with Viewed|
|2010||Flemington celebrates the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup|
|2014||The VRC celebrates 150 years of racing at Flemington|
|2017||Amanda Elliot is elected as VRC Chairman, becoming the first woman to do so in the Club’s 153 year history.|
|2018||Opening of the Club Stand, a member’s facility featuring a ground floor lobby, multiple dining and hospitality venues across five levels including a spectacular roof top garden|
The history of Flemington
The first race meeting was held on the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River in March 1840 when the town of Melbourne was barely five years old. This was just two years after Melbourne's first race meeting, near present-day Southern Cross railway station.\
Australia's premier race course
The first race meeting was held on the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River in March 1840 when the town of Melbourne was barely five years old. This was just two years after Melbourne's first race meeting, near present-day Southern Cross railway station.
Provenance of land and the name
Flemington was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse. The original approach road from Melbourne crossed Moonee Ponds Creek at Mt Alexander Road and passed through a property owned by James Watson.
He named the property Flemington after his wife Elizabeth's hometown – Flemington in Morayshire, Scotland. He built the Flemington Hotel there in 1848 and a small township grew up around it.
The course was not therefore, as long thought, named after early settler Robert Fleming, whose home was in Brunswick. The name Flemington was commonly used for the racecourse by the late 1850s.
At the time of the first racemeeting in 1840 the land was acquired from the Lang brothers and regarded by the government as Crown Land. Furthermore, the site was technically governed by New South Wales (the Port Phillip District only became the separate colony of Victoria in 1851).
It was the Governor of New South Wales who formally ordered that a site of 352 acres be considered as a public racecourse in 1848, and he appointed six men as trustees of the racecourse area. In 1871, the government passed a Victoria Racing Club Act which made the club the trustees of the racecourse.
Autumn origins of Flemington racing
The first Melbourne races were run annually in the autumn.
In 1854, the Victoria Turf Club (VTC) decided to run a spring meeting as well, when the countryside was at its best and the weather the most dramatic. The VTC conceived the idea of the Melbourne Cup, a handicap race over two miles with a rich prize.
This was first run in November 1861 and attracted top inter-colonial horses, including the winner, Archer, from New South Wales.
The newly formed Victoria Racing Club (VRC) took over the race in time for its fourth running, in 1864, and has run it at Flemington every spring since that time.