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Sunday, September, Spring

15 September 2022 Written by Andrew Lemon

With Spring Classics Preview Day being held on a Sunday, we thought we would look back at the history of racing on this day at Flemington.

Sunday racing at Headquarters brings dreams of sunny spring September afternoons. Whatever the weather might produce, the season is changing, trees blossom and grass grows as you watch. With an AFL Preliminary Football Final just out of the way, a Grand Final and Royal Melbourne Show in prospect, with Turnbull Stakes Day around the corner, it’s the perfect time for a spring preview Sunday at Flemington. Watch for future champions.

You might see this as the start of a tradition, but Flemington has hosted Sunday races, on and off, for decades past. The first was in winter thirty years ago. The actual date was Sunday 12 July 1992, second day of a two-day meeting when jumps races were still held at Flemington. The VRC Grand National Steeplechase – a 5 kilometre marathon –was the feature. Apprentice C.M. Robertson won the epic chase on Donnie’s Chance.

For a decade or more from 1993 the VRC scheduled several Sunday meetings annually, mostly over summer holidays. More recently Sundays at Flemington have been occasional: for Turnbull Stakes Day, for example, if needed to avoid a clash with the football. Sometimes an Anzac Day meeting fell on a Sunday, as it did last year.

Professional Sunday sport is taken for granted in Australia, but it was not always so. In the lifetimes of older racegoers Sundays, by law, were days when cinemas, theatres and retail shops remained closed. So too did hotels except country pubs catering to ‘bona fide travellers’. Even organised amateur sport on Sundays was contentious. The Victorian Football Association paved the way in 1960 by holding Sunday matches to avoid Saturday competition from the VFL.

Canberra was the first Australian jurisdiction to allow Sunday racing, in 1971. Melbourne’s first Sunday meeting was not until 1986 when the state government allowed Moonee Valley to postpone its Grand Final Day fixture from Saturday to the following day.

Curiously, Flemington’s September Sunday racing tradition pre-dates these. In 1969, and thereafter for the next several years, the VRC scheduled a program of 800 metre Two-Year-Old Trials for the rising crop of colts and fillies – open to the public, admission 20-cent charity donation. We saw the future champion Dual Choice (the Black Caviar of her day), ridden by Frank Reys, step onto the racetrack for the very first time and win by an easy four lengths in the day’s fastest time. As they say in the form guides, ‘Worth following’.

(Main image: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

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