The Byerley Handicap

14 July 2022 Written by VRC

The Byerley name has a hallowed place in international thoroughbred history. The Victoria Racing Club honours it today with the running of The Byerley Handicap over 1800 metres.

The Byerley Handicap has become a coveted event for owners and trainers with hearts set on the great spring classics at Flemington – the time-honoured Kennedy Oaks for fillies and the Penfolds Victoria Derby. The Melbourne Cup Carnival is not so far away.

The winner of The Byerley Handicap is guaranteed ballot exemption to run in the Derby or the Oaks. It is a big incentive for trainers to set their horses for today’s race, and it gives racegoers a preview of the rising generation of stayers. In 2020, for example, Johnny Get Angry ran the Byerley winner Alycone to within a length, and he ended up memorably winning the Victoria Derby for owner-trainer Denis Pagan.

This is a much anticipated end-of-season distance race for our two-year-olds. As July and the Australian racing season of 2021–22 near their conclusion, The Byerley Handicap is the ideal testing ground and preparation for the rising generation of stayers. Horses in this race will soon turn three years old, for 1 August is the horses’ birthday for every horse born in the Southern Hemisphere. And the Penfolds Victoria Derby and the Kennedy Oaks over 2500 metres are the three-year-old classics.

The VRC introduced the 1800 Byerley Handicap to the July calendar back in 2017 as a logical stepping stone for young horses looking for longer distances in their racing.

The story of the Byerley Turk has been told many times, many places. This dark brown horse, foaled in Europe more than 330 years ago, is regarded as one of the three male progenitors of the modern thoroughbred, in company with the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.

He was both a war horse and a racehorse. The tale is that he was captured by Englishman, Captain Robert Byerley (1660–1714), when the so-called Holy League was besieging the Turks at Buda in Hungary in 1686. Some historians discount this part of the story but don’t dispute that Captain Byerley rode the horse as a charger in the 1690 Battle of the Boyne in Ireland, and that he won a race the same year in Northern Ireland.

The Byerley Turk later stood at stud in Yorkshire. His dominant ‘male line’ descendants included Herod (1758), sire of the unbeaten Highflyer (1774). This line of succession led to some of the earliest thoroughbred stallions and mares to make their mark in Australia, including through the British sire Rockingham (1781) and his descendants.

And The Byerley is a name that Victoria Racing Club members now associate with the finest of dining in the Club Stand at Flemington. The VRC proudly speaks of luxury, service and style at The Byerley restaurant with its sweeping views over the home straight.

Whichever way you look at it, the Byerley name speaks of enduring thoroughbred quality.

Image caption: The Byerley Turk, hand coloured etching after John Wootton. (VRC Collection)