Reputed to be Australia’s third-largest industry, horseracing contributes to the national economy and state government revenues through direct employment and also through primary production, transport, tourism, media, entertainment and gambling.

Early History

South Australia’s first recognised race meeting was held west of the city at Thebarton on New Year’s Day 1838. From 1841 racing continued at a temporary course in the east parklands, but in the early 1850s permanent courses were established in Adelaide’s outer villages, most meetings being held at Lockleys, west of the city. The inaugural running of what became South Australia’s major race, the Adelaide Cup, was at the Thebarton course in 1864. After several attempts, the South Australian Jockey Club (SAJC) was officially formed in 1873.

City racing continued at the parklands, the course being named Victoria Park in 1871. A new track, opened at Morphettville in 1875, became the venue for the Adelaide Cup in May 1876. Parliament always adjourned for Cup Day, which from 1970 became a public holiday. The Adelaide Race Club (ARC), formed in 1881–82, operated from Victoria Park, while the Port Adelaide Racing Club was established in 1890, its Cheltenham course opening in 1895.

In October 1879 South Australia pioneered the use of the manual on‑course totalisator on Australian tracks. Designed to simplify betting, the French-designed system registered bets, calculated dividends and showed the odds for all starters in a race. However the large number of clerks and accountants required to administer the system made it very expensive and inefficient to operate. It was also meant to eradicate on-course bookmakers and betting on credit. The failure of the ‘tote’ to reduce betting and remove bookmakers from racecourses resulted in 1883 legislation banning both from tracks, almost destroying the industry. In 1888 the ‘tote’ was reintroduced and the industry re-established, in 1921 the SAJC introduced the automatic totalisator machine, and bookmakers were permitted back on-course in 1934.

Race meetings, often convened by local publicans, at northern towns such as Salisbury, Gawler, Kapunda, Burra and Tungkillo provided a social outing for South Australians. From the 1870s most small towns in the Mid North established jockey clubs and held races, often on St Patrick’s Day. Picnic race meetings were also held throughout the state, particularly in the north. Convened by local pastoralists, stockmen and their families, some continue, with proceeds benefiting the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The only country meeting to challenge city meetings is the Oakbank Easter Carnival, begun in 1876 and now an important date on many a social calendar. The largest professional sporting fixture in South Australia, up to 80,000 spectators now make the annual trip to the Adelaide Hills.

The other racing code, harness racing, began as informal trotting races for working horses dragging carts or drays. A trotting club was established at Victoria Park racecourse in 1880. During the 1920s light sulkies were introduced to harness racing and the South Australian Trotting Club was formed. The ‘trots’ were held at Jubilee Oval where the University of Adelaide now stands, Thebarton and later at the Wayville showground track close to the city. Harness racing grew into a major industry, and the trots became a feature of every rural agricultural show. In June 1969 daytime racing began at Globe Derby Park, Bolivar, 14 kilometres north of Adelaide, now the metropolitan headquarters of harness racing in South Australia.

TAB Established

Initially recommended by a 1933 royal commission into illegal gambling, an off-course totalisator network (TAB or Totalisator Agency Board) was finally established in South Australia in 1967. Today all South Australian racing is encompassed within a national network regulated by state parliament.

Famous Winners

Two South Australian families are particularly prominent in Australia’s racing industry. Jim Cummings won the 1950 Melbourne Cup with ‘Comic Court’, and his son, J B (Bart) Cummings, has a record 11 Melbourne Cup victories, the last in 1999. The owner/trainer/breeder Colin Hayes, who established his first stables at suburban Semaphore Park and later moved to ‘Lindsay Park’ near Angaston in the Barossa Valley, trained over 5300 winners, including 1980 Melbourne Cup winner Beldale Ball. His son, David, now runs Lindsay Park. Noted South Australian horses include Melbourne Cup winners Rain Lover and Gatum Gatum.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Robert, I'm afraid we don't have anything further on file here. I will forward your comment to John Mannion, author of this article, to see if he has any suggestions. You can see where John found his information if you click on 'Sources' below the article. this may give you some leads to follow up.

Robert Ferwerda's picture
Robert Ferwerda says:

Looking for information on horse trainer AJ Cowie. My research suggests he had 3 sons (Jack and Les + Don who were twins). Jack Cowie was a champion jockey in SA who also excelled in riding stints in Victoria. I was extremely fortunate and excited to be able to purchase 2 old horse photos's from the late 1940's and early 1950's. One photo is of 'St Keyne' winning the Wakefield Novice at Balaklava on 18/02/48, trainer was AJ Cowie, jockey was E. Whittaker. The other photo is dated 01/03/50, 'Kayland' winning the Stirling Novice at Strathalbyn, trainer was R. Elder, jockey was R.Kerrison. Happy to send you a copy of this if required. Struggling to find any/much information about either the trainers or jockeys. Would appreciate any assistance or information about these horses/trainers/photo's. Thanks in advance......Robert

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Lorraine,
Afraid I don't know the answer to that, but if you click on 'Sources' above you can see where the information for this article comes from, and that may give you some leads. Best of luck with your research.

Lorraine Day's picture
Lorraine Day says:

Just wondering if anyone knows where I may be able to see a map of the old Thebarton course. I know roughly where it covered but would be nice to include a map. I am writing a 2nd edition of my book on Adam Lindsay Gordon, who rode at Thebarton in the 1860s.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Jacqui, that's fantastic. All we have is the article here I'm afraid, but if you click on the 'sources' above you can see what informed John's research.

Jacqui's picture
Jacqui says:

Hatwell sorry not Harwell!!

Jacqui's picture
Jacqui says:

hi my Nana's father, Harwell, was the trainer of white nose. Winner of the 1931 Melbourne cup :) I vividly remember the photo on the wall. I can not find much on the web tube has a video!!

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Roma, I can't find anything on file here. Perhaps try contacting the South Australian Jockey Club to see if they know more or have any other suggestions -

Roma Dicker's picture
Roma Dicker says:

I have an old photo of jockey Stephen Clark born 1999, fell at Oakbank April 5th 1920, died april 6th 1920.
The photo had been sent to my late grandfather, but I have no idea what the connection would have been. There is no one left in the family who would know either. Do you have any information on Stephen Clark?

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi John, I've had a look in our catalogues and I'm afraid we don't have anything on your grandfather. If you click on the 'Sources' below the article on this web page you can see where the author, John Manion, did his research, which might be a starting point. Otherwise if you haven't already done so I would suggest searching the newspapers on Trove: Best of luck with your research!

John Ray's picture
John Ray says:

I believe my grandfather, William Francis Blight , was one of the first bookmakers licensed in SA. This would have been in the early 1930's. I understand he was one of 4 bookmakers who operated at the first trots meeting at Wayville, Would you be able to help.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Drawing blanks here sorry Lyn but hopefully someone visiting the site will know more. Fingers crossed.

Lyn Harrison's picture
Lyn Harrison says:

I am trying to find a racing personality mainly he was a punter He was of European nationality He had A full head of white hair and very well dressed He owned buildings on Anzac highway Around kurrulta park. He would have been very well known on the racetrack Please if anyone knows his name or whereabouts This was around 1967/1980's He would be in his late 80's Lyn

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Jenny, have you already tried searching on Trove? If you do an advanced search filtering newspapers you may turn something up.

Jenny Barnes's picture
Jenny Barnes says:

Hi Just wondering if anyone could suggest anywhere I could find more information on picnic races in SA - trying to research Shackle Bar and cannot find the full 20 races he is suppose to have won. I can find 12 in a row but trying to find any other picnic race meeting run march 1949 to end of June 49

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

I think this is an area that probably needs more research Graham, we don't have anything on file on that topic, but would love to hear more.

Graham Nadge's picture
Graham Nadge says:

info needed on jockeys killed while riding, reason for this, found an old grave Broken Hill cemetery, Kingsley George MacKenzie, died from injuries , horse "Gone By" Victoria Park Aug 23 1930. aged 23, errected by his Jocky friends and sporting champions (on plaque). His grave is now falling into a bit of a shame.

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Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, The Centenary History of South Australia (Adelaide: Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. South Australian Branch, 1936)

Sewell, WB, The Romance of Racing in South Australia (Adelaide, 1970)

South Australian Jockey Club,