Pondering Melbourne Cup pickings

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian
www.sunlive.co.nz

The Melbourne Cup has been done and dusted for another year, with a few punters throughout Australia and New Zealand celebrating their luck in picking the right horse in the big go, and the vast majority left to rue what could have been.

While there is always plenty of glitz and glamour on display on Cup Day, part of the unique atmosphere at Flemington on the first Tuesday in Novembe, is provided by the myriad of bookmakers trackside.

Trying to get the best price on your favourites as you traipse between the bookies is part of the attraction of Melbourne Cup day. 

The first horse races in Australia, took place in Sydney in the 1790's, not long after the British colony was settled.

Early Australian horse racing were just working horses raced by ex-convicts and "free settlers" until a smattering of thoroughbreds were imported in the early 1800's. 

Formal racing clubs were introduced in New South Wales in the 1820's, with bookmakers making their appearance around the 1850's.

Previous betting was done on credit between gentlemen and settled the next day at the local gentlemen's club. 

The first licensed bookies had a stand and a bag - with the stand indicating that they weren't going to do a runner and the bag saying that he dealt in cash.

The long ago tradition continues to this day with the bookies an interval part of Australian racing. 

Bookmakers made their appearance in New Zealand in the 1870's, with historical records of the Canterbury Jockey Club telling us that in 1879 over 100 telegrams arrived on course, cabling betting instruction to the bookies. 

The early days of horse racing in New Zealand involved plenty of skulduggery, with ring-ins and substitutions of horses a regular occurrence.

One local story in the early days of racing in the Western Bay, tells the tale of 12 horses going out of sight on a course outside Te Puke and 13 re-emerging from the distant scrub to finish. 

However, the influence of the church in New Zealand saw bookmakers eventually outlawed, with last appearance of licensed bookies being at the Takapuna racecourse in 1911. 

The demise of on course bookies saw illegal booking make its appearance in every town and city in the country.

Up until the 1960's, illegal bookies and slygroggers were part of the fabric of society in New Zealand.

Today the TAB has a monopoly on racing (and sport) wagering in this country, however the big challenge to the TAB is the online offshore bookies.

The majority of overseas corporate bookies, pay nothing for the New Zealand race fields and deliver nothing back to New Zealand racing, with an estimate of many of million dollars a year being leaked to overseas bookies.

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The moon peeping through the clouds at Pillans Point. Photo: Mike Berry.

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