Iconic thoroughbred race meeting

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

One of the most iconic thoroughbred racing meetings in Australia was run during the weekend - not on the hallowed turf of Flemington or Randwick, but on a dirt course with very few on-track facilities some 1600km from Brisbane, on the edge of the Simpson Desert.

The Birdsville Cup is the feature race of the two-day racing carnival, dubbed the Melbourne Cup of the Outback.

Birdsville, which usually has a population of just over 100, swells to more than 6000 for the iconic racing weekend, as Australians flock to the outback racing carnival from throughout Australia.

An indication of the remoteness of Birdsville is that it's 175km from Poeppel Corner, which is the point where Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory converge together.

With minimal accommodation, the punters set up camp, party, punt and drink copious quantities of beer.

The outback racing carnival that dates back to 1882, had an unbelievable (for a back of beyond race meeting) two hundred thousand dollars in stakes spread over thirteen races.

There is no shortage of off-course attractions with Fred Brophy and his boxing tent attracting plenty of patrons.

A half century ago, boxing tents, where members of the public were invited to 'go a round or two for a pound or two' were popular attractions throughout the Australian outback.

Today, Fred Brophy and his team of boxers are a reminder of the outback past, as the only tent boxing troupe still in existence, with the likelihood of the boxing tents being consigned to history when Fred finally packs his tent and gloves away for the last time.

The horses, trainers and jockeys travel on marathon journeys to the Birdsville races, with perusal of the on-line racebook revealing the participants travelling from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the South, with a major contingent making the journey from Queensland outback racetracks.

Many of the spectators use the excuse of ticking off their bucket list to be trackside in Birdsville.

Group 1 winning Adelaide trainer David Jolly made such a trip, making the 2400km return journey for the first time to have a starter in the 2019 Birdsville Cup.

In the Australian fashion of making the rules suit the times, the Birdsville races have included a seven-pound weight penalty for professional riders, special races for horses bred within 250 miles of Birdsville and separate races for horses fed with corn and those with grass, in earlier times.

Originally, races were stated by the drop of a hat and later from strand barriers, before today's barrier stalls.

During the 1880's, the Birdsville Cup was raced for an impressive 500 pounds, with the original meetings held to raise runs for the Birdsville Hospital.

Today, the annual race meeting proceeds are donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Birdsville Medical Clinic.

As the punters headed home after a weekend of festivities many vowed to return again to the iconic outback races on the edge of the Simpson Desert.


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