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Our Definitive Guide to Moonee Valley Racecourse in Australia

Simply put, the capital city in Victoria is one of the greatest places to go if you want to watch Thoroughbred horse racing at its finest. It’s a bold statement, but then again, two of the most magnificent horse racing venues in all of Australia are located just outside the Melbourne City Centre.

We are here to talk about Moonee Valley Racecourse in great detail. If you want information about Flemington Racecourse, the main track in Melbourne, you can read our page where we fill you in on everything you would want to know about Flemington Racecourse, by clicking the link provided.

This page is going to focus on the smaller of the two Melbourne facilities, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that Moonee Valley doesn’t have some major Group 1 races every year.

We are going to unveil each one, not to mention uncover what the track and the grandstands are like.

If you plan on visiting Melbourne and the Moonee Valley Racecourse, it’s important to have a good idea of what the restaurant options and seating arrangements look like ahead of time. We’ll fill you in with some valuable tips and advice for any of you who are planning an upcoming trip.

Before we do any of that, we thought it was appropriate to start with some opening remarks about the early days of Moonee Valley. Having a foundation for how and why the racecourse was opened will help paint the picture as we transition into what “The Valley” looks like today.

Overview of Moonee Valley Racecourse

Year Opened
1883
Location
Moonee Ponds, Victoria, Australia
Owners
Moonee Valley Racing Club
Course Type
Flat
Notable Races
W.S. Cox Plate, Manikato Stakes, William Reid Stakes, AJ Moir Stakes
Official Website
Overview of Moonee Valley Racecourse

Moonee Valley Racecourse – From the Beginning

Chances are if you know anything about Moonee Valley Racecourse, you are familiar with the Cox Plate, arguably the most famous race in all of Australia. The name of the historic event came in honor of William Samuel Cox, the man who is responsible for getting Moonee Valley started in the first place.

He purchased some available land on Moonee Ponds, a smallish suburb of Melbourne, and went to work building a racecourse. The efforts paid off for Cox as he officially opened Moonee Valley Racecourse on September 15th, 1883.

Cox would become the first Secretary of the Moonee Valley Racing Club, an organization that was formed to control the racecourse. Because Moonee Valley is owned by a private club, they get to call their own shots without having to listen to the discretion of an outside authority.

For example, when Cox passed away in 1895, the position of Secretary of the Racing Club was passed directly to his son Archie, who also became a stipendiary steward. That is just a fancy way of saying that Archie was the one at the race meetings who governed the races, making sure all of the rules and guidelines were abided by.

One of William Samuel’s other sons, W.S. Junior, also got involved in the family business in a big way. “Junior” was one of the premier amateur jockeys, and his son Bill Stanley Cox became lead Committeeman of Moonee Valley Racing Club in 1927.

aHe would later assume the same position that his uncle and grandfather held as Secretary of the Club. He held this role for 31 years until he passed away.

Can you guess who took over next?

None other than W.S. Junior’s son, William Murray Cox. Unfortunately, four years later in 1970, William Murray accepted the same Secretary title, only this time it was of the Victoria Racing Club. Sadly, this marked the end of the Cox family tree holding reign over Moonee Valley.

Fortunately for racing fans in Melbourne, this by no means was the end of successful racing at Moonee Valley. In fact, the property has continued to thrive ever since. To learn more about what makes this place so prosperous and so much fun, continue reading below as we reveal some of the specifics!

The Unique Features at Moonee Valley

We are going to explain what the track looks like at Moonee Valley, but there is something very noteworthy to keep in mind. It was announced in late 2017 that Moonee Valley Racecourse would be undergoing a .

It won’t be completed for several years, but this is not just some minor upgrades to a few of the facilities. Moonee Valley Racecourse chairman Don Casboult went on to say this to meinhardt.com.au.

“It will deliver a huge range of benefits for the entire community over the next century. The scale and ambition of this project is unparalleled.”

His goal with these changes is to try and vault Moonee Valley into one of the premier racecourses not just in Australia, but anywhere in the world.

Not only do they want to ensure that the Cox Plate never gets transferred to another venue, but they also want Moonee Valley to be a place that tourists and locals are excited about. They went “all-in” with this project, shooting for the stars.

The reconfiguration includes a brand-new, state-of-the-art grandstand that will be designed by Cox Architecture, not to mention an entire community and residential area. Only time will tell how luxurious and efficient the new digs will be, but it sure as heck has a lot of promise, and there’s been plenty of anticipation since the new plans were announced.

The Redeveloped Moonee Valley Racecourse Will Make for an Amazing Horse Racing Venue
An artist’s impression of the “new” Moonee Valley.

One of the significant changes to the actual track will be lengthening the home straight drastically from 173 meters to 317 meters. This design lends itself to more exciting finishes as the horses come down the final stretch.

The current circumference of the track is 1,805 meters but will be reduced to 1,702 meters. This won’t present much of an issue because they will still be able to move rails and adjust starting points to accommodate races up to 3,000 meters long. They will, however, widen the track by 6 meters, increasing the width to 30 meters.

Making the track wider will allow them to increase the number of participants per race. More entry fees and more possible wagers just mean more money into the pockets of Moonee Valley Racecourse.

As for the current layout of the turf racecourse at Moonee Valley, it’s not some crazy shape you have never seen before. The track appears as a rectangle with rounded edges, with a diagonal straight running through a section of the course.

Compared to other tracks in Australia, the turns are rather tight, making racing here challenging for the horses who are used to training on a track with much broader turns.

Thoroughbreds who prep at nearby Mornington Racecourse generally fare better, as the surfaces and layouts are very similar to that of Moonee Valley.

The way the layout is designed also means this is a course where the specialists and those Thoroughbreds who can get out in front early have a huge advantage. The current brevity of the home straight combined with the sharp turns makes it extremely difficult for horses to stage late comebacks and come from behind.

The racecourse utilizes the , which in theory makes the surface softer on the hooves of the horses. Considering how demanding the turns are, the horses at least have this to fall back on. The makeup is essentially a base layer of soft sand combined with an upper layer of rootzone that is strengthened by mesh materials.

All in all, racing around the track at Moonee Valley is no easy task for the horses or their jockeys. When you see what the fans get to experience, you’ll quickly realize they have things a whole lot easier.

Moonee Valley Legends

You want a place to hang out and have fun while watching the races? Moonee Valley Legends is an all-purpose facility that never closes. That’s right, no matter what time of day or night you come, the doors will be open, and staff will be on hand to serve your needs.

Situated with a perfect view of the final turn, this is the ideal location for racegoers to enjoy it all. The bistro’s menu has great options, with choices such as an aged porterhouse steak or a classic “bangers ’n mash” dish.

If you just want a light bite like freshly-shucked oysters or are interested in alcoholic beverages, there will be no shortage. The Legends is an appropriate place for any spectator looking to be rewarded with a unique experience of filling their bellies while watching the Thoroughbreds in action.

Bring the children, bring the grandparents, or just come with a significant other or group of friends. Nobody will be disappointed.

The Junction Club

If you need a change of scenery but are still looking for a similar vibe, perhaps the Junction Club is where you’ll want to be. Plopped right onto the Mt. Alexander Road and Dean Street intersection is an establishment that treats their patrons like family.

Depending on how fast you walk, you can get from the Junction Club to the entrance of the racecourse in about 90 seconds. Even a slow-paced stroll, and you are looking at 2-3 minutes in total.

If you like drinks, food, games and good company before heading over to a day at the racecourse, stopping by the Junction Club makes a ton of sense. Just don’t have too much fun, or you may never leave!

The W.S. Cox Plate

Excuse us for waiting until this far down on our Moonee Valley Racecourse guide to properly introduce the W.S. Cox Plate. Regardless of who you ask, it’s on the short list of most prestigious Thoroughbred events anywhere on the continent.

With a prize pool of $3 million, it’s the second-largest purse in Australia behind the Queen Elizabeth Stakes held at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney.

This 2,040-meter race is open to Thoroughbreds that are at least three years old and takes place in late October each racing season. This comes one week before the four-day festival of events known as the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington Racecourse gets underway.

Fans at Moonee Valley will already have their racing juices flowing from the Manikato Stakes the previous evening, as we will elaborate on in a segment below.

To understand how and why the W.S. Cox Plate has reached its stature, you have to realize that this event has been held each and every year since 1922 without missing a beat! We had alluded to the track at Moonee Valley being one where the horses who get out in front typically hang on and finish the job.

This has been evidenced throughout the history
of the W.S. Cox Plate, with the betting favorite winning the race a whopping 41% of the time.

If you want proof, just look at what Winx has done in her last three tries. The one-of-a-kind Australian mare entered the 2015, 2016, and 2017 W.S. Cox Plates as the favorite, and each time, she came out victorious.

There is already an excess of 40,000 spectators cheering the Thoroughbreds on during this event; we can only imagine how much that number will grow once the new grandstand is completed. For more information on the race, please see the following page.

Three Other Group 1 Events

While there is no debate that the W.S. Cox Plate is the most acclaimed horse race that takes place at Moonee Valley, there are three other Group 1 events that are more than worth mentioning.

Manikato Stakes

The ladies and gentlemen who choose to go to the racecourse the night before the W.S. Cox Plate will get to see the Manikato Stakes, the second-most-popular event on the schedule at Moonee Valley Racecourse.

It came along in 1968 as the Freeway stakes, holding that moniker for 16 years. The name was changed in 1984 to honor the 2002 Australian Racing Hall of Fame inductee Manikato, and rightfully so. The Australian gelding dominated this racetrack, winning this event twice and the William Reid Stakes a record five-straight times.

At only 1,200 meters (about 6 furlongs), the Manikato Stakes is a sprint race that was elevated to Group 1 status in 1989. Ever since 2012, it has been run the night before the W.S. Cox Plate, causing quite the stir in the community. This Friday night in October is known as the Cox Plate Carnival night, and it’s centered around the Manikato Stakes.

There are a million bucks up for grabs for both male and female horses, so long as they are at least three years old. Despite benefiting the Thoroughbreds who specialize in short-distance races, four have captured both the Manikato Stakes and the W.S. Cox Plate, three of them doing it the same year.

Strawberry Road accomplished “the double” in 1983, as did Rubiton in 1987 and Sunline in 2000. Dane Ripper, the victorious horse in the 1997 W.S. Cox Plate, went on to win the 1998 Manikato Stakes.

Speaking of impressive performances, the fastest time ever recorded in this 1,200-meter turf race is 1:09.29, set in 2006 by Miss Andretti. No surprises here, as the mare went on to be named Champion Racehorse of the Year in 2007.

William Reid Stakes

So maybe there is only $500,000 on the line at the William Reid Stakes, but don’t let this race slide onto the back burner.

Like the aforementioned Manikato Stakes, this is also a 1,200-meter sprint to the finish line for Thoroughbreds aged three and up. The difference is that the William Reid Stakes is held in March, and it’s been around since 1925.

It was a Principal Race until 1979 before being bumped up to a Group 2 event in 1980. By 1987, it had reached Group 1 status, the same level it sits at today. The William Reid Stakes has been run every year since it was skipped in 1943 during World War II, although it was held at Flemington Racecourse in 1995.

From 1994-2009, the name was changed to the Australia Made Stakes, then just the Australia Stakes. The title of the race formally returned to the William Reid Stakes in 2010.

Clearly, the horse who achieved the most here was Manikato, who we already mentioned won the WR Stakes five straight years from 1979-1983. To help put this feat in perspective, only two horses have even won the event twice since (Apache Cat in 2008 and 2009 and Black Caviar in 2011 and 2013).

We should note that for a six-year period, this event was held on Australian Day weekend, before it was moved to March in 2002.

AJ Moir Stakes

The final horse race at Moonee Valley that we need to tackle is the AJ Moir Stakes. Only 1,000 meters in length, this “shorty” was born in 1976 and was named after AJ Moir, a former chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club.

After experimenting with a 1,200-meter setup from 2007-2014, it was returned to its original length. It stayed as a Group 2 race all the way until 2012, before finally earning a spot in the Group 1 status in 2013.

Also of worthy note, this race takes place on the Friday night before the , which occurs in late September or early October.

We’d like to highlight that there was a name change in 1996 to the Schweppes Stakes, even temporarily moving to the “Schweppervescence Stakes” from 2003-2006. It went back to Schweppes Stakes from 2006-2011, before officially reverting to the first title, the AJ Moir Stakes.

This is a weight-for-age event, meaning that each horse will carry a pre-determined amount of weight based on his or her age. We have seen a few Thoroughbreds win this event a couple times, notably Black Caviar in 2010 and 2011.

However, one horse has won it an incredible three times. The Australian gelding who gets to stake claim to that statement is Buffering, who won the AJ Moir Stakes in 2012, and again in 2014 and 2015.

Melbourne – A Premier Destination for Anyone

We aren’t a trip advisor site, so we aren’t going to list all the attractions you need to see in Melbourne. Instead, we’ll highlight some of your options that are within “a stone’s throw” from the racecourse.

For example, the is virtually across the street and is an excellent place to spend an afternoon when you need a break from the racecourse. We have indicated that Flemington Racecourse, the chief horse racing venue in Melbourne, is also just down the road from Moonee Valley.

The University of Melbourne is adjacent to the zoo, and the Melbourne Museum is just beyond that college. The point is, you won’t run out of places to go and things to do around Moonee Valley. You are only about 20 minutes or so from Flinders Street Station and the Royal Botanic Gardens, meaning your opportunities are essentially endless.

Melbourne Airport (also called Tullamarine Airport) is only about a 15-minute commute from Moonee Ponds, the Melbourne suburb in which the racecourse is located.

If you are in the heart of the Melbourne by Federation Square, you can hop on the Craigieburn line from Flinders Station and get off at the Moonee Ponds stop. A quick 10-minute stride down Puckle Street, and you run right into the racecourse’s entrance.

For those opting for the tram, find the no. 59 tram from Elizabeth Street, and you will be sitting pretty. It drops you off just a couple hundred yards away from the track.

The Takeaway

Established back in 1883, Moonee Valley Racecourse has been a featured venue in Australian Thoroughbred racing since its inception. Giving you the backstory for how and why the racecourse was built helps set the foundation for understanding what’s coming next.

at Moonee Valley, and it’s going to turn it into one of the finest horse racing venues around. Their goal is to become a destination spot for tourists and a place for locals to come socialize and mingle. This includes plans for permanent residences right on site.

Part of the reason the people at the helm of the Moonee Valley Racing Club want to make these upgrades and improvements is to make sure the races like the W.S. Cox Plate never get moved to other locations.

Speaking of the W.S. Cox Plate, we covered the most important details of the $3 million event, as well as the other 3 Group 1 races that are annually held at Moonee Valley. Between these events, not to mention the ones taking place down the road at Flemington, why wouldn’t a Thoroughbred racing fan want to come to Melbourne?

Hopefully our brief section with some advice on traveling to the area convinces you to start making reservations. Take your time, as there is no rush.

Moonee Valley is only going to get
bigger and better in the coming years!
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