The Warrnambool Grand Annual Racing Carnival is one of the main events in Warrnambool's social and sporting calendar, with most of the cities accommodation being booked out months in advance. The carnival has been often called the "Melbourne Cup of the bush", because it manages to attract people who normally would not go to another race meeting for the rest of the year.
In the words of one local identity "it attracts the needy, greedy and the seedy" and has representatives from nearly every rung on the societies ladder, from the well dressed business leaders to students in outrageous costumes, out for a lark.
Major track works to the running surface in Brierly paddock have only been completed in the last few week and have bought the standard of the Warrnambool course up to some of the best in the country. A very mild summer and good Autumn rains have provided ideal growing conditions and the course is currently a carpet of green.
Photos below of the members grandstand and mounting yard shows just how good the course looks
May Races Accommodation
It is notoriously difficult to find accommodation for Warrnambool’s May Racing Carnival however there are a few tricks on how to find a room - firstly although many accommodation properties show they are fully booked, in many cases the bookings are tentative and quite a few providers simply block out the may race week up to 12 months in advance knowing they won’t have any trouble in getting bookings. Usually in January or February accommodation owners will look at their bookings for the May races and contact their regular clients and confirm their booking and this is when you are most likely to pick up vacancies. So contact properties directly during February and March and this will usually yield results
Minimum Stays - the other factor to consider is the minimum stays required for individual properties and in many cases owners insist on a minimum stays of 3 or 4 nights and while many visitors don’t need to stay 3 or 4 nights it is a sellers market and if you want to stay 3 nights there will be plenty of other willing to take the offer.
For visitors only requiring single night accommodation, the outlying towns of Port Fairy, Mortlake and Terang are only 30 minutes away and are a good alternative
Photos below of the old grandstand and "Scotchman's Hill" which is the area outside the racecourse which overlooks track
Warrnambool Grand Annual Racing Carnival 2017
The feature race of the carnival is the Grand Annual Steeplechase which was first run on 13th June 1872. Two paddocks outside the course were used to lengthen the course. The paddocks now know as Brierly and Granters were first used on that date. Originally the course was over four miles, was made up of different kinds of jumps including a stone wall, a log fence, a ditch and parapet, a paling fence and numerous post and rails. The original race was run in a clockwise direction and continued to run in a clockwise until the 1970’s even though other horse race in Victoria was run counter clockwise. Eventually the race succumbed to pressure to conform, because the photo finish equipment would not work when the horse went past the finishing post from right to left. In 1972 the race was changed to metric distances and the race was run for one and a half laps clockwise and then after jumping the Tozer road double for the second time the horses veered to the right and finished the last half lap in a counterclockwise direction
A rusting sign attached to the grandstand at the Warrnambool's Racecourse’s documents Warrnambool’s association with Australia’s alternate national anthem.
Warrnambool’s connection with the song Waltzing Matilda would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the research carried out by local musician Dennis O’Keeffe. Sadly Dennis, (aged 57) passed away in February 2015 after a long battle with cancer, fortunately a book he had been working on for many years had been completed in 2012 and published that year.
The book tells the story of how in 1894, Christina MacPherson had been to Warrnambool’s May Races, where she heard the local Garrison Artillery Band play The Craigielee March, and three months later, while visiting family at a cattle station called Dagworth (north of Winton, Queensland ), she played what she could remember of the tune to Banjo Paterson and he wrote the words to Waltzing Matilda.
The lyrics of Waltzing Matilda refer to the shearers strike of 1891 and the death of a local shearer who according to legend took his own life, but as the author suggests, may have been involved in foul play. For many years the township of Winton has laid claim to being the birthplace of Waltzing Matilda, however Warrnambool has in recent years has proclaimed its association with the Waltzing Matilda story. The added twist to the story is Christina MacPherson is the great niece of ex Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu