Why Ipswich Cup Day has become so darn big

The pounding of horse hoofs hits the final turn and only a few lengths separates the field. The jockeys scream for a final effort from their charge, and the crowd wills on their favourite.

It’s the most-watched 2150m on the Ipswich calendar, the Ipswich Cup.

And with record numbers making their way through the turnstiles this year, it’s worth exploring the reasons why more than 20,000 people will on Saturday afternoon be making Ipswich Turf Club their venue of choice.

The trainers

If anyone was to effectively dispute the “Sport of Kings” label on racing, it would be Gai Waterhouse whose colourful demeanour graces the television screens every big race day.

She’s so big in terms of reputation and success that The Gai Waterhouse Fillies and Mares Classic is run on the day in her honour. While it’s no doubt a thrill, her attention alongside fellow trainer Adrian Bott will be on one of the big chances in the second biggest race of the day, Ecuador in the Eye Liner Stakes.

But she is no longer at the top of the training pool. She’s recently been challenged by fairy tale success story Chris Waller who started in the industry with very little, and is now seen crying at the finish line each time his now-famous mare Winx writes history.

Chris Waller and the Freedman brothers are other big names who’ll be seen on track, as will relatively new trainer Chris Munce whose connection with the race dates back to 1994 when he rode Oompala to victory. His horse on that day, a New Zealander, would a few months later finish third in the Melbourne Cup.

Last year’s winning jockey Michael Cahill on board Self Sense. Photo: Trackside Images.

The races

While $175,000 in prize money for each of the Ipswich Cup and the Eye Liner Stakes is nothing to be sneezed at, it’s the consequence of these races which have racing enthusiasts whetting their chops.

There was every chance Japanese horse Danon Liberty would make its first start in Australia via the Ipswich Cup, but that won’t be the case. Rather, Darren Weir will saddle up clever provincial jockey Dean Yendall on Tradesman, which will start an almost unbackable favourite.

The Waterhouse-trained Ecuador will rate on the second line of betting, and if some punters might see value in smart gallopers Smart As You Think and Tumultuous. On Wednesday, Tumultuous was around the $10 mark, and it’s not every day a jockey in the class of Cory Brown chooses not to ride at a city meet.

The Eye Liner is a far more open race. In-form crowd favourite Jeff Lloyd rides Tyzone at around $4.50, but Moss ‘n Dale, Most Important, I’m a Rippa, Religify and Lucky Hussler all rate a strong chance.

The jockeys

Experienced hoops Larry Cassidy and Jim Byrne have both won the race multiple times. Cassidy will be looking for his third Cup, and Byrne his fourth.

Tegan Harrison also knows what it’s like to win the big race, having been the only female rider to do so four years ago. This time she saddles up on Ecuador.

Yendall, Brown and Michael Cahill are other riders you’ll see at the biggest racing carnivals of the year, including Melbourne Cup day in November. They’re all well managed and won’t travel unless they’re confident of being put on top of a good horse.

If you’re looking for a sentimental favourite, local youngster Jake Bayliss will be on board a $100 chance in Cup.

Above: Punters celebrate a win; Right: Self Sense crosses the line in the 2017 Ipswich Cup. Photos: Trackside Images.

The fun

Sold out signs already sit on the Bundaberg Home Turn event, corporate marquees and tents. The Corona marquee will likely host more than 3000 ticketholders.

Fair to say it will be a big day, for those who take home the $800 prize for being best dressed – male, female and couple; for whoever first crosses the line dressed as a schooner between races two and three; for the tippler who sheds the heels late in the day to dance like nobody’s watching in front of Mashd ‘n’ Kutcher.

Because, fair to say it’s not all about the racing. Next year, there will be brand new facilities as part of a multi-million-dollar upgrade. As a consequence, this will be the last year for the beer garden affectionately known as the Pig Pen.

Keep it classy, Ipswich. There’s every reason you’ll want to remember why you shelled out anywhere between $20 and $200 to be part of the city’s social event of the year.

The history

Some things you might not have known:

  • The Ipswich Cup was first run in 1866.
  • The other big race on the day, the Eye Liner Stakes is named after a Queensland horse regarded as the best two-year-old of her time when she won nine races in a row, and 12 of her first 13 races in the early to mid-1960s. Later in her career, she didn’t do so well. Wet tracks were blamed for poor performances in big races.
  • Oompala, a New Zealand horse which won the cup in 1994 with Chris Munce on board, went on to finish third in the Melbourne Cup a few months later. Chris Munce is now making a name for himself as a trainer in Brisbane.
  • Our Lukas was the only horse to win back-to-back Ipswich Cups, in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, ridden by Larry Cassidy and in 2010 by the late Stathi Katsidis.
  • The race hasn’t always been without drama. In 2000, eight horses fell and five riders were taken to hospital. Only four horses finished the race. Eight years later, in the Gai Waterhouse Classic, there was another fall, when four horses went down and two jockeys were taken to hospital.
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