Horse racing in Penrith has a long and colourful history with owners of the local estates regularly holding match races consisting of two or three horses in the early years of settlement. By the 1820s and 30s however, larger more competitive races were common, as the local landowners bred up improved bloodstock. The first recognised race meeting of this type was held on New Year’s Day 1824 and was sponsored by local resident Sir John Jamison from Regent Villa. The races began at Peach Tree Creek and ended at Parker Street. The race was run in heats with the Penrith Cup worth fifty pounds ($100), and an additional cash payment of the same amount being the prize. The second placegetter won five pounds. Sir John not only donated all the prizes but also provided most of the liquid refreshments for the crowd of 5,000.
Although it was expected that Jamison’s own horse Bennelong was certain to win, this did not happen. There were six horses in the main race and Hector, also known as Cripple, belonging to a Mr. Lane of Agnes Banks, was successful over Friar, belonging to Mr. Hanrahan. Bennelong came in a poor third. The combined effects of alcohol and disappointment at the result saw the men from Regent Villa engaged in a free-for-all battle with the supporters of the winner. Sticks were torn from the peach trees to use as weapons and those without sticks used their fists. Eventually the melee was subdued, but there were many sore heads the next day.
One of the most famous sires from the area was Yattendon, bred by Edward King Cox at Fernhill, Mulgoa. The estate was inherited from his father in1868, and became noted for its racehorses and stud stables. Yattendon sired both Chester, a Victorian Derby winner and Grand Flaneur, a winner of both the Sydney and Melbourne Derbys and the 1880 Melbourne Cup. The horse was buried in a paddock nearby and a gravestone erected.
Racing continued through the century, with the Penrith course conducting mile heats during the 1840s and 50s. In 1888, five men interested in promoting sport in the area formed a company and purchased 100 acres of the York Estate. They then offered the Penrith and Nepean Jockey Club a five year lease during which time they were to pay ninety pounds a year which represented 6% interest on the capital. After five years they were to have an option to renew at a yearly rental of one hundred and fifty pounds.
Unfortunately, this racecourse, together with several others in the area, has disappeared, unable to compete with the metropolitan tracks, and with it a slice of Penrith history has been lost.
Nepean Times, 23/6/1888.
Nepean Times, 6/6/1914.
Penrith and Thereabouts, Vol.17, April 1998.
Penrith City Star, 3/10/89, p.9.
Long, Michael, Reminiscences of a District Veteran, p.29.
Murray, R. & White, K. Dharug and Dungaree.
Parr, Lorna, Penrith Calendar.
Penrith City Council, Penrith Centenary 1871-1971.
Penrith City Library, Cox Family –Biography