||The Gayndah Racecourse was established in the mid 1850s to replace a track established nearby in 1852. Queensland's first Derby race was held there in 1868 and the course is still in regular use for horse racing.
Europeans in search of grazing land for sheep first explored the Burnett in the early 1840s and the town of Gayndah was founded in 1849 to serve pastoral stations in the district. The site of the town was chosen and named by Maurice O'Connell, then Land Commissioner for the area. Gayndah developed as an administrative centre, having a courthouse and police station in the 1850s, soon followed a school, post office and bank. It was at one time considered to be a contender for the capital of Queensland when Separation from New South Wales was contemplated. By the late 19th century, cattle had replaced sheep on the surrounding pastoral properties and citrus orchards had been successfully established. From the turn of the century, dairying also played a part in the providing an economic basis for the development of the area.
In 1852, the year that Gayndah was officially gazetted as a town, a public meeting was held at the Burnett Arms in Gayndah to organise the setting up of a track for horse racing. £100 was collected and a suitable area at the edge of town selected. The winning post was set up midway between two hotels, the Burnett Arms and the Corinth Arms, which were about two and a half miles apart. The first race was held on 30 June 1852. It was a three-day event with racing on the first and third days for prizes in excess of £100. This track was used for a few years before the current and more level site nearby replaced it, probably in 1855 or 1856.
A meeting was held at the Royal Hotel, Gayndah in July 1858 to mount a petition to Sir William Denison, Governor General of New South Wales (of which Gayndah was still then a part), to grant the Crown Land on which the track was situated for use as a racecourse on the grounds that the town had not been granted a recreation reserve and there was no other course closer than Ipswich, 230 miles away. There were 65 signatories to the petition, but it did not have an easy passage.
As the land on which the track was located was in an area intended to serve as future suburban allotments, the government was at first inclined to refuse the request and on 6 May 1859 asked for guidance from the Surveyor General's office. A report of 25 August 1859 recommended that as town development was in fact taking place away from this area, a reserve of between 100 and 120 acres should be granted for a racecourse. The request was approved on 11 June 1859, but Queensland was separated from New South Wales on 10 December 1859 as a self-governing colony. The racecourse reserve, of 180 acres, was surveyed in March 1862 and the land grant signed by Sir George Bowen, Queensland's first Governor, on 26 March 1863 at a quit rent of one farthing 'as a racecourse and for no other purpose'. Trustees were Berkely Basil Moreton, Alpin Grant Cameron, Robert Wilkin Smith, Gilbert William Eliott and Francis Glynn Connolly.
Horses had arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 and the first organised horse race was run at Hyde Park in 1810. In 1842 the first racing club, the Australian Jockey Club, was formed. In Queensland, horse racing was one of the earliest organised sports following the opening of the Moreton Bay District for free settlement. The first race meeting was held at Coopers Plains on 17 July 1843 and there was a racecourse at New Farm in Brisbane by May 1846. In 1848 the towns of Warwick, Ipswich and Drayton organised race meetings. Government authorities took racing seriously as more than a sport as horses were then the main means of transport for economic, military and recreational purposes and racing was thought to help improve breeding.
In 1861, the Gayndah Race Club decided to change its name to the Queensland Jockey Club; at the time, racing at Brisbane was under the auspices of the Brisbane Race Club and at Ipswich as the North Australia Race Club. Eagle Farm Racecourse opened in Brisbane in 1863, replacing the 1846 New Farm track, and the Queensland Turf Club was formed. The Gayndah racecourse by this time had booths for hire where publicans and confectioners supplied refreshments.
Gayndah hosted the first Derby held in Queensland. This is a classic race for three-year-olds run over one and a half miles and was first held in 1780 at Epsom in England, being named for the 12th Earl of Derby. In Australia the first Derby was run in 1861 at Randwick in Sydney and in 1868 one was held at Gayndah. Bookmakers came up from Melbourne for the event, which was won by a horse named Hermit. The Derby was held at Gayndah for two more years until falling into abeyance and being revived in 1872 in Brisbane.
The race meetings were gala events attended by people from the surrounding district and from as far afield as Port Curtis, Ipswich and Nanango. Horses came from as far away as Sydney to compete and Gayndah considered itself the racing centre of Queensland, even after the Derby had moved to Brisbane. A Brisbane Cup was held in 1866 and a Gayndah Cup in 1867 quickly followed by Cup events at Gympie, Maryborough, Rockhampton, Townsville, Charters Towers, Toowoomba, Warwick and Dalby.
In spite of the early establishment of the Queensland Turf Club and the development of horse racing in regional centres during the 1860s and 1870s, it did not become popular in Queensland on a large scale until the 1880s, when there was a boom in racing and many new clubs were formed and race meetings held. A new code of rules was adopted in 1885 based on those of the English Jockey Club and a system of registration of all clubs under the Queensland Turf Club rules was instituted. The Queensland Racing Calendar was first published in 1886 and in 1890 all clubs agreed to empower the Queensland Turf Club to allot dates for meetings to prevent clashes.
In 1914 the racecourse land was gazetted as a reserve under Trustees led by the Mayor of Gayndah and on 29 October 1937 a special meeting was held by the Council to formulate by-laws. These were gazetted on 3 March 1938 under the provisions of the Local Government Land Act 1936. The Gayndah Shire Council are still trustees for the racecourse.
New service buildings were constructed at the racecourse in the 1980s. The track itself has been in use as a racecourse since its inception and the Gayndah Jockey Club still hosts regular racing meetings there.