One hundred and six years ago, the woolgrowers of Lightning Ridge decided to see who had the fastest horses in the north-western district, now famous for also producing the best quality opal in the world. Owners and managers of the huge stations in the area, enthusiastically trained up their thoroughbred stockhorses for the competition, and those who had racehorses in training elsewhere, arranged for them to journey to the ‘Ridge for the inaugural event, held on Easter Saturday 1911 (an easy-to-remember race date which the club has kept ever since).
That first race day was a tremendous success, providing both exciting entertainment for the entire district, plus an opportunity for everyone to really dress up, at the racecourse, and at the ball held that night. Both events were re-enacted in heritage style, at the Lightning Ridge Race Club’s Centenary celebrations in 2011.
The Ridge has become a tourist mecca, and its action-packed Easter Festival draws visitors from all over Australia, many of who take the opportunity to enjoy a quirky, friendly bush meeting, conveniently situated right in town, behind the famous enormous bowling club. Featuring the only straight (1200m) track in Australia, and a crowd of characters (av. 1500) dressed in everything from opal-dirt caked stubbies and thongs, to Randwick high fashion, the Ridge races is always a memorable day.
In recent years, the enthusiastic committee have greatly improved the track and facilities, which in turn has attracted larger fields of up to ten horses per race from areas as far away as Goondiwindi, Mudgee, Cowra, Cunnamulla and Tamworth. Feature event of the six-race program is the Opal Bracelet, a truly magnificent prize valued at $15,000.