Saturday, July 3, 2010

More oral history of Sydney - horse trainers in Glebe - and brief history of the Penrith trotting track

I'm getting drawn into Bill Whittaker's oral history of Sydney's race tracks even though I have no interest at all in horse racing of any sort. What interests me is the changing land use, the transport infrastructure that was built and the people - the characters - who pushed and pulled for all of this to happen. There was certainly contention - racing was not always seen as a proper use of resources like land and electricity (especially for night racing) when people were suffering under depression or war. But it was popular outdoor entertainment, at least until television and the pokies drew people inside. The same fate awaited the track cyclists on Sydney's velodromes, so it's all intertwined, related and just plain interesting.

Anyway, there was a track at Forest Lodge called Lillie Bridge for teyh ponies that became Harold Park. And the horses were stabled nearby in Glebe and Newtown...

Where were they stabled, those horses? All through the Glebe district, through streets like Wigram Road, Hereford – Hereford Street, that’s where the great Sutton McMillan had his stables – and Arundel Street. Arundel Street was where Seymour Stables they were called in my time but in the 1920s and ‘30s a great trainer who was killed called Jack Eddie, E-D-D-I-E had those stables in Arundel Street, which is now a motel, I think, is it not? It’s just near the university, where the university students stay. Well, Jack Eddie, one morning in 1938, he was the leading – or one of the leading drivers - at Harold Park for years, was driving his horse home. He was sitting in the sulky behind a mare and leading two others and the mare reared, tossed him out of the sulky, smashed his head and he was killed in – I think it was in Ross Street, as he went up the hill to Arundel Street. It was a great tragedy. It’s a wonder it didn’t happen more often because there were hundreds of horses walking around those streets of Glebe – you couldn’t imagine; you’d have to have a vivid imagination to think that so many horses could have been in such a small area on the side of that hill, going down into the Glebe Hollow. Even in my time, I remember Jack Lewis - who had a great horse called Jack Hope at the time – he had his horses stabled on the corner of Ross Street and Parramatta Road; there was a livery stable there even – that was into the 1950s. So, I think it’s a service station now - it’s opposite the University of Sydney.

But it's not just about inner Sydney, is it? There were race tracks wherever there were people, basically...

Penrith City Council
As early as September 1900, mention is made in the local press of the plans to build a trotting track of half a mile in length with posts erected every 60 yards. Mr. T.R. Smith was to provide the funds to build it and was to be repaid from the training fees as they came in.

The trotters of the early days were generally saddle horses and professional trotting trainers often approached local owners, especially those with show horses with proven trotting abilities, to lease them for the trotting races.

The competition from galloping and pony racing clubs in daytime meetings saw the gradual demise of trotting as a popular sport and it wasn’t until the closure of pony tracks and the introduction of night racing in the post-war era, that trotting began to regain popularity. It was now known as harness racing acknowledging the fact that although all the horses wore harness, many paced rather than trotted.

The modern history of harness racing in Penrith began on 16th April, 1964 when night racing began in Penrith. The crowd packed into the brand new $80,000 grandstand to watch a first class program, with horses of a high calibre racing. The opening marked a milsestone in trotting history as the Nepean District Agricultural and Industrial Society became, that night, the first of the new night clubs in Sydney to conduct a registered race meeting.

The high standard of entries has continued till the present day, with the Penrith Paceway rated as one on Sydney’s leading provincial clubs. In 1999 the club closed for some months while it underwent a major upgrade, but it re-opened on 25th November to loud acclaim. The Penrith Paceway track circumference is 804.64 metres with a home straight of 130 metres.
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