Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

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Courses For Horses -Aspendale

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Like Mentone and Epsom, Aspendale was popular for both racing and training because of its giving sand-belt surface underfoot

It opened in April, 1891, the property of a well-known sportsman of the time, Mr  James R. "Robert" Crooke who had developed the facility over a number of years as a private training track and named the course after Aspen, one of his best horses and who had won the Newmarket Handicap twice in 1880 and 1881

Crooke followed a family tradition of racing, his father James E.  Crooke on January 15, 1849, winning the Flemington Cup with Belzoni and collecting a silver cup which was presented by Mr.  James Dunbar.  This is believed to have been the first cup race run in Victoria and some historians believe that the name of the race was later changed to the "Melbourne Cup".  

The trophy is known to have been lent to the Melbourne Museum in 1935 by Robert's son, Dr  Cyril Crooke, a Preston physician, its' fate thereafter unknown.

“Robert” Crooke was a prominent sportsman - a noted marksman, he won Victoria’s first motor race, a one-and-a-half mile handicap for cars of 6 horsepower or less held at Sandown Park on 12 March, 1904.  The race had nine starters, Crooke driving a 4½ horsepower American-built Locomobile, the lower power rating earning him a 500 yard start; second was Charles. B. Kellow in an English 5 h.p. Humberette; Kellow became the founder in 1907 of Kellow Falkiner, still prominent today and for many decades the leading agent for prestige British and American cars in Australia.

At the time plans were announced, it was noted that Aspendale Park was close to the beach and about a mile and a half from Mordialloc Station, but by the time the course opened, there was an Aspendale Park Racecourse platform, noted as about 16 miles from Melbourne and 30 minutes by special train.

The track was nine furlongs in circumference, one chain (66 feet) wide and with banked turns; course facilities included the usual grandstand, weigh-in rooms, jockey rooms, etc , but Crooke also catered for the public by providing two artificial hills in the enclosure to provide patrons on the otherwise dead flat course with an elevated view of the entire course  The landscaping is attributed to William Guilfoyle, then the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens   

Robert Crooke’s infatuation with motor cars saw the Automobile Club of Victoria held its first automobile demonstration at Aspendale Park of 20 February, 1904 with 35 cars travelling from Melbourne along with an unknown number of motorcycles; the club were the organizers of the later race meeting at Sandown.

In 1906 a motor raceway was constructed, promoted as Australia’s "first commercial track", although only one meeting was ever held  A banked motor racing track was constructed in 1923, but by 1930 had again soon fell into disuse, despite one meeting early in 1929 when speedway racing was in its heyday attracting a crowd of 15,000 to watch a contest between a motor cycle rider and a low-flying aircraft  Crooke was noted as having leased the course for the speedway events

Horse racing ceased at Aspendale Park, the last meeting on 29 July, 1931 with the course continuing to be used for training purposes  

Motor racing resumed with the Light Car Club of Australia taking up a lease in December, 1937 after the local council banned events on Phillip Island   Plans were for the track to re-open on 1 January, but negotiations were abandoned and events at the course did not resume until 1 October   The Victorian Motor Cycle Association took over the track in 1939 and conducted events up until April, 1941 before petrol rationing saw Aspendale used for the last time   

The course continued to be used as a private track by well-known trainer, Lou Robertson  In June, 1944, it was announced that the property had been sold to a prominent racehorse owner, Mr  A  H  Griffiths, one of Robertson's leading clients  Reports of the sale suggested that Mr. Griffiths planned to extend Robertson's lease, but intended to offset the costs of maintenance by developing an area of about 50 acres in the centre of the track as a market garden.

The Griffiths family retained the property until February, 1951 when plans for its sale and sub-division were announced, although Robertson was to retain a section of the track at the rear of the course,   The property was then said to be 100 acres developed as residential housing, an C S I R O  research station, shops opposite the station and a child care centre.   

There is just a hint today of the area's original use with some of the streets bearing the names of horses or racing personalities of the time including Robertson Parade, Marabou Place & Gothic Road - Robertson trained Marabou to win the 1935 Melbourne Cup and Gothic to win the 1927 Newmarket Handicap.

Taking The Train

The Victorian Railways Commissioner's report on revenue for the year ended 30 June, 1893 gives an interesting guide as to the relative popularity of the various courses which had their own railway station (figures for Mentone and Epsom are impossible to determine given their inclusion in the commuter network






James R. Crooke, pictured in 1904 after winning what is believed to be Victoria’s first motor race. Crooke if the lead, eventually winning by five seconds.

Sandown Park

£933.70

Williamstown Racecourse

£1176.70

Aspendale Park  

£1307.10