KENSINGTON PARK RACES.
The opening race meeting of this suburban racecourse passed off very pleasantly on Saturday afternoon Owing to its being so conveniently situated and the fine weather, there was a very good attendance. It was estimated that the number of those present must have considerably exceeded 2,000. The course is very pleasantly situated at the nearest point of the high bank on the north of the North Melbourne swamp. It is barely half a mile from the western limit of Hotham and only a few hundred yards from the junction of the Echuca and Melbourne railway lines, the course being between the two lines. The course is small in extent being under a mile, but there are no sharp, curves in it. The land is very undulating and rises to the centre of the course, thus affording the spectators an excellent view of the racing. The run-in is up a steep incline”.
“The arrangements of the course have been very well planned and when finished this will be a moat complete little racecourse It is immensely superior to Croxton Park as the visitors can get to the course by railway and thus avoid the dust, while it is such a very short distance from town that it is sure to become a very favourite resort with the public. The great drawback on Saturday was the intense heat and the want of any shelter from the sun s rays, but by the next meeting, no doubt the stand will be roofed in when the races can be viewed with comfort”. The Argus, 12 October, 1874
Sadly, there is nothing remaining to define exactly where the "suburban" racecourse was, but from the description, it was almost certainly the triangular wedge bordered by Kensington Road to the north-west , the railway line connecting to Footscray to the south and Altona Street to the north-east.
The area is now J. J. Holland Park, although a Kensington Park Estate sub-division after the course closed include a number of streets now extending north-east to Kensington Station, suggesting the course may have extended beyond the remaining park.
Several landmarks mentioned in the report tally : Dynon Road to the south skirted the northernmost edge of the “North Melbourne swamp”, "the run-in is up a steep incline" up the hill on the Kensington Road side towards today's public housing estates, and "... a few hundred yards from the junction of the Echuca and Melbourne railway lines, the course being between the two lines" corresponds perfectly with the Essendon (now Craigeburn) line constructed in 1860 which included Kensington Station, and the western lines through Footscray.
The course was opened by William Samuel Cox, later to become famous with the establishment of the Moonee Valley course and with Australia's foremost weight-for-age race carrying his name.
The landscape obviously has changed, many of the reports on Kensington Park referring to it along the lines of "that pretty little suburban course".
The reference to Croxton Park is significant - it was Kensington that took over the monthly meetings when nearby Flemington was idle. The course hosted both flat and jumping events, bolstered occasionally by the relative novelty of a trotting race.
Like Croxton, it also hosted a number of shooting matches and rabbit coursing, but perhaps its main claim to fame may have been on 14 June, 1879 when the first recorded instance of a totalizator being used in Victoria was noted at Kensington Park (despite this, Cox was an opponent of the totalizator and his testimony in a Parliamentary Inquiry the following year was instrumental in having moves to legalize the machine defeated.
The last meeting at Kensington Park was held on 6 January, 1883 after being postponed from Friday, 29 December.
There does not seem to have been any specific reason for the closure, although there was a Kensington Park Estate residential development advertised extensively in 1884 and perhaps Cox just took a chance on make a killing in real estate.
Cox did, however, have the foresight to acquire land further north from John F. Feehan in 1882 and by the time of the demise of Kensington Park, he had announced plans to develop a new course at Moonee Valley immediately to the north of the Gnarveno Vineyard, one of the earliest successful wineries in the colony. There was a Gnarveno Handicap run at the Valley for many years, an although the spelling has been corrupted over the years, there is a Ngarveno Street through the old vineyard linking Dean Street to Ormond Road to the south. The area appears to have been re-developed for housing around 1900.
The Valley held its first meeting on 2 July, 1883, and in an inspirational move, Cox managed to acquire the rights to a second meeting on 27 October, the Saturday before the commencement of the Melbourne Cup carnival and the day now famous for the race bearing his name as well as the Moonee Valley Cup.
TThe Cox dynasty continued for many years at Moonee Valley after the founder's death in 1895. The proprietorship of the course then passed to his eldest son Archie, and in 1906, Archie's brother-in-law, Arthur Vaughan Hiskens, a prominent amateur rider, became the stipendiary steward and honorary secretary of the club.
Although he continued as a committeeman at Moonee Valley, Hiskens resigned to become secretary of the Victorian Amateur Turf Club in 1930 where he remained until his sudden death in 1935 at 68 years. He was honoured in perpetuity by both clubs - by the famous A. V. Hiskens Steeplechase, one of the feature races on the M.V.R.C. calendar, and in the 1980s by opening of the Hiskens Stand and Function Centre at Caulfield. He was also elected a Life Member of the Victoria Racing Club for his contribution in establishing the V.R.C. Benevolent Fund to assist injured jockeys and their families.
William Stanley Cox, a son of William Samuel junior became a committeeman at Moonee Valley in 1927, was appointed secretary in 1935 and remained in the role until his death in 1966, becoming a member of the first Totalizator Agency Board under the Act of 1961.
The secretaryship then passed to his son, William Murray Cox with the family dynasty finally ending in 1970 when he, as the last in line, resigned from Moonee Valley to take up the same role with the Victoria Racing Club, Melbourne's principal racing authority.