During the first thirty years of the twentieth century, five "proprietary" racecourses (Richmond, Fitzroy, Ascot, Aspendale and Sandown Park) operated in Melbourne; "proprietary" indicated they were controlled by private individuals rather than the registered racing clubs.
Under V.R.C. rules, any horse that appeared at a proprietary track was automatically disqualified from racing at a registered meeting - this may appear a draconian measure, but in reality it had little impact as the privately-owned tracks were small courses designed to accommodate "ponies" (defined as a horse of 14.2 hands or less that could not compete at the thoroughbred level anyway) and trotters, for whom at that time there was no registered controlling body.
An association, under the title of the Victorian Pony and Galloway Association was formed in October, 1891 by three of the "pony" clubs - Sherwood park, Oakleigh, and Richmond, with the view of governing racing and it in turn decided to disqualify any pony racing at meetings not held under the rules of the V.R.C. or the V.P.G.A.
The programs at proprietary tracks were designed for fast action, thus fast wagering, typically with 20 minutes between races and regularly programs of ten races, sometimes as many as 14 at mid-week meetings.
The former three were run by John Wren via the Victorian Trotting and Racing Association, although the courses themselves were owned by his business partner, Benjamin Nathan, who, although an extremely wealthy man through his furniture chain Maples and other interests, was said to lack the entrepreneurial skills to attract patrons to sporting events.
Wren's three courses were extremely popular with the "battler" punters as he brought together a tight rein of control over the activities, introducing a panel of stewards (prior to the V.R.C) with powers to withdraw horses where there were suspicious betting fluctuations or where the price did not match the horse's form, to disqualify jockeys and trainers, and to "warn off" undesirables from his courses (one such being noted criminal "Squizzy" Taylor who is alleged to have threatened to kill Wren as revenge, Wren is believed to always have carried a gun from that time on).
1929 The Police Offences (Race Meeting) Act
Despite their popularity, there was official disquiet over the tracks generating huge profits for individuals without a return to the racing industry, and after several years of argument, the Victorian Government early in 1931 introduced what was originally referred to as the Police Offences (Race Meeting) Act (1929), and later as the Racing Control Act.
The Act legislated for the closure of Richmond, Fitzroy, Aspendale and Sandown Park course from 31 July, 1931.
Given the closures effectively removed any venue suitable for the growing trotting industry, Ascot was exempted on the proviso that a purpose-built trotting track was established (the galloping track was described as "not flat"). The Act allowed for Richmond and Fitzroy's closures to be postponed for a maximum of 12 months if the works at Ascot were not completed by July 31.
Wren by this stage had extensive interests in courses in most other states and accepted the decision, perhaps aware that the land on which his courses sat was worth considerably more for residential housing, but several deputations to the Government pleaded for Aspendale and Sandown Park to remain open given the perceived detrimental effects on the municipalities and local traders.
In fact, by July, works at Ascot had hardly started - as well as the regrading and construction of the new track, it was noted that alterations to the existing galloping course were required, buildings need to be demolish and removed to the other side of the grounds, and, of course, a new totalizator building had to be erected.
The V.T.R.A. estimated the total cost at £100,000 and admitted that it had only £20,000 and was unable in the depressed economic times of the day to raise additional finance, and an alternative plan was put in place. (There were suggestions that the V.T.R.A. had deliberately held off construction works in order to move meetings to either Aspendale of Sandown Park where trotting facilities already existed).
The government extended the life of the Richmond course by twelve months, at the same time cutting the