The Horse’s Mouth


Oz Sports History



The popular Richmond Racecourse was bounded by Bridge Road, Westbank Terrace and Stawell Street.
Westbank Terrace extends to Bendigo Street; the racecourse adjacent to today's Channel 9 studios.
It is first noted as operating in 1892 under the auspices of the Richmond Pony and Galloway Club, although there is a belief it may have operated for some years prior to this.
Before his Collingwood tote was closed in 1906, John Wren bought the course and it became his main trotting track and was used for a number of sporting events including a much-publicised boxing match for a £500 purse in March, 1907 between Jack Johnson, the negro heavyweight champion of the world and local hack Bill Lang in one of the great mismatches of all time, Johnson carrying Lang for eight rounds before the local’s handlers threw in the towel. (The fight was promoted as "THE LIGHTNING-LIKE GIANT BLACK, THE DOGGED, DEFIANT 8TALWArT WHITE IN BATTLE ARRAYED".
Courses For Horses - Richmond
The Richmond racecourse as shown in a 1920 street directory (with a little help from Microsoft Paint). The finishing post and stands were on the eastern side next to Westbank Terrace.
John Wren, pictured 1948
It appears the course only survived through some political wheeling and dealing.
The Anti-Gambling Bill of 1907 made all betting outside a racetrack illegal, including Wren's tote and the City Tattersall's Club which he had acquired as then-legitimate outlet for his totalizator and now bookmaking operations, and it also included a clause banning racecourses of less than six furlongs in circumference.
Richmond was just five furlongs, but the Premier, Thomas Bent (as many said, Bent by name and sometimes by nature) pushed through an amendment exempting the popular Richmond course from the provisions of the Act. At the same time, he reduced the maximum number of meetings that could be conducted at each of Wren's Richmond, Ascot and Fitzroy tracks to 16 per year - the venues had previously operated on a weekly basis with around 150 meetings in total per year.
Other events including football and cricket, Wild West rodeos, but in 1908, Wren raised more eyebrows when he announced the Richmond Thousand (with prize money of £1,000, surprise), claimed to be the richest stake offered anywhere in the world for horses of 14.2 hands or under.
The site was also Wren’s first venture into motor sport. In 1913, he announce plans for motor racing, an despite a battle with authorities that believe that track of slightly more than half a mile in circumference may not be safe, he attained approval with the first meeting coming on 22 November.
Richmond was also due for closure on 31 July, 1931 along with the other proprietary tracks, but was granted an extension to allow continuation of trotting meetings while the purpose built trotting track at Ascot was completed. After pony and trotting ceased in 1932, the grounds were idle until 1938 when leased to the Light Car Club of Australia for dirt track racing.  Following complaints from resients over the noise and fumes, motor racing ceased in 1940.
There were several years of debate over the future of the site - at one point, it was mooted that British Australian Tobacco woul purchase the site for a factory, but following a number of protests, the area area was redeveloped as low-cost housing for "industrial workers".
Tudor Street was constructed running south from Bridge Road, with O'Connell, Longfield, Lightfoot and Jackson Streets, all of a "dead-end"nature branching off Tudor Street to the west.
This image shows 'Directly' winning the Hawthorn Handicap at Richmond Racecourse on 9 October, 1922, ridden by T. Healey, owned and trained by W Coultas. A large crowd is watching the race.
In the background the Wertheim piano factory and its chimney are clearly visible (this is the complex now used by Channel Nine).
Image held at Richmond library.
Updated 13 July, 2013