It will surprise many that believe that today's Sandown Park was the latest metropolitan course to be built in Melbourne.
That may be partly true, but the racing has been conducte on-and-off at the site since 1888 when it was known as the Oakleigh Park Racecourse
The first proprietor was Mr. W. C. Cullen and it was noted the whole property covered an area of 295 acres, 13.5 of which were being devoted to the racecourse. The track itself was a mile and three and a half furlongs in circumference - the same as Flemington - and from 73ft to 100ft. in width.
Late in 1891, Cullen was declare insolvent and after the force closure of their Elsternwick Park course, Oakleigh Park was purchased by the Victorian Trotting Club for a sum of £1,500 and renamed Sandown Park after the famous course in England. Remarkably, for such a remote location, it had its own railway station, this also changing name from Oakleigh Racecourse to Sandown Park in 1892
The V.T.C.'s first meeting was held on 15 October, 1891, just two weeks after the closure of Elsternwick and offered remarkable prize money for the time of £1,000 for the day, including the Oakleigh Park Cup of 350 sovereigns - despite its' name the Trotting Club also included gallopers, one of the races on the first day being a 13 furlong Hurdle, generally a bit tricky for trotters! The club changed its name about three months later to the Sandown Park Racing Club.
The course was closed along with the other proprietary tracks on 31 July, 1931, but certainly post-war was being used for dog racing, most meetings differentiating between races held on a circular and a straight track.
With the closure of Williamstown, the Victorian Trotting and Racing Association made a move to buy the track under a Government ruling that each club must own its own course (the V.T.R.A. had been allowed to temporarily use Ascot), but newspapers and journals suggested that it was in such bad condition that it would take years to get it back to standards of the day.
The V.T.R.A. eventually bought the property in 1947, then nominated as being 90 acres, the price variously put at between £44,000 and £50,000 and announced grand plans to restore the site to become Melbourne's fourth track. Perhaps prophetically (although it was to take a long time), The Argus predicted "Sandown certainly offers the scope for a dream of a racecourse".
The V.T.R.A. eventually merged with Williamstown Racing Club to become the Melbourne Racing Club, a move which surprised many as the V.T.R.A. had just 27 members and Williamstown 700. The move prompted one Labour politician to slam the deal, suggesting it had been brokered by John Wren and the merged club would be effectively under his control.
The plans never came to fruition although the M.R.C. did spend around £136,000 on improvements, mainly drainage works and clearing the track which was overgrown in places with scrub.
By 1954, newspapers and journals were still predicting a new course was still some five years away.
The National Coursing Association around this time bought property on the other side of the railway line for a new dog track, but until it was completed, continued to lease Sandown Park.
In 1955, the secretary of the Melbourne Racing Club, Mr. John C. Reilly embarked on a tour of the U.S. to study modern racetrack design, it wasn't until 1963 that the new course finally opened under the auspices of the Victorian Amateur Turf Club and in conjunction with the Light Car Club of Australia who had financed the construction of a motor racing track outside the turf track.
The Melbourne Racing Club by this stage had merged with the V.A.T.C. and operated under the latter name with Reilly becoming secretary of the combined body.