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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Aerial shot of Sandown Park, 1945-2010s

The area to the north side of the railway line was owned by William C. Cullen, a Brighton publican who had used the area for horse races from December 1888. He was encouraged by horse racing enthusiasts to lay out a saddling paddock and grandstand enclosure as planting flower beds and trees.

He called it Oakleigh Park. In 1888 tenders were called by Richard Speight for the construction of a wooden grandstand called Springvale Racecourse but this has since been demolished. The total racecourse area was 134 acres with the remaining acreage left for grazing.

In 1891 the course was leased to Samuel Willis, David Boyd and Charles Heape, who ran the Victorian Trotting Club, for the cost of £20,000. This course was to be used as their meeting place after their lease at Elsternwick Park had expired. They renamed it Sandown Park, after the fashionable racecourse adjoining the railway station of Esher, about 15 miles south west of London, in Surrey England. They retained the lease of the course until 1932.

The Sandown course consisted of a racing course of almost 12 furlongs and a steeplechase course of almost two miles. The spectators watched from two stands tiered in ramps; one could hold 500 and the other 2000 people.

In the late 1920s, the Select Committee investigating Victoria’s races and racecourses decided that privately run clubs run for profits should be closed. Sandown Park had been managed by Michael Patrick Considine since 1895 and the children of the late Henry Skinner for a 20% profit. In April 1929, the owners thought they should try to sell the course but it was passed in at £65,000 and they decided to lease the site for grazing. Sandown closed in May 1931.

In 1934 the Springvale and District Coursing Club was encouraged by a few locals to organise some races. Roy Maidmont of the National Coursing Club organised the Sandown Greyhound Racing and Coursing Club, leasing the racecourse for £150 a year. They sought to obtain a licence to organise formal speed coursing but their plans were temporarily delayed when in 1942, the Government took over Sandown Park for army training and all coursing racing was stopped.

In 1944, the Sandown Coursing Club began to race at Sandown but, in 1947, their plans had to be shelved again when they had to seek another meeting venue. The course was advertised for sale but the Coursing Club was unable to raise sufficient funds. The Victorian Trotting and Racing Association in association with the Williamstown Racing Club (with whom they had amalgamated to form the Melbourne Racing Club) bought the course for £41,000.

In 1950 the course was cleared of all trees to make space for a motor racing track. In July 1957 a contract for £154,000 was let for the construction of the new track. In 1959 a total of £400,000 was spent on the construction and grassing of the race track drainage, fencing, water mains, levelling and filling, provision of running rails and on other improvements.

In 1962 the motor racing track was officially opened by Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss and Bob Stillwell. In 1963 the Melbourne Racing Club merged with the Victorian Amateur Turf Club (VATC) to facilitate the opening of new horse racing facilities. The racecourse was designed by Mr H. J Wagstaff, a track engineer, it had two straight runs and two turns at each end, 9 furlongs and four chains long. To lengthen this for different races there were legs or ‘chutes’ leading into the oval track. It was also about this time that a new grandstand was required to meet the increasing patronage of the course.

The new grandstand was cantilevered to provide an unrestricted view, bars, totalisator windows, dining rooms and most services undercover. In 1965, an overpass, opened by Cr F. Wachter of the Springvale Council, was constructed to facilitate access to the course. Its use was restricted to days of horse or motor racing. It was financed by the Victorian Amateur Turf Club and built by the Country Roads Board for £90,000. The site was designed to accommodate 12,000 cars with room for expansion and a train station was built on the railway side of the property to cater for rail travellers.

The new VATC Sandown Racecourse was opened by the Victorian Premier, Mr Henry Bolte on 19 June 1965. The Sandown Racecourse has a close association with the Sandown Cup, originally known as the Williamstown Cup, which was first run in 1888 and staged in Williamstown until 1936. Flemington became its host from 1940 to 1950 and Caulfield from 1951 to 1964. In 1965, when the new Sandown
track was opened the race was renamed the Sandown Cup.

In March 1999 the VATC proposed to re-vamp the Sandown Cup, including a name change to Sandown Classic and the introduction of weight-for-age conditions (replacing handicap conditions). In 1997, an Equine Quarantine Centre was used for the first time and, in 1999, the racecourse was renovated and reopened on the 10 October.

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