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Harness Racing

Harness racing (the trotter with a diagonal gait and the pacer with a lateral gait) was introduced to Melbourne by American, John Peck, who organised 'American Trotting Races' at Flemington racecourse in January 1860. In 1881 the Victorian Trotting Club, including the American breeder Dr John Weir, brought the sire Childe Harold to Melbourne, opening a trotting track at Elsternwick on 1 April 1882. This venture failed but John Wren staged harness racing at his proprietary course in Richmond and by 1910 controlled the sport under the aegis of the Victorian Trotting and Racing Association (VTRA), organising the Melbourne Thousand, the biggest prize for harness racing to that time, in the following year. After the Richmond course was closed in 1931 Wren moved harness racing to his Ascot racetrack.

The VTRA amalgamated with the Williamstown Racing Club to form the Melbourne Racing Club but moved out of harness racing after the Australian Labor Party Government eliminated proprietary tracks in 1945. The Victorian Trotting Control Board, a new body established to regulate harness racing, began night trotting at the Melbourne Showgrounds on 15 November 1947. The establishment of off-course totalisator betting in the 1960s, the televising of Saturday night meetings in the 1970s, the move to Moonee Valley in 1976, the promotion of the inter-dominion championship and great horses like Popular Alm and Gammalite, have all increased the popularity of the sport.

June Senyard