Trotting began to be organised in Western Australia in 1910 with the formation, on 22nd September, of the Western Australian Trotting Association.
Prior to that date the only organised events were at the annual Perth Show, run by the Royal Agricultural Society. Since 1887 events had been included for roadsters and the first classes for trotters appeared in 1890. These first trotters appeared in a category of "Trotters by Bay Shales". Bay Shales was an English bred Norfolk Trotter imported to Western Australia in 1886 by John Liddelow.
At the 1896 Show a trotting contest was held between two former Victorian trotters in Palo Alto and Oakleigh along with a son of Childe Harold called Harold and a local horse called Dick. Dick, driven by Mr. Hummerston won the event from Oakleigh.
The number of trotters exhibited at the annual Royal Show grew slowly until by 1905 there were more than 40 horses entered in the various classes. That year saw, for the first time, the name of James Brennan among the competitors. Brennan's horse was an eight year old named Castlecomer in honour of his birthplace in Ireland.
By 1910 the number and quality of horses had improved to the point where it was announced, in The West Australian newspaper on 2nd September 1910, that James Brennan would guarantee prizemoney of 50 pounds for two events at that year's Show. The same paper announced the attempt to form a trotting association.
The first Committee meeting of the W.A.T.A. was chaired by Brennan with Albert Mayor, a hair specialist, Honorary Secretary and Messrs. George Hiscox, A E Cockram, Shirley White and C McManus as members of the Committee. The other foundation members of the WATA were A W Wallder, H A Hummerston and A A Frieee.
The trotting events at the 1910 Perth Royal Show were run jointly by the WATA and the Royal Agricultural Society using the rules of the Victorian Trotting Association until local rules could be put in place. Among those events at the 1910 Show held at the Claremont Showgrounds, were a series of time tests for a total of 63 pounds in prizemoney. On 3rd November 1910 Big Ben, a giant gelding of unknown pedigree, trotted a mile in 2:30 to become the State's first official Standardbred performer.
On Christmas Eve 1910 the WATA held its first race meeting at the Belmont Park racecourse. Seven events were held on a hot, humid Saturday afternoon with the first race being won by M & T Humphries' mare Princess Huon. Princess Huon was one of four horses which each had four starts that afternoon, covering a total of nearly five miles.
The WATA continued to conduct racemeetings on a fortnightly basis, using both Belmont Park and the Claremont Showgrounds as venues. A 25 pounds per meeting rent for the Showgrounds was placing a financial burden on the WATA and, in March 1913, an agreement was negotiated for a five year lease of a trotting track on the perimeter of the Western Australian Cricket Association Ground. Provision for night trotting was made in the agreement. Because of the scope of this financial agreement, on 11th April 1913 Messrs James Brennan, James Nicholls and Henry A Hummerston became financial guarantors of the WATA for the five year period of the original lease.
The guarantors were given the power to appoint sufficient nominees to the Association's Committee as required to retain voting control. While it was only intended that the guarantor system would be required for a period of five years, it was to remain in place until 1946.
Three months after signing the lease agreement the WATA began racing on the WACA Ground track, on 28th June 1913 in front of a crowd of 1200 people who put 300 pounds through the on-course totalisator. The Association's timekeepers D C Braham and W McNamara had the idea of trotting under lights to avoid clashes with gallop' meetings.
On 2nd January 1914 a quote of 379 pounds, from Leo Walton's Electrical Wiring Company, was accepted for the installation of lights at the WACA track. Australia's first complete meeting under lights was held at the WACA on 24th January 1914 with the running of five races. The first event was won by Alfred Fox driving Battler 11.
A battle for control of trotting dates had been fought from 1912 until the Premier of Western Australia assumed direct control over the allocation of racing dates with the advent of World War 1.
On 1st March 1917 the Racing Restriction Act was introduced in the State's Legislative Assembly. When it was passed later that year, the Bill provided for all trotting meetings to be held under a licence issued by the WATA.
On 23rd April 1914 James Brennan reported to the WATA Committee that the WA Cricket Association was prepared to sell 17 acres of land on the northern side of their ground. Months of negotiations followed between the WATA, WACA, Perth City Council and Land's Department and on 2nd July 1915 an agreement was signed to purchase 14 and a half acres of land for the sum of 6000 pounds on a deposit of 100 pounds. It took the WATA a further six years before they were able to purchase the last of the blocks in Waterloo Crescent to give them sufficient land to build the course.
The bulk of the land was a mosquito ridden swamp and between 1917 and 1920 the site was used as the Perth City Council's rubbish tip, with the WATA paying the wages of the tip foreman. Architects Powell and Cameron were appointed on 6th May 1920 while A T Brine & Sons began work on the drainage of the site. Lighting specifications were obtained from American, British, French, German and Swedish firms for a system which saw 750 miles of electrical wiring and 180 tonnes of equipment suspended over the track. The original installation was carried out by the local firm Brear & Doonan, who are still the Association's Electricians.
Stockpiling of 30,000 yards of shell, dredged from the Swan River, began in 1925 but, by the end of 1927, a series of inaccurate cost and quantities estimates were beginning to affect progress on the construction of the track. At that time some 50,000 pounds had been spent on the course, and it was estimated that a similar amount would be required to complete the construction of essential facilities, such as totalisators, grandstand, offices and fences. Twelve months later the bill had risen to 100,000 pounds and the track had still not been completed and the WATA had only six months of their lease of the WACA track remaining.
Money was looming as a major problem, as falling world prices for agricultural products, and a loss of overseas capital in Australia, was beginning to take effect. Brennan and his fellow Committeemen sought the assistance of Perth businessman John P Stratton.
Stratton was able to obtain the necessary loan and, on 5th February 1929, he became one of the three guarantors which the Bank of New South Wales required. He replaced WA Smiley as Vice-President of the WATA and shortly thereafter the official architects were replaced.
A grandiose grandstand, modelled on the Addington stand in Christchurch, was replaced with a less elaborate model, similar to that at the Kings Park Tennis Club, as Stratton continued his push to have the track completed.
The first race meeting at the track was held on 26th December 1929 and a crowd of some 17,000 people saw Alween, with F Mackander at the reins, win the opening event at the track named Brennan Park, in honour of the man to whom Western Australian trotting owed its existence.
Completed at a cost of 200,000 pounds at the time of The Great Depression, the track was variously described as the best in the Southern Hemisphere and the equal of any in the World. Its first class facilities included the latest Julius "Premier" totalisator capable of handling 3000 pounds per minute in pound units. It provided 86 windows for punters and was able to automatically display win and place odds for each horse.
The course was officially opened by Perth's Lord Mayor J T Franklin on 15th March 1930 and the feature events at that night's meeting were named after Brennan and Stratton. Later that year James Brennan resigned as a member of the WATA Committee and J P Stratton became President of the Association. It was a position which he would hold for 36 years until his death.
In September 1923, at a Conference of trotting officials, James Brennan presented the concept of an annual championship to be rotated among the Australian States, New Zealand and the United States of America. He received a lukewarm response from the other delegates, however Brennan was able to convince his fellow Committeemen to go it alone.
In 1925 and 1926 the WATA conducted the Australasian Trotting Championship at its WACA Ground track. New Zealand was represented by Great Hope and Taraire in 1925 and both horses came to Perth with earnings in excess of 5,000 pounds. Great Hope won the championship from the Victorian stallion Vin Direct. Taraire was left in Perth and won the 1926 Championship from the New Zealand champion Great Bingen. Great Bingen was part-owned by Roydon Lodge Stud founder John McKenzie.
Brennan's idea was ahead of its time however and the concept was all but forgotten until fellow Western Australian J P Stratton resurrected the idea at a meeting of trotting administrators in Sydney in 1935.
The first Inter Dominion Championship was allocated to Perth and was held at Gloucester Park on 8th, 12th, 15th and 19th February 1936. While the administrators of the time deserve plaudits for the Inter Dominion concept, they deserve censure for the points system they devised to determine the Grand Champion.
Realising the inadequacies of asking top horses to concede handicaps to other top horses in champion-class races, they had devised a scheme whereby the placegetters in each heat and the final received 3, 2 or 1 point. In addition the three fastest horses in each heat received 3, 2 and 1 point. Logan Derby went through the Championship undefeated and earned a total of 18 points. The mare Evicus finished second in each of her four starts and earned 20 points to be declared Grand Champion.
In its first season of operation at Gloucester Park, the WATA held 52 meetings and paid 33,365 pounds in stakes. By 1940 the figures had increased to 53 meetings for 122,289 pounds as the Association continued its steady progress despite the interruption of World War II. In 2003 meetings at Gloucester Park distributed nearly $8 million in stakes.
During the war years racing was held on Saturday afternoons and at times only held fortnightly, due to a sharing agreement over dates with the WA Turf Club which raced alternate Saturdays.
Technological change in society has also been reflected in the many changes made at Gloucester Park over the years.
Photo finish facilities were introduced to Gloucester Park in August 1949, and used for the first time to decide the outcome of a race on 20th August 1949. Fair Lily was declared the winner from Sheikson, Redfred and Mardon Girl. The first deadheat declared after the introduction of a photo finish came about on 2nd September 1950, when the photo showed that Attaboy (Charlie Allen) and Step Lad (Fred Hough) could not be separated.
On 15th November 1930 Gloucester Park witnessed its first triple deadheat when the judge was unable to separate Ella Derby (Harry Moran), Red Derby (Stan Woodworth) and Nelson McCormack (Jim Morgan). It is purely conjecture whether he would have come up with the same result had he had photo finish facilities.
Currently Gloucester Park races feature a mix of standing and mobile starts. The rubber strand method of starting horses from a stand was brought to Western Australia in 1935 by a seventy year old Victorian called H Brenning. Previously races had been started by pistol shot.
Legend has it that the champion pacer of that era, Adonaldson, used to watch the starter's pistol and start on the appearance of smoke from the muzzle. This gave him a split-second advantage on those who waited for the sound of the pistol shot to carry. Adonaldson lost that advantage when the starter stood on his mechanical release after 1935.
A mobile barrier was used at Gloucester Park for the first time on 24th May 1958. The winner of the race was the notoriously unruly Edward Scott. The machine was consigned to the scrap-heap after a short period of use and was not re-introduced until January 1972 when Roscott won that year's Mount Eden Mile.
Television came to Perth in the late 1950’s and on November 4, 1960 the 5000 pound Anniversary Cup was replayed to Perth television audiences on the ABC's Sports Cavalcade programme. The champion Sydney pacer Apmat, with legendary driver Bert Alley at the reins, won the race from Defiance and Kiwi Dillon.
A decade later, on February 28, 1970, the WATA held a seven race programme at Gloucester Park but only six were run at the track. The seventh race was a live telecast of the Inter Dominion Final from Melbourne featuring the local idol Dainty's Daughter.
Television came to the assistance of stewards on October 1, 1971 with the introduction of race patrol films. A little over a year later, on October 21, 1972, metric race distances were introduced to Gloucester Park. The WATA resisted the dropping of mile rates and for a period both mile rates and kilometre rates were used. When the Metric Conversion Board went into mothballs, so too did kilometre rates.
On May 3, 1985 the Gloucester Park track changed dramatically when the old circuit was torn up and a new half-mile oval was put in its place. Not that the old track was slow. In fact on March 11, 1983 it had become the nation's first 1:55 track with the 1:54.9 time trial of the four-year-old stallion Classic Garry.
Classic Garry is just one of a host of outstanding champions who have raced at Gloucester Park and the list is not restricted to those who competed in Inter Dominions.
When trotting began in Perth in 1910 it didn't take long for the first of a long line of champions and crowd favourites to emerge. Hector Mac was the first public idol. So much so that when he died in 1929 his bones were laid to rest under the winning post of the Gloucester Park track. In 1997 the ashes of the 1967 Inter Dominion champion Binshaw were also laid to rest under the Gloucester Park winning post.
Hector Mac raced at the WACA, as did other champions including Kola Girl, Princess Wilkes, Cole Queen, Earl Derby, Great Bingen and Craboon.
The first of the public idols at Gloucester Park was the black stallion Adonaldson who won the 1934 Gloucester Cup. By the sensational sire Alfred Donald, he was one of a number of outstanding racehorses produced by his dam who went by the simple title of Jill.
In 1937 Kolect wrote his name into the record books when he won the WA Cup from a backmark of 108 yards. Kolect's dam Kola Girl had won the Cup in 1918 and she remains the only Cup winner to have produced a WA Cup winner at stud.
Kolect's son Kolrock won the 1940 WA Cup from the champion mare Queen's Gift who reversed the result in 1941. Both horses were champions and crowd favourites at a time when war clouds preoccupied the minds of those who watched racing t the track.
Dark David, a black son of Storm Cloud, won the WA Cup in 1947. That year the stallion Don Sebastian was mated with a mare called Nellie's Vin. The resultant foal was the sensational Beau Don which won the WA Cup in 1952 and 1953 and established a trend for crowd popularity that was later matched by only the likes of Mount Eden, Pure Steel and Village Kid.
Such was the adulation afforded Beau Don that when he fell in a heat of the 1952 Inter Dominion, the crowd were close to rioting, based on the level of vitriol hurled at New South Wales reinsmen Perc Hall and Harry Mazoudier. The crowd thought that they had been at fault in causing the fall.
Although Frosty Nelson won 35 races at Gloucester Park in the 1950's he never got under the skin of the fans in the way that Beau Don did.
In the 1960's crowds thrilled to the clashes between Radiant Oro, Dainty's Daughter, Binshaw, Blue Pennant and Renaud. Never in 85 years of trotting in this State has there been a depth of fast class talent to match that of the years 1967 - 1970. The track's first 2:00 mile was recorded in this period.
To that talent was added the sensational speed machine Mount Eden. A horse that was years ahead of his time, Mount Eden remains the fastest horse seen in Australia. The times that he recorded in 1971 gave him the status of the best pacer in the World and crowds flocked to see him. Prior to his leaving Perth for the 1971 Miracle Mile, 5000 attended his trials at Gloucester Park. There will never be another to grab the imagination of people quite like Mount Eden.
In 1975 the WA Derby was won by a nuggetty colt whose name was probably the most fitting ever given to a champion horse.
Pure Steel was exactly that and he forged a reputation as the toughest stayer seen in Australia. His four successive WA Pacing Cups is legendary, although he was never able to win an Inter Dominion Championship. He was twice placed in the Final and ranks as the greatest horse never to win the event.
The Gloucester Park track has witnessed a host of champion horses in the 1980's and 1990's, including the likes of Satinover, San Simeon, Popular Alm, Gammalite, Preux Chevalier, Franco Tiger, Our Maestro, Luxury Liner, Black Irish, Wondais Mate, Koala King, Jack Morris, Our Sir Vancelot, Westburn Grant and Sunshine Band to name but a few.
One horse has stood out however. Village Kid won four WA Cups to go with nine other Group One wins on his way to Australian Record earnings of $2,117,870. He ranked as the World's Richest Pacing Gelding and, at the age of 13, he set a world Record for a horse of his age when he time trialed in 1:55.1. Village Kid attracted fans to the track like no other horse since the great Mount Eden. The longevity of his race track career contributed to this, as did his period of dominance of Australian harness racing.
As Gloucester Park approaches the 70th Anniversary of the running of the first Inter Dominion, it is time to reflect on how strongly the course has become part of the Perth landscape and the culture of the city. With its magnificent entrance, the course remains unique in Australia as a leader for others to follow.