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Cheltenham Racecourse SA

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Cheltenham Racecourse began as the track of the Port Adelaide Racing Club.  The club was originally formed to provide horse racing in the suburbs around Port Adelaide for the locals and to increase the races available to racehorse owners of the time.  The club had its first race meeting in March 1890 and raced four times a year but the track was considered too small and in 1895 the club leased the area near the railway at Woodville.  By the end of 1895 it had a bigger grandstand than Morphettville which could hold more than 2000 people.  The sandy ground was expected to produce a good surface that would take little maintenance.  The first Christmas Hcp on the new track was run on boxing day 1895 and the race was won by the brown stallion Trout from Duke of Richmond.

During the first world war Cheltenham was taken over for military purposes but was back as a racing venue in 1917 at the Port Adelaide Cup meeting when a new starting device was trialled.  The idea was that a gun would trigger the device and also go off to signify a clean start however if there was no gunfire then a false start would be declared.   The first of the two races it was to be used for went well but then although it looked a clean start there was no gunfire.  Confusion reigned as the clerk of the course raced towards to judges tower and one runner pulled up as another raced away for an easy 'victory'.   Soon the crowd stopped cheering as they realised the numbers had not been posted and the mood rapidly changed.  The stewards called an inquiry and as the starter confirmed that the machine had malfunctioned but the start had been clean it was declared a race and the placegetters confirmed.

In the 1920s the Adelaide Hunt Club and Picnic Race clubs held meetings at the Cheltenham track but it was the Port Adelaide Race club that stirred up rivalry with the other metropolitan clubs but lifting the prizemoney of the Port Adelaide Cup in 1922 to 2000 making it the richest race in South Australia with others races on the bumper raceday card the Christmas Hcp (750) and a weight for age race worth 500.  Drawing huge crowds and turnover the club was now able to purchase the land Cheltenham was situated on.  In 1923 Cheltenham again was a forerunner in trying new innovations when a early photo finish device was tried but after problems it was soon abandoned.

With the SAJC increasing prizemoney for the Adelaide Cup the Port Adelaide race club again took the mantle of the states richest race raising the Port Adelaide Cup stakes to 4,000 and the Christmas Hcp to 1000 well ahead of many races in NSW and Victoria in 1926.

Again in World War Two Cheltenham was used by the military and even when racing resumed the Boxing day meeting in 1943 had to be run at Victoria Park.  By 1945 the raceclubs were racing again at their own tracks with the Port Adelaide Cup attracting the locally owned Rainbird who had won the Melbourne Cup only weeks earlier and she won as expected.

In 1961 Tulloch came to Cheltenham after his defeat in the Sydney Cup which left him just short of the 100,000 in prizemoney.  Settling off the pace Tulloch was kept to the outside of the field and came around the turn three wide.  Tulloch then cruised to the lead and raced away to win eased down by four lengths.  The stands were packed with around 30,000 attending the meeting with the course filled to capacity.  It is for this day that Cheltenham will be best remembered.

Golden Slipper winner Storm Queen started her 9 straight race wins at her second start winning by 10 lengths at Cheltenham in the late 60s but soon the questions began to be raised about Cheltenham continuing as a racing venue.  In the early 70s the government began asking questions with one economist advising that Cheltenham should be retained as a training facility with more race meetings allocated to Victoria Park and Morphettville.  Premier Don Dunstan took the suggestions on board and then announced that the three race clubs would merge on 1 July 1975.  While the recommendation to move racing away from Cheltenham was never enacted the funding emphasis was moved to the Goodwood and Adelaide Cup double and the Port Adelaide Cup & Christmas Hcp would never return to their former glory.

Disaster occurred at Cheltenham on April 3 1976 during the running of the first race the Beacon Graduation over 2250m.  As the race was in progress a car used for transporting the stewards to the towers around the course was driven onto the track in front of the oncoming field.  The 11 runners scrambled to get around the car which had come to rest side on to the inside rail and while 10 horses got past Storm Comet could not avoid the car suffering a broken hind leg.  Infantryman went on to win the race from deadheaters Tinty Sailor and Take.  Reportedly the driver had been delayed getting to the course due to an accident holding up traffic and once on track he found that the normal access gate was closed.  So upon finding another gate open the driving flew onto the track but at the last moment realised the inside gate was closed with the car coming to a halt in front of the field.

In the early 1990s Cheltenham had its grandstand rebuilt for a cost of around $12 million and in the late 1990s the horse stalls were also completely rebuilt.


Jeune

In more recent times Cheltenham was the venue of Jeune's first up run of his 1994 Melbourne Cup campaign finishing second to talented sprinter Barway.  Jeune went on to be Horse of the Year before going on to great success at stud.  In April 1998 locally trained 3yo Gold Guru appeared in an exhibition gallop after his return from a Sydney campaign where he had won the AJC Derby and defeated Might and Power in the Ranvet Stakes.
 

In Oct 2001 Lindsay Park brought a talented horse called Fields of Omagh to Cheltenham to race as he had been repeatedly balloted from races in Victoria.  After winning decisively Fields of Omagh went on to win a Stakes race at Victoria Park then won two races at the Victorian Spring carnival before going amiss.  He returned from injury to win the 2003 WS Cox Plate.

For three years straight Fields of Omagh took part in exhibition gallops at Cheltenham each July as a lead up to his spring campaign and in 2006 he galloped with Tawqeet and Viz Vitae.  While Viz Vitae was later injured Fields of Omagh went on to win the WS Cox Plate for a second time with Tawqeet winning the Group 1 double of the AJC Metropolitan Hcp and Caulfield Cup before starting favourite in the Melbourne Cup.  Fields of Omagh returned to Cheltenham one last time in December 2006 for a farewell exhibition gallop after leading out the field for the Christmas Hcp.

The winner of the 2006 Christmas Hcp was Royal Ida who had won the race the previous year (however during the presentation in 2005 he took fright and hurdled the mounting yard fence before galloping along the home straight up to the home turn).  Royal Ida made history in Dec 2008 in winning his third Christmas Hcp becoming the only horse every to achieve the feat.

 


Royal Ida


Westace

In Jan 2002 there was one of the most remarkable sights to be seen on the track.  During the week the resident ducks were often seen wandering across from the centre of the track into the mounting yard through a small access gate.  That particular afternoon the ducks decided to lead their ducklings across the track just as the Queen Adelaide Stakes was in progress.  Only metres before the winning post the ducks got halfway across the track as the field turned for home but then they stopped realising that the gate was closed (not to mention several photographers in the area waiting for the race finish).  Too late for officials to take action the field bore down on the ducks with the adults taking off at the last second and the numerous ducklings dropping to the ground as the 2yos thundered over them.  Most of the horses held their line but Red Labelle who had appeared set for victory  was in front and shied as the birds appeared in front of her leaving Westace finishing hard down the outside to claim victory.

 In May 2005 Cheltenham saw the final running for the SA St Leger which in the past had been won by Melbourne Cup winners Tawriffic, Just a Dash, Rainbird and King Ingoda plus WS Cox Plate winner So Called.  The race had been previously held at Victoria Park and Morphettville but its final edition was at Cheltenham.

Cheltenham was also the venue of a midweek gallop of Miss Finland, Tawqeet, Black Tom (Perth Cup), Lazer Sharp (SAJC Derby, VRC St Leger) which was to be a lead up for Miss Finland's 4yo debut in the Penny Edition Stakes on 24 August 2007.  That was the day that EI shutdown racing across Australia.  Miss Finland was then rushed across to Victoria for a hard fought win in the Memsie stakes (the last of her career) instead of what was expected to be a hard held victory at Cheltenham.

By earlier this decade the idea of selling Cheltenham again started to be reignited and despite many protests it was confirmed by two meetings of members in 2004 and 2005.  The announcement that the sale had been finalised was made in 2008 and on February 21 2009 Cheltenham held its last race meeting with Lady Avacan winning the final race.  It has now become the precinct of St Clair.


Lady Avacan winning the final Cheltenham race


                

 

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