17 November 2011 - Records went in all directions at the opening meeting of Bendigo’s Lord’s Raceway 57 years ago. It was a sensational debut for night racing with an on-course attendance record established for a provincial trotting track and a long shot winner racing into the history books.
Experts praised the new venue and rated the racetrack and floodlights as better than any other in Melbourne. “The lighting of the track is par excellence, and the paddock, car park, layout of the bookmakers stands and the lighting of the same, are far superior to any in Melbourne,” Trotting scribe ‘Rastus’ wrote in the Footscray Trotting Round Up. Another trotting writer, the then voice of trotting Bruce Skeggs described Lord's Raceway, the first half-mile circuit in Victoria to be lit, as a "dream". On Sunday the Bendigo Harness Racing Club celebrates the anniversary of the historical inaugural race night with the first official running of the Anniversary Trophy on the Club's state-of-the-art track at a twilight race meeting commencing at 5:51pm. A good crowd is expected for the evening’s racing which will feature the main trophy race and a special track workout between races one and two by the yet to be named charity 2yo filly “Addy” raced by the Bendigo Advertiser’s 550 Race for Fun Club members. But even the year’s best attendance for the Harness Club could not go anywhere near matching the 14,000 people that were on track on Wednesday night, 17 November 1954 at Lord’s Raceway. The Bendigo Advertiser newspaper reported that Whittlesea mare New Boreen won the first race under lights and landed a big betting plunge from 5-1 into 7-4 favourite but it was James Dillon that grabbed the headlines, establishing a record that may never be broken when he won the feature Galvin Handicap. James Dillon, the backmarker on a 48 yard handicap, paid a dividend of 412/1. Only two five shilling (50c) winning tote tickets were placed on James Dillon, a former Western Australian pacer who was posted at odds of 33/1 in the bookmakers betting ring. It was reported that from 6:00pm onwards cars streamed out of Bendigo to the raceway, a seven kilometre distance, and policemen on duty had a busy time directing traffic before and after the event. There was a traffic jam for almost the entire trip. At 9:15pm, almost an hour and a half after the first race was run cars were still entering the track bumper to bumper. Lord’s Raceway filled to capacity and people were turned away. Some of Victoria’s best stables were represented on Bendigo harness racing’s opening night which featured a seven race program with field numbers of up to 24 starters in a single race. Local trainer/driver Ted Zimmer was just a young tacker then and he drove in three races. Just 24 years old then, Ted likened the opening night to a big night at the Melbourne Showgrounds. “The people came from everywhere, don’t know how many actually paid to get into the races but they were lined deep around the entire track, it was a terrific atmosphere,” Zimmer said. Another young driver competing was Des Rothacker, who still attends the races as a BHRC member most weeks at Bendigo. “I had four drives (on opening night) and didn’t do any good on any of them,” Rothacker said. “The track was like driving at a colosseum with the crowd giving you plenty of advice as they lined the fences around the track.”The driver’s list in the race book read like a who’s who of trotting with Gordon, Albert and Des Rothacker, Ken Pocock, Albert and Neville Gath, Hugh and Colin Redwood, Bob Knight, Alf Simons, Lou Welsh, Clarrie Long, Phonse Hickey, Des Ritchie, Dal Fitzpatrick, Norm Mannix, Bob Parker, Des Mann, Ted Zimmer and Hec Dunbar among those who drove at the Bendigo meeting. Sunday’s Anniversary Trophy will become a feature race in Bendigo with the Club’s marketing chairman Darren McPhail explaining that the Club intends to develop the race into a major Cup race in years to come. “We are proud of our heritage and we want to celebrate our Anniversary each year,” McPhail said. “Our General Manager is seeking a major sponsor for the race so that we can elevate the status of this important Cup in the future. It’s a really good opportunity for the Club to develop another feature race day and increase our profile.” - David Aldred