Lost racecourses 5 – Cheltenham Park

Grandstand at Cheltenham Park

Grandstand at Cheltenham Park

Until 2009 Gloucestershire was not the only place to host racing at Cheltenham. As early as 1895 the suburb of Cheltenham, about five miles north west of central Adelaide had a track known as Cheltenham Park.

Racing there proved very popular, with the circuit having its own railway station with direct access to the course. Like many racetracks, Cheltenham Park became a military training camp during the First World War; something, which was to prove the focus of a new battleground once racing, had come to an end there.

After WW1, Port Adelaide Racing Club bought the site for £25,000 and ran racing there for over 50 years. It was never a major course, and its only notable claim to fame is that 1961 champion Australian horse Tulloch became the first to pass the £100,000 stakes winnings when taking the SJ Pullman stakes there.

In 1975 the South Australian Jockey Club took over running Cheltenham Park, and continued to manage it until the last meeting on 21 February 2009. The proceeds of Aus $85m went to fund much of the development of Adelaide’s newest track, Morphettville, which opened later that year. That set the scene for a major confrontation between preservation groups and the city council in Adelaide. The racecourse site was developed with 1200 new homes built on the site, with the council proposing to name the area St Clair. This provoked anger from war heritage preservation groups who wanted to retain the Cheltenham Park name.

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President of the Families and Friends of the First Australian Imperial Force, Russell Curley, urged a change of heart, saying, "We are disappointed to learn from the Cheltenham Park Residents Association that there is a proposal to change the name of Cheltenham Park. The Cheltenham Park Racecourse was a place of training and encampment for South Australian Diggers before they embarked for the battlefields of the First World War. For many of these men, it was the last place in Australia where they were billeted before being killed overseas in the service of their country. We respectfully urge you to resist all attempts to rename this historically significant place, out of respect for those who passed through it. We all owe a debt which was paid in their blood."

There were polarised claims of the public’s view of the name change, with the local council claiming a 3:1 majority favouring St Clair at a meeting of 600 residents, whilst an on line poll carried out on the adelaidenow website showed 712 people favouring retaining the Cheltenham Park name, and only 206 supporting a change.

I’m definitely on the side of maintaining the link with the past, but the debate continues whilst the building work goes on.

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