Ballan Jockey Club celebrates 150 years

TOM Kennedy remembers well one of the defining moments in the long history of the Ballan Jockey Club.

It was 43 years ago – the last racing meeting at the Ballan Racecourse.

Kennedy was there, although at the time no one knew it would be their last one at the venue. 

“We didn’t know it was our last,” the BJC life member and past president said.

It was March, 1969.

“The Racecourse Licensing Board de-licensed the course because the facilities were not up to an acceptable standard.”

While the racing experience was lost to the town, it did not mean the end of the Ballan Jockey Club.

Far from it.

The BJC remains a vibrant entity and celebrates its 150th anniversary with the running of the $30,000 Ballan Cup at Geelong tomorrow.

The club, which nowadays has just the one race meeting a year, initially went to Ballarat to race.

“We had a vote that decided we would hold a trial meeting in Ballarat – and that’s where we stayed until 2000,” Kennedy said.

“It was very disheartening.”

So much so that some wanted to shut sown the club rather thn continue racing on another track.

BJC vice-president Mick Winter was only five years-old when the track closed, but still remembers snippets of the glamorous race days in the town.

“I remember my dad parking by the rails and my grandfather working as the clerk of scales,” Winter said.

“People used to catch the train to Bradshaw and walk to the races.

“They took the horses on the train, and would walk them down to the track, too,” he said.

While it is more than 40 years since the racecourse was used for the purpose it was developed, remnants of those glory days remain on a site now used by the Ballan Pony Club, harness racing enthusiasts and a machinery club.

There are what was the jockeys’ room, the track, the 200m pole and a grass mound on which spectators gathered in a tight knit group at the finish line.

There are chairs that almost certainly go back more than 100 years outside the jockeys’ room. 

“They would be the original chairs, after the jockey paid for the horse, they came out and sat there waiting for their race,” Kennedy said. 

“We held a lot of races back then – there would have been four or five a year,” he said.

“And it wasn’t the Ballan Cup, it was the President’s Cup.”

Winter said some of the best Australian jockeys rode on the track, including the legendary Roy Higgins.

Although these days the Ballan Jockey Club races at Geelong, Winter says it remains about the Ballan community.

“It was completely ran by local people,” Winter said. 

“From the people who put the scratchings up, to controlling the parking.”

nicole.cairns@thecourier.com.au

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