It was reported in the Mount Ararat Advertiser on Saturday, December 12th, 1858 that the first meeting of the Great Western Race Club was to be held on Monday, December 28th, 1858.
It was to be held in a paddock near the Concongella Creek, adjacent to Mr. B. Cook's Half Way House Hotel at the junction of Stephenson Street and the road to Best's Winery.
At the time, the little village was not even 12 months old. At that first meeting, there were four races held - two races over two miles and two races over one mile. The names of the races being the Hack Race, the Tradesman's Purse, the Hack Hurdle race and the Hurry Scurry.
The first three races carried a prize purse of 10 sovereigns and the last a prize of 5 sovereigns.
Racing was restricted to the horses of owners living within 12 miles of Great Western and the main race, the Tradesmen's Purse, drew a field of three starters. The surplus for that first meeting was 16 pounds and it was donated to the Ararat Hospital.
On May 21st, 1867, a site for a Racing and Recreation Reserve was gazetted. It was to be on the south boundary of the Cemetery Reserve and was to cover an area of 115 acres. The Committee of Management was Andrew Stewart, Joseph Best and Jean Pierre Troutte. After the shift, in the late 1870s, the Race Club went into recession for a few years because of more interest being shown in the larger Boxing Day meetings being held at Stawell, Wickliffe and Mount Cole.
It took quite a few years before the race meeting was up and running again, but by 1899 racing was again being conducted, now under the rules of the VRC. In the 1900s attractions added for the convenience of patrons included bicycle and hurdle races, handicap quoit matches, a skittle alley, pony rides and sideshows.
In the early 1900s, the Great Western Races became one of the most popular sporting and social events in the district outside the Stawell Gift. It remains so to this day. A novel innovation in 1938 had made the meeting the unique event which it has become. In that year, a Champagne Bar was introduced - possibly at the time, the only Champagne Bar at a race meeting in Australia. This is now a popular feature.
Some of the men with a long service to the club include, Ab lllig, Eric Thomson, Don McKay, George Dunn, Bill McKinnis and Russell Dalkin. Current President Mr Carl Barry has been in the position for the last 19 years. Late last year he received an award from Country Racing Victoria for his long and dedicated service to the industry.
Now, many years after that first meeting, little has changed, with the Great Western Race Club still conducting a successful and popular race meeting each January.
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