Talking trots and Trotsky and the distribution of dog tracks


This is a call to arms, all Almanackers are needed, to solve one of the great Australian riddles, one that has befuddled many a Friday morning breakfast, filled many a Magic Sponge planning session back when FBI Radio was cool (i.e. when they gave us 90 mins a week to talk sport), and could have been an honours thesis, if anyone could be bothered.

Just how do you explain the pattern of trot tracks in Australia, especially SE Australia?

Why are trots huge in urban areas, and fringe urban, and then only restricted to pockets elsewhere? In NSW, there’s a Hunter cluster, a Riverina cluster, a Western Slopes cluster – but generally nothing in the Northern Rivers, Mid-North Coast or South Coast (Nowra may be the most southerly TAB meeting in NSW?)

In Victoria, there’s the SE cluster around Cranbourne etc, the Murray towns and the Western Districts and Wimmera – but nothing along that beautiful, long western coast?

Our friend Peter B will be here soon to explore some potential links in the pattern to the value of agriculture. These may align with a view we had developed that the type of agriculture in an area might lead to a surfeit of standard-bred horses, providing the raw material for trots.

Could it be that greyhound tracks use less land, Von Thunen at work as ever?

It might have something to do with immigration? By all accounts trots are enormous in Scandinavia but non-existent in the UK? Their loss! There are also distinct patterns in the US.

What’s your theory? And what’s the most bizarre or remote dog or trot track you’ve been to?

The best I can do is Appin Dogs before Plugger discovered it. I’m sure my dad would have dragged us to some obscure grass trot tracks back in the day, his instinct stronger than any modern Gambling Positioning System. My favourite is probably Richmond with its strange camber and long, overgrown straight, a better site for an airport I have never seen. I did see a trot training track when I looked out the window on my first plane trip to Europe – somewhere north of Athens they get it!

Anyway, dive in with your pop culture analysis and your confessionals. I’ll try and drive some traffic to this blog because some of us have been talking about this for too long, in this slow news decade in Sydney…

Cheers, Pete!

About Peter Warrington

Richmond fan; Kim Hughes tragic; geographer; kids' book author; Evertonian; Manikato; Harold Park trots 1980; father of two; cat lover, dancer with dogs; wannabe PJ HArvey backing vocalist; delusional...


  1. Crankster,

    Trots are HUGE in Scandinavia. The Elitloppet is a huge carnival in Sweden and considered to be the premier Grp 1 Harness Racing event in the world.

    You haven’t lived until you’ve seen French Harness Racing. When they actually get underway, that is. Stewards in France are super fastidious about starting with a perfect line. It’s nothing to have four or five false starts before things get underway and if a runner gallops, that’s all she wrote. Automatic DQ – do not pull the horse back into stride, you’re outta there. The French cards also have at least one Monty each meeting. I know Sky Racing used to show French Harness on a Tuesday night, whether they still do or not, I can’t say. I can say that French Harness was covered here as part of the deal that allowed Sky to show French Gallops like the Prix del Arc de triomphe and other French group 1’s.

    [No trotting tracks] along that beautiful, long western coast? Mate, all roads lead to Terang Harness for the annual Dick and Anne Box Memorial Cup!

    I think the positioning of tracks is to do with breeding centres. Victoria’s premier harness track is in Melton which has an enormous standardbred industry in the region (see also Maryborough and Ballarat). But in light of applying this to Menangle in western Sydney or Albion Park in Brisbane, I’m not sure if this theory stands. In Victoria though, I’ll wager it’s to do with breeding and training and the remnants of the former popularity of the Trots (In Vic, the wagering $ is pretty heavily weighted towards gallops, then the Dogs, with Harness daylight for third.)

    The surf coast (Vic’s western coast) is pretty heavy with gallops stables. I honestly don’t know why this doesn’t translate into standardbreds though.

  2. Peter i was concerned to see the word Trotsky in the heading. Thank goodness that subject matter ended there !!!


  3. Cranky, did a quick squiz at the race calendar for the Cheats on Seats and the Dishies for Victoria, and surprised to see the Dishies use only 14 tracks (including Lang Lang and Longwood) whilst it appears the Lion Tamers use 25.
    The Dishies have given the Trots a bath in turnover for years now, maybe because the Dishies are over so quickly.
    In Years gone by the Trots were rivalling the Gallops for popularity( before the gallops went to 7 days), once upon a time there was no Gallops on Monday and Friday (let alone Sunday!) so the Lion Tamers got a free hit.
    Used to love the Trots, but that was in the Adios, Armagh, Maori, era, Kilmore Cup was massive, when the Pure Steels and Paleface Adios’s were going around, but alas no more.
    Steve, in an era of low attendances at all codes, places like Mornington and Stoney Creek always have ripper crowds in January with beach goers, reckon the Bellarine could have a niche little track… in any of the 3 codes and maybe have 2 meetings a year, 1 at Easter and 1 in January

  4. oh well it was his birthday the other week. he could run and swim and hunt and write and organise an army, but not sure how good he was in the sulky

  5. Halwes. The best. Big Poppy fan of course. We did Harold Park every Friday for a lifetime, the Lucky Creed era. Perc Hall. Et al. Marvellous theatre. Best to look on, of course.

    As for Terang, not being a Vic, I guess I was more think the “Bool and Portland.

    Anyway, let’s build this metatheory up to the sky!

  6. Quick turnover of the slow ones is the name of the game if you want to be a successful trainer. I’m sure they learned that from Trotsky or Stalin. I heard old Crocodile Joe telling KenCallender after they put another Cup runner down “One horse dies its a tragedy. A thousand die its a statistic.”

  7. Back to the Test. My theory is that its all related to money (what isn’t)? Racing in all its forms stems from our agricultural heritage, when Australia rode on the sheep (or the thoroughbred’s) back. Everyone had a horse or a dog in the backyard. My grandad in the mid north of SA around Spalding had a coursing dog – Twisting Jenny. Couldn’t afford to feed or house a horse – but a greyhound for live coursing was a workingman’s sport in the 30’s long before lures and tracks and TAB’s.
    Geography + Rainfall + Good Soil = Money = Thoroughbred Owners, Breeders trainers etc. Archer walked down to Melbourne for the 1861 Cup from the rich country around Braidwood in SW NSW, not from Balranald. Prime thoroughbred racing and breeding areas are all in the lush country – NZ, Adelaide Hills, Western Victoria and the area around Port Phillip Bay, the Hunter Valley and coastal NSW, SE Queensland, SW WA.
    Go inland where the rain peters out, the green grass disappears, and the soil is red or sand – you get standardbreds. Tough, easier to keep and feed. Have a look at all the 8yo pacers with 100 starts going around in Western NSW or Northern Victoria. Farmer gets up in the morning and jogs a couple around the sandy track in the home paddock. Breeds a good mare and has generations of handy progeny from the one line. It becomes inter-generational and the pride of the town. Bathurst Bulldog, Temora Tornado.
    Racing as a pastime not an industry.
    In the city the trotting trainers up to the 60’s had milk carts or bread carts. If you had stable in the backyard you could always train a couple of the quicker ones for Wayville or HP or the Showgrounds alongside the milk cart pullers. I can remember going to the Adelaide Royal Show at Wayville in the 60’s and the concluding highlight of the Grand Parade was the polished up bread vans with the racing standardbreds in the sulky, belting around the 3f track with the owner/drivers throwing yesterday’s bread rolls to the crowd. True story – talk about bread and circuses
    Workingman’s sideline. No squattocracy or lawyer’s indulgence there. A mate of mine’s first job as a social worker,in the 60’s, he had to visit a bloke going to court. He asked him if there was anything he could do for him if he went to jail. “Yeah feed the horse while I’m inside”. The bloke had a vegetable delivery round and the horse was his main asset.
    Reckon the dogs are the workingman’s substitute for standardbreds, now that we are more urbanised. No space for a stable, but you can fit in a kennel. Latrobe Valley seems to be keen on the dogs so that fits. And the dogs have crept in to the places where the standardbreds weren’t. Working men in the prosperous coastal areas – Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Nowra, Warrnambool. The recent “popularity” of the dogs is fed by the escalating turnover dividend from the gambling industry. The TAB’s and corporate bookies need to keep us (former) desperates glued to the spot in their shops or on our screens. 30 second dog races every 4 minutes is perfect. The next hit kicks in just before your mind turns to inconveniences like wives, kids, jobs or customers. Pavlov’s Dogs.
    Nice one CP. Like old soldiers sharing war stories. When it comes to corporate gambling and advertising can I be Cranky Pete II?

  8. Pete, that Wayville Show memory is my favourite “can’t shake it”image – I visualise Tom Hardy in Peaky Blinders baker mode, hurling the bread and the insults. Where was youtube when you needed it!

    I am thinking I need an update on the moniker, it was awarded to me by a friend’s toddler about 12 years ago and I think I was squinting into the sun! looks good on a jam label. it’s yours is you want it…

    RiolitoRichmondandhelloflag! is what I am considering adopting. GO TIGES!

  9. Scott McIntyre says

    Great topic, Peter. I love this kind of thing – regional variations in Australian customs.

    I was born and bred in the heart of your “Riverina cluster”, in Leeton, NSW. To give Almanackers an idea of the place that harness racing has in that pocket of Australia, I’ll mention that our most well-known and beloved Shire President, Mr Lin Gordon, is commemorated not by a civic reception centre or public park, but by the Lin Gordon Paceway, a harness racing track. A highly accomplished man, Lin Gordon is remembered equally as well for breeding Pure Steel as he is for achieving ministerial rank in the Wran government.

    I’ll go along with Peter B on the whole grass and money thesis, and also throw in space and distance from (for want of a better term) the established social/racing squattocracy.

    Space-wise, the soldier settler-type blocks around Leeton were not huge, and once you put the majority of your block under irrigation for fruit or rice, you probably don’t have the space for housing or breeding or or training thoroughbreds. Carving out a section of your property for a small trotting track or even an area where horses could be walked was more practical. Back when I was a kid, and many of the local roads not yet bitumened, it was a common sight when driving along a dusty back road to come up behind a bloke in a sulky, working a pacer. The old dirt road out to Yanco used to run parallel to the new bitumened road to Yanco. It was an everyday thing to see horses being worked up and down the old Yanco road. If I came upon a scene like that as an adult, I would think it utterly charming, but as a kid I thought nothing of it, because it was just a part of normal life. I think the old Yanco road has now been paved and turned into a bicycle track.

    My dad had a lot of mates who worked working-class jobs by day, but who owned a little patch of a few acres around the outskirts of town, where they could cat-shag around with a bucolic hobby like breeding dogs or raising a handful of cattle or so. My own dad was a small-scale irrigation orchardist in his spare time. Quite often when Dad was doing his Saturday morning rounds of dropping in on his mates to borrow a chainsaw or to lend a hand with getting a cow on a trailer or something, you would drive into a rural block on Merungle Hill or Corbie Hill, and out the back of the joint would be a stable, a couple of sulkies leaning against the shed, two or three standardbreds being fed and watered or exercised around a pocket-hanky-sized walking track.

    The type of people who were drawn to a place like Leeton were not, by and large, the types of people who would have extensive connections to the Sydney/Hunter racing/social scene, with a desire to set up a branch office of that milieu in the far west. The prospect of growing fruit or rice on a smallish irrigated block, as opposed to running sheep or cattle on an enormous spread, suited former soldiers and immigrants of relatively modest means from around the world. Without the social aspirations and/or time and/or capital to establish a thoroughbred racing scene, but being rural people with an affinity for horses, it was natural for a harness racing culture to spring up.

    Anyway – take my theorising with a grain of salt. My reading on the local culture around my home town is wide-ish, but by no means deep.

    Thanks again for the excellent topic. Looking forward to more excellent geography-based discussions in the future.

  10. Brilliant. Fantastic social geography.

    So can we dtermine why the pre-conditions wouldn’t exist nearer the coast? Why dogs would be dominant up North eg Lismore Casino?

  11. Scott McIntyre says

    Dunno about the dogs. I do know that coursing was an incredibly popular sport all around country NSW in the early part of the 20th century, and that most towns in the Riverina, even in the west of the Riverina, had coursing clubs. Leeton, Narrandera, West Wyalong, Griffith – I know that coursing was big in all these types of joints. Looking at the list of extant tracks in NSW, the only towns even in that general area where greyhound racing still exists are Albury and Cowra, both on the eastern periphery of the Riverina.

    In my own home town of Leeton, the coursing club actually made a leasing arrangement with the cricket association in the early 30s to set up a “tin hare racing” track at No. 1 Oval, and greyhound racing looked like it would proceed in the town, but there was such a hue and cry, led by the Ministers Fraternal and some prominent citizens, that the council convened a special meeting and knocked the whole idea firmly on the head. Maybe other western towns had a similar wowser-based problem with getting the dogs up as a public entertainment. Delving into Trove, it does look like there was a general controversy based around tin hare racing when it was first introduced, with tut-tutting about working people spending money on gambling during a depression.

    Jack Lang seems to have come in on the side of the tin hare, though, defending the working man’s sport and arguing that it should have equal standing with coursing. I can imagine that places like Cessnock, Dapto, Lithgow, Maitland might have had a higher concentration of urbanised working wage-earners than some of the more westerly towns, which might explain how they would be more successful in getting greyhound racing up as an approved sport and then keeping it viable. Why it also took hold in the North Coast, I don’t know.

  12. Ditto Petes. In the early seventies my Dad took us to the trotts at the Wayville showgrounds in Adelaide. Very boring for a young kid. My only real memory was getting my very own box of Fantales.
    Attended Globe Derby several times as an adult but it was a long trip from Seaview Downs.
    I’m pretty sure the Marion Rams Footy club still have a trotting track around the oval, used often for trackwork.
    My one and only trip to the Rocklea trotts in Brisbane was also the only time I ever went home with extra cash in my pocket.

  13. Scott – your insights into sports and social history show how “morality” is a moveable feast over time. In the 30’s the animal killing implicit in coursing was accepted as a normal part of life. Rabbits were a pest ruining farmland and livelihoods. A rabbit trapper was an established skill and livelihood. We caught rabbits in steel traps in the 60’s for gran to stew. Having the dogs catch and kill a few in coursing was a welcome spin off. However the human cruelty to wives, kids and punters from the addictive propensities of gambling was strongly debated.
    Forward 80 years and society is up in arms about live baiting and the greyhound trainers are in deep trouble. But every night the TV bombards us with ads and “special offers” of human cruelty via corporate bookies, and the fastest growing part of their turnover (because of the fast addictive repetition) is greyhound races. Pokies on 4 legs, with governments taking a big cut of the profits.
    Strange days.
    These are a couple of interesting historical articles I found on the web about the “tin hare racing” political debate in NSW in the 20’s and 30’s.

  14. Peter Warrington says

    What a brilliant thread. You guys have taken a simple, pretty irrelevant, question, and created an incredible baklava of history and sociology, and personal journey. Gotta love geography!

  15. Scott McIntyre says

    Peter B – quite so. The background to the example that I gave above, with a town council knocking proposed tin hare racing on the head due to a moral outcry, is that the very same coursing club that made the proposal had been operating on land officially leased from the council for perhaps 10 or more years, with full approval. In short, local government gave its imprimatur to a sport involving dogs chasing down and killing a live animal, whilst banning a sport involving dogs chasing a fake animal. Topsy-Turvy by today’s standards.

  16. Hamish Neal says

    Great topic Peter, I have had a bit to do with various tracks mainly around the ACT but some population aspects are seeing achange in the ACT/NSW.

    Starting with the ACT, there was talk some time ago, late 90s/early 2000s, that all three codes would be bought together at the current gallops site. (near where you enter Canberra if you are coming from Sydney) The harness track is over the road at the Exhibition Park complex but the greys are over the other side of town (30 mins or so drive) I can’t recall why it never happened but I suspect it was maybe to do with any sale of the greys site at Narrabundah. The current trots/gallops locations are near an area of population increase in the ACT so are easier to get to and have a chance to capture more new fans, sort of like Menangle’s location to a degree (although moving out of the city centre in Sydney is a whole other piece.)

    Goulburn was added to the mix and seems to have gone well. Again with population increase and plans for expanded towns like Wilton north of the Hume Highway to Sydney Goulburn becomes more viable to participants.

    Newcastle is an interesting one as the current site, and this gets to a point about other community usage, still hosts (I think) touch football a few nights a week in the middle of the track. The land would have big value as it’s centrally located in Newcastle which is part of a mooted move to a site west of the city (close to the M1 Freeway) Any super track there probably marginalises Maitland more but they would still have the odd meeting as a point of difference venue I guess. The move to the western corridor of Newcastle/Lake Macquarie is similar to Menangle in that it’s close to a major road and easier for travelling participants to get to. The Maitland track is primarily used as a greyhound track and the location means any expansion is virtually impossible so a larger harness track is out of the question hence the move to a bigger venue in western Newcastle I guess.

    Interestingly there was once a harness track at Wyong on the Central Coast, I think the last of the meetings there were in early 2000 but that was inside the gallops track. Probably never viable due to a lack of trainers in the region. I’m not even sure if the facility could house more harness trainers as the gallops stables are fairly restricted as far as I know anyway. Not much more space to expand.

  17. Thanks Hamish. I have to admit I have been to Wyong trots. And dogs…

    I wonder what impact the Hunter Expressway might have on location decisions. connects the Upper Hunter to places west of Lake Macquarie pretty easily now?

    Great stuff!

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