SA BOTRA 1940’s

Trotting was really starting to take off in the 1940’s. A lot of the early “teething” problems were sorted and it was onwards and upwards.

The 1940’s was a very hectic decade. There was drama, intrigue and conflict.

SA BOTRA continued to hold their meetings in Mr Arnold’s shop which was on Victoria Square. Names of “regular” committeemen included Mr Woollatt, Mr Arnold, Mr Messenger, Mr Craig, Mr Bowyer, Mr Raw, Mr Thompson, Mr Huelin, Mr Butterworth, Mr Wilson, Mr Fryar, Mr Angus, Mr Webster and Mr Lacey. Of course not all of the above mentioned gentlemen were on the committee at the same time. However, each person named served more than two years on the SA BOTRA committee in the 40’s.

In the paragraphs below I will try and present you with an insight into some of the issues that SA BOTRA worked through in the 1940’s. 

Assessment of interstate horses was a point of concern and much debate in the 1940’s. As the sport took hold in SA, interstate horses flooded across the border eager to race for the very generous stakes on offer in SA. SA BOTRA, the SA Trotting Club and the SA Trotting Board spent a lot of time trying to come up with a fair system. The interstate horses were more than welcome but SA BOTRA did not want their appearance to adversely affect the “locals”. After years of too and froing it became clear that a national handicapping system was needed.

In late 1940 the Metropolitan Council moved to take control of all training venues in and around Adelaide. A bylaw (no 56) was passed declaring all public grounds be run under the control and auspices of the council. The council was answerable only to parliament. SA BOTRA was certainly against this move and sought legal advice regarding this matter.

SA BOTRA appointed 3 delegates to meet with a council representation and a parliamentary committee to discuss the new bylaw (no. 56). A petition was also compiled and sent to council. The petition was declared null and void because some of the names on it were deemed ineligible. Despite strongly worded letters of concern and meetings with authorities all efforts to rescind bylaw 56 failed.

In 1941 SA BOTRA wrote to council and the Trotting League regarding the state of the training tracks in and around Adelaide. SA BOTRA urged the authorities to form a select committee to inspect all SA public training tracks. The condition of some training tracks (Weigall Oval and Thebarton in particular) was bordering on dangerous. SA BOTRA listed the issues with the tracks, namely pot holes, low lying spots, corrugated surfaces, crumbling running rails, wash bay facilities and rickety tie up stalls and urged the council to act on them ASAP.

It is interesting to note that in 1941, after several meetings a promise was made by the sitting member of parliament to the effect that those people training horses on public tracks would be looked after. It was promised that the council and government would never do anything detrimental to Trotting in SA.

The safety of the horses and participants has been a consistent thread in SA BOTRA’s DNA throughout the decades. It was true way back in the 1930’s and it is still high on SA BOTRAs agenda today. I have included some examples of the safety and well-being issues SA BOTRA tackled in the 1940’s below.

In 1942 SA BOTRA approached the SA Trotting Club and suggested (in writing) that the parade ring at Wayville should be upgraded. The surface was pitted with “potholes”, the lighting was sub-standard, the driver’s seats in the middle of the ring were falling apart and too many people had access to the area.

Further to this SA BOTRA elected a sub-committee whose job it was to meet with the Show Committee and discuss the running rail on the inside of the Wayville track – apparently it was “loose” in some places. The lighting of the track, the track surface and the public toilet facilities in all areas were other concerns that SA BOTRA had regarding the Showgrounds circuit.

The outcome in all these matters was positive. The Show Committee were very forthcoming in attending to these matters.

As it happened, Wayville became the place to be and the upgrades were a win win for all concerned.

In 1943 SA BOTRA demanded that “weight bags” be uniform across the board. Drivers had to be above a minimum weight and many “lightweight” drivers carried lead bags.

At the time all the drivers had to do was weigh out and be above the set weight. In most cases lead was carried in the seat pads by light weight drivers – but it was not mandatory.

It was commonplace back in those days for the lead cushions to fall off during a race. There were many stories of lead bags falling off mid race when there was seemingly no interference whatsoever. There was a hue and cry that drivers could get an unfair advantage if their lead bag “fell off”.

SA BOTRA also maintained that cushions with lead weights in them that were not fastened to the sulky in some fashion was a dangerous practice and they wrote a letter asking the Trotting Control Board to introduce a uniform set of rules.  

As a committee, SA BOTRA liaised with clubs regularly. In one instance in 1944 SA BOTRA wrote to the Gawler Trotting Club asking that spare sulkies not be put right next to the running rail so as not spook the horses. SA BOTRA also asked that appropriate people be placed around the track to “clean up” any debris left behind after falls.

In 1944 SA BOTRA suggested to all clubs that stablehands who were actively engaged on a race night should not be charged the admission fee to come in.

SA BOTRA continued to advocate 8 race programs in the 1940’s.

On a lighter note it was decided that SA BOTRA place advertisements in the News and the Advertiser in late 1944 and thereafter, advising the public of the annual Social/Dance. This annual event became a highlight on the SA social calendar. People of prominence and profile were more than keen to attend the “Dance”. Tickets sold out before the ink was dry. As far as I can make out the “best tickets in town” cost around $1.20 a double.

Pictures and embellished reports about the Dance dominated the social pages of both newspapers.

In December of 1944 Mr Lush (delegate from the Advertiser ) met with SA BOTRA and proposed all trial dates, race meetings, association meetings and articles of interest would be printed in the Advertiser, as long as the information was forwarded to them regularly and before set print times.

In 1945 SA BOTRA wrote a letter to the Trotting Control Board asking that races with too many noms. be divided and run as two separate races.

SA BOTRA suggested that horses that deadheated not lose a front (go up in class). They argued that horses only received half of the stake when they deadheated. Dead heats were quite common back in the day. Obviously the photo finish cameras were nowhere near as sophisticated as todays. The judge had to make the call and with only a grainy black and white photo to go on “deadheats” were often declared.

In late 1945 SA BOTRA was embroiled in intrigue. Mr Craig tendered his resignation from SA BOTRA. He stated that Mr Messenger had canvassed against him at a SA Trotting Club election. There was much heated discussion regarding this matter. Mr Craig’s resignation was accepted reluctantly. The committee insisted that his service and contribution to SA BOTRA were made public. SA BOTRA did not want anyone to think that the reason for Mr Craig’s resignation had been anything untoward.

It is a rarity to find details regarding such a falling out in the SA BOTRA minutes.  

A month later Mr Messenger resigned from the Assessment Committee. Interestingly, Mr Craig took over that position.

In early 1946 Mr Messenger resigned from SA BOTRA. Mr Craig was voted back onto the SA BOTRA Committee and was duly elected President.

I do not know exactly what went on but it seems that Mr Craig and Mr Messenger had their differences and butted heads. Notwithstanding their obvious antagonism towards each other, both men were deeply entrenched in the sport and gave outstanding service to SA BOTRA and Trotting.

In 1946 the SA Trotting League discussed the viability and longevity of day meetings. They declared that day meetings should be axed, for the greater good of the industry. SA BOTRA went straight on the front foot and strongly opposed the move.

Who knows if SA BOTRA’s very vocal support of day meetings made a difference but in any event day meetings remained and have been run regularly for the past 80 years.

In 1946 Mr Bowyer tabled a set of rules and regulations for a Spider Fund. There were 14 points outlined in detail in Mr Bowyer’s “Spider Fund”. It was accepted by way of a unanimous vote and was up and running within a month of being tabled for consideration.

Over the years the Spider Fund has enabled trainers to get their sulkies fixed and back in working order after crashes with a minimum of fuss. In general, the Spider Fund was well received by industry participants in the 1940’s and across the decades has undoubtedly been one of the main reasons people took out an SA BOTRA membership.

In 1947 SA BOTRA ran trials at Thebarton. The trials were very well attended by the general public. There would quite often be 12 – 15 trials and each trial often had more than 12 starters. The profits from the trials were put back into improving the track at Thebarton.

In the late 1940’s (during WW11) petrol rationing and spiraling costs of petrol became the norm. The war was taking its toll on the day to day lives of everyone. SA BOTRA assisted members who had horses running at country meetings by providing them with petrol subsidies.

In 1947 SA BOTRA suggested that the overall stakemoney allotted for each meeting be more evenly distributed across the races at that meeting. Back then it was the norm for the fast class horses to be running for lucrative purses which meant the rest of the races were not worth much at all. SA BOTRA pursued this matter on behalf of the many owners who were not happy with the distribution of stakemoney.

There was so much happening in the 1940’s. I have only scratched the surface. To elaborate on everything else that SA BOTRA involved itself with would take another four pages so I will condense the rest down into note form.

SA BOTRA was involved in the following things in the late 1940’s.

The re-designing of Thebarton Oval, organizing a SA yearling sale for trotters only, allowing horses to stay overnight that came from the country and were competing at Wayville, SA BOTRA argued that adjourned enquiries be held ASAP after a meeting so as not to penalize drivers wanting to secure drives for the next meeting, SA BOTRA approved a petrol allowance for nominated members who travelled to country areas to attract new members, SA BOTRA suggested that nominated person(s) inspect horses entered for sales to make sure they were healthy, properly groomed and well-presented physically and with suitable head collars and leads etc.

SA BOTRA objected to the fact that the President of the SA Trotting League was not on the panel of delegates (4) who were going to the Interdominion Championships in NZ given that SA was to host the next Interdominion in 1948.

SA BOTRA asked that Thebarton be used for reinstating barred horses and educating and “testing” new drivers.

SA BOTRA organised and liased with SA Transport regarding train boxes suitable for transporting horses to and from race meetings in the country areas.

SA BOTRA took control of the trials run at Colonel Gardens in 1948.

SA BOTRA affiliated with the South East clubs in 1949.

Well, there you have it. Trotting was growing into a major event in SA and SA BOTRA were on the front foot. They actively engaged in as many “things” as possible. It was exciting and challenging at the same time. Things picked up even more in the 1950’s. See you then.