History of the Charlton Harness Racing Club



Uniquely nestled on the banks of the picturesque Avoca River sits the Charlton Harness Racing Club. Founded in 1910 ( then Trotting Club) races were held at the Old Racecourse in conjunction with pony gallops races. Due to the depression the club ceased operation in 1935.

It was not until 1948 the reformation of the club under the leadership of Victor Sait (President) and Ken Saliathiel (Secretary) and an enthusiastic committee of locals.

Acceptance of a uniquely designed three straight track, known as the egg, saw the beginning of innovative infrastructure and progressive thinking that continues to this day. Built under the guidance of engineer Jack Hocking, the Shire and the unswerving support and determination of farmers and volunteers, the vision of a new track took form. Dedicated to the cause were Ted Lambert, Andy Thompson and Dick Brereton who tackled the huge task of digging the hundreds of post holes required.

On the 16th of March 1951 the Hon. Keith Turnbull officially opened the track and a new era in Charlton Harness Racing had commenced. First honours went to Taska driven by Ken Pocock.

With no TAB funds available financing the club was difficult but was ably supported by the Ladies Auxiliary led by President Ivy Thompson and Secretary Ethel Perry. The ladies worked in the old Show Pavilion. Water was boiled in coppers and luncheon and afternoon teas were served in the earthen floored shed. Each year the club would receive a donation of 100 pounds from the Auxiliary which would finance the prize money for the first meeting of the year. Total prize money for each meeting was 250 pounds.

Charlton racing flourished with the opening of the track and enticed new trainers to reside here. Trainers of note in the district included the Thompsons, Allens, Glasheens, Breretons, Churchill, Hunter, Rowling, Hawkins, Ellard, Griffiths, Kelly, Soding, Lambert, Perry, McCallum, Hobbs, Donaldson, Cossar and Cadzow. We are proud of these names who helped to establish a racing tradition and prouder that many of them have endured to this day as important members of our current racing ‘ family’ here at Charlton.

Frank Noonan took over the Presidency in 1961 and although offered extra weekday meetings by the Trotting Control Board the club decided to race on weekends and holidays only. At this time locals began to produce many top line horses which included the likes of Major Miracle, Sarwatte, Turfmaster, Cheerful Jack, Alco Prince, Mac’s Wonder, Maid Of Honour and the Campbell horses which were victorious Australia wide.

1968 saw the upgrade of facilities funded by the Trotting Club Ladies Auxiliary, the Football Club, A and P Society and a government grant. These included change rooms, pavilion, kitchen and dining room. Later a kiosk and cool room were added to provide patrons with more functional and comfortable amenities.

With the change of President in 1965 Jack Rowling pioneered further progress successfully applying for a TAB meeting – the first held on a Friday in Victoria. This marked a turning point for the club, a fitting legacy for Jack who devoted himself to the club and served with distinction for many years.

George Cadzow worked tirelessly to raise the profile of the club through campaigning for more race dates and feature races. He implemented the development of the viewing area and grandstands and was honoured in later years with the George Cadzow Room being named in his honour.

George Cadzow and Matt Donaldson

George Cadzow and Matt Donaldson

As the club moved into the seventies successful local trainer Matt Donaldson took over the leadership and Charlton along with other Victorian Clubs received a percentage of betting dividends in order to upgrade further their facilities. And so a bar, administrative offices, driver’s change rooms, totalisator and ladies’ rest rooms were added.

Popular President Joe Roberts followed Matt Donaldson’s term and was well liked and supported with Charlton creating a world record number of nominations – 557 during his term.

In 1976 it was suggested that a new half mile track be built to bring Charlton in line with most other Victorian circuits. Despite some initial resistance from some trainers, strong persuasion from committee member Les Lock convinced all that progress was needed. The new track was designed along similar plans and specifications to Geelong and Bendigo. Once again the local community was called upon for assistance and assistance was received in the form of trucks carting gravel and manpower at working bees. The total cost for the project was $ 35 000 – those were the days!

Frank Roberts was the newly elected president when the track was officially opened on Dec 21st 1979. fittingly the first winner was a local Joal Smokey owned by J.Cadzow, trained by Mark Boyle and driven by Matt Donaldson. The new track proved it’s worth attracting quality horses undoubtedly the greatest being World Champion Popular Alm driven by the late Vin Knight. Others included Australian Champion Trotter Gramel and Interdominion winner Our Maestro.

Frank advanced the club further during his reign as extra race dates were granted and the club raced throughout the whole year. He also filled the role of club steward for many years.

1982 saw Arnold Dalrymple become President and he proved to be a man of many talents. Originally from the Wedderburn and District Harness Racing Club he fulfilled many roles including dual Club and District Steward, Club Judge and Disrict Bookmaker’s Supervisor. During Arnold’s eleven years as president a new pavilion was erected in conjunction with other bodies of the park.

Doug Gretgrix succeeded Arnold and capably fulfilled the role in his unassuming manner. He was Club Starter for many years before being appointed permanent starter with Harness Racing Victoria.

With the election of local trainer John Tormey as President in 1997 another era in the history of the Charlton Harness Racing Club had commenced. Trevor Ralph was appointed by HRV as Secretary / Manager and was also manager of other clubs in the district, along with being Secretary of the Country Clubs Association. Plans were submitted for a new 950 metre track at this time.

Frank McGrath oversaw the construction of the new track in 2005 which brought Charlton into line with other clubs and further secured its future. At this time the club also applied for funding grants to help establish a new training complex next to the training track on the back St.Arnaud Rd. It was hoped that such a complex would strengthen the local training ranks and attract more people active in the harness racing industry to Charlton. A close collaboration for this project was necessary with the Dja Dja Wurrung people who hold the title over the land and local council. Applications were successful and future development of the precinct was secured.

Geoff Winsell, Frank McGrath and Matt Donaldson

John Tormey again returned for a second term as president in 2009 and during this term the Training Complex was completed and officially opened on March 11th 2011. The next development for the club is already in progress with the plans for the 20/20 project approved and in partnership with other clubs at Charlton Park a major building and infrastructure project would provide state of the art facilities for the club. These include new offices, bars, seating and viewing areas and a kitchen and function centre. As the funding aspect nears completion it appears a real possibility that the plans will come to fruition.


The Charlton Harness Racing Club is indeed fortunate to have had so many committed and passionate community members prepared to work in any capacity for the benefit of the club and ultimately the town. It is the many unsung roles that make a club from the gatekeeper – special mention to Terry Brynes, to the numbers man – currently Stan Gregtrix to the local track attendants who have performed their duties raceday without fanfare.

Charlton has been blessed with achievers on the bigger stage, a history we hope to add to in the future.

The late Ian ‘ Macca’ McCallum has won multiple training and driving premierships in Victoria and is best remembered for driving six winners on at Mildura on the one program. He was also the recipient of the inaugural Gordon Rothaker Medal in 2002, a prestigious award for outstanding and sustained contributions to the industry.

It can truly be said that Ian dedicated his life to horses and harness racing and has left a rich and valued legacy here in Charlton.


His son Neil has also enjoyed sustained success with a driving career spanning 30 years. He represented Victoria in the Junior Driving Championship of Australia and also experienced Group One success teaming with Imprimartar. He has also entered the trivia ranks being the first winning driver at Melton!

Matt Donaldson became Charlton’s second Gordon Rothaker Medallist in 2006, in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the industry. He has had success as owner, driver and trainer and was Australia’s representative in the World Amateur Driver’s Championship conducted in France in 2002.

Ellen Tormey has continued the tradition for Charlton with early driving success. She has represented Victoria three times in the Junior Driving Championships winning the series in Perth. She also won the Leigh Plunkett Foundation Scholarship  in 2014 enabling her to travel to Canada and America to work and learn in various stables there.


None of the above is possible however without the real stars of the show – the horses. The more notable to bring joy to our town have been –

  • Toffee Gent – multiple Moonee Valley winner
  • Fourjay – Vic and S.Aust Derby
  • Imprimartar – NSW Derby and Fremantle Cup
  • Ballyred – S.Aust 4YR Old Championship
  • Mr.Castleton – Vicbred 3 Year Old Championship
  • Lee Vegas – NSW Oaks, SA Oaks, Vic Sires 3YO

Imprimartar and Neil McCAllum – NSW Derby Win – 1991

Mister Castleton

Mister Castleton

The current list of active trainer and/or driver participants based in Charlton at present are:

  • Matt Donaldson
  • Ian Donaldson
  • John Tormey
  • Joe Thompson
  • Mark Boyle
  • Kirk Boyle
  • Leon Fanning
  • Stan Gretgrix

As the harness racing industry continues to evolve so must Charlton. Whilst we are proud of our achievements so far we look forward to the future with confidence and enthusiasm and with work and foresight will ensure that that the Charlton Harness Racing Club remains a unique and viable part of country racing and more importantly a great asset to our town.

Race on….