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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Three “Greats”

Three names stand out above all others and are almost household words wherever racing is discussed – Desert Gold, Gloaming, and Phar Lap. Desert Gold (by All Black) and Gloaming (by The Welkin) were the great rivals of the years of the First World War and after. Year after year they carried the Lowry and Greenwood colours to victory to the applause of thousands, and completely dominated the classic sphere in contemporary racing. Each won the King's Plate at Ellerslie three times between 1915 and 1920, and each numbered among innumerable trophies such classics as the C.J.C. Derby Stakes, the C.J.C. Challenge Stakes, the Oaks, the Canterbury Cup, and the North Island Challenge Stakes. In their day they were invincible.

The third of the triumvirate was the almost legendary Phar Lap, the son of Night Raid, who in the late twenties and early thirties beat all comers, and carried the fame of New Zealand bloodstock abroad. In Australia he numbered the Melbourne Cup among his successes, and in America he held his own against the best America could produce at the famous Agua Caliente racetrack. Phar Lap's fantastic career was cut short by an early death, but his memory is preserved by the last resting place which has been accorded him in the Melbourne Museum.

Sasanof was another brilliant star of the second decade of the present century, but his quality and worth were overshadowed by the magnificence of his incredible contemporaries. He beat Gloaming on one occasion, and by winning the New Zealand Cup, in 1918, he joined a celebrated company of good performers which included Cuddle (also twice winner of the Auckland Cup), Vagabond, Oratress, Night-march, Beau Le Havre, Serenata, and Conclusion.

The Auckland Cup, the richest race in New Zealand, recalls such names as Beau Vite, Howe, Kindergarten, Beaumaris, Yeman, and Froth, and a consistent runner of the eighties, Nelson, who greeted the judge at the head of the field three times in four years. The Winter Cup of 1 mile at Riccarton is another event that has produced some great performances. Vladimir and Chortle in 1903 and 1914 registered very fast times, and well known winners include four who were successful twice in succession: Catalogue (1937–38), a Melbourne Cup winner, Soneri (1946–47), Julius Caesar (1948–49), and Royal Warrant (1955–56).

Big names in the classic field have been many, apart from Desert Gold and Gloaming. Among them are — New Zealand Derby Stakes: Nightmarch, Royal Chief, Beaumaris, and Dalray. C.J.C. Challenge Stakes: Reremoana, Cricket Bat, Royal Chief, and Defaulter. North Island Challenge Stakes: Reremoana, Kindergarten (three times), Mainbrace, Coleridge (twice), and Yahabeebee. Mainbrace, by Admiral's Luck, was one of the brightest stars of the early fifties and was scarcely ever beaten in his meteoric career. He attracted an offer of £50,000 from an American owner but could not pass the veterinary test.

The Wellington Cup at Trentham was won three times in succession by Cynical in the nineties, and other well known winners were Surveyor, Kindergarten, Golden Souvenir, Bruce, and Beaumaris. The best performers in the Dunedin Cup belong to the long-past heyday of the Wingatui meeting. They include Sir Modred (1881), Liberator (1894), Stepdancer (1906 and 1907), and Rorke's Drift (1916 and 1919).

Steeplechasers, too, have their place among the memorable performers of the turf in New Zealand. Great stayers who won the Grand National Steeplechase more than once included such gallant sorts as Agent (1879–80), Mutiny (1895–96), Wiltshire (1928–29), Valpeen (1934–35), and Clarion Call (1938–40).

Among the New Zealand horses that have won the famous Melbourne Cup are such champions as Martini-Henry (1883), Carbine (1890), Sasanof (1916), Nightmarch (1929), Phar Lap (1930), Wotan (1936), Hiraji (1947), Foxzami (1949), Dalray (1952), and, more recently, Toporoa and Hi Jinx.

The best of the sprint recordholders in New Zealand are Gloaming, Blue Trout, Pastel, Irish Note, Fountainhead, and Yahabeebee, and the 2 mile record-holder is Great Sensation. Gloaming and Blue Trout also registered Australasian records.

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