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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.



History - Establishment and Administration

It could be expected that, in a colony settled by predominantly British people, horse racing in some form or other would soon begin. Horses were a valuable necessity in the colonies. The first horses to be landed in New Zealand were probably those brought from Australia by the Rev. Samuel Marsden to Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands on 23 December 1814 from the ship Active. They were from New South Wales, the gift of Governor Macquarie to the Maoris. Horses from New South Wales were to have an important place in the establishment of thoroughbred breeding in New Zealand. There are few records of the very early importations. Horses came with the military garrisons and it is recorded that the first horses arrived in Wellington on 2 March 1840. The first acknowledged thoroughbred horse, Figaro, landed in Wellington. He was bred by T. Icely, of Cooming, New South Wales, a celebrated breeder of the time.

Horse racing was quickly introduced to the early settlements. It was a feature of the first anniversary celebrations in Wellington, Auckland, Nelson, Otago, and Canterbury. Race meetings soon became important social and sporting events. The first were, perhaps, held around 1840 by the military garrison at Auckland. The soldiers ran meetings at Auckland and Onehunga using their own troop horses, the officers acting as officials. On 5 January 1841 the citizens of Auckland and Manukau held a meeting at Epsom, the principal event being the Auckland Town Plate by subscription of 3 sovereigns each. The stewards were listed as Lieutenant Smart (28th Regiment), Dr Gaumise (80th Regiment), and W. Young, Esq., the last named having been chairman of a meeting of interested citizens the previous November when it was resolved that the Auckland races take place at Epsom racecourse. From 1842 to 1849 the races at Auckland were controlled by “The Committee”, comprising mainly officers of the Militia. Interest in these early meetings was heightened by owners very often riding their own horses. Edward William Stafford, one of the early Premiers, was among those who did this.

The first anniversary of the settlement of Wellington in January 1841 included a hurdle race on the third day of the celebrations. It was won by Henry Petre riding his own horse, Calmuc Tartar. A jockey club was formed for the meeting but it lapsed after a few years. The first formal meeting was held at Petone beach on 20 October 1842, when the imported horse Figaro beat Calmuc Tartar in a 10-guinea sweepstake run in heats over a mile and a half. Racing later took place at Hutt Park and Burnham Water (the site of a former Miramar lagoon). The latter was probably the first racecourse in New Zealand and had a grandstand.

A hurdle race was run on the first anniversary of Nelson “through fern and flax, up hill and down hill”. Nelson first placed racing on a sound footing. There was a good course, with thoroughbreds imported for racing and breeding, and horses trained and brought out to race in something like “condition”. The course was at Stoke, 4 miles from Nelson. It was first used on 3 February 1845.

There was a meeting in Wanganui on 28 December 1848 and there, too, the officers of the Militia had a hand in starting the sport. The first races in Dunedin were held on 23 March 1849 as part of the Anniversary Day celebrations, with the eccentric Dr Manning a prominent owner. Following the gold discoveries in the province, Otago was, for a time, the strongest racing centre in New Zealand. The celebrations on the first anniversary of the Canterbury settlement on 16 December 1851 included four horse races over a course in Hagley Park facing the road running from the Riccarton Hotel to the Fendalton Bridge. The course was still in its native tussock. There was also early racing on the West Coast and in Taranaki; but not in Hawke's Bay (a district later to play an important part in New Zealand racing) until 1 January 1857.

Foundation and Administration of Racing Conference

The early race meetings in the colony were controlled by local committees elected for the meeting only, generally at a public meeting of interested citizens. Those elected made the arrangements, drew up the rules, and appointed the officials. In the larger towns the establishment of a racing club generally followed. These local clubs had their own locally varying rules, but based in common on those of the English Jockey Club. Until the late 1860s each club was a separate identity, with little coordination because of the difficulties of travel and communication. Consequently, disqualifications imposed by one club would not apply at another. The first attempts to introduce some form of unified control were made by the metropolitan clubs, a rather grandiose title for the times. It is not clear how certain clubs came to be so designated and to assume a limited control over the racing within their districts. But the metropolitan clubs of the 1860s and early 1870s did correspond with the main towns of the provincial districts. It is possible that there was some direction given from the Colonial Secretary at Wellington, since at that time permits for race meetings were issued by his office, and programmes in each district were approved by the Resident Magistrate. In early minute books there are instances of the Resident Magistrate referring programmes back to the metropolitan club because they had not first had that body's approval. So probably the sheer need for a responsible body to give guidance on those matters and to settle disputes forced the metropolitan clubs to act as a miniature jockey club.

After racing had been established for 30 years, the metropolitan clubs realised the need for some governing body to obtain uniform rules of racing and a uniform scale of weights. The first recorded move was made by the Canterbury Jockey Club in 1875 and, on 11 November 1876, during the course of the Canterbury Jockey Club race meetings, a meeting of delegates resolved “That it was desirable to establish a New Zealand Jockey Club, to frame rules and make a scale of weights to be used by all clubs running under the rules”. There was obviously some dissatisfaction at the time, for in 1877 the Canterbury Jockey Club resolved to recognise only the Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, and Hawke's Bay Clubs. This made Wanganui and Taranaki hostile.

The first truly constructive move came from the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club which, on 12 July 1883, decided to set up a subcommittee, consisting of Captain W. R. Russell (later to be the first president of the Racing Conference), R. U. Burke, and C. B. Winter (the mover of the proposal), “to consider the establishment of a New Zealand Racing Association, and the drafting of Rules for same, and that the matter be submitted to the clubs already mentioned and the Taranaki and Wanganui Jockey Clubs, which were to be the Metropolitan Clubs for the proposed Districts the colony would be divided into”. The proposal also suggested the monthly publication of a racing calendar, the registration of colours, and a turf register.

The New Zealand Racing Conference finally developed very much as the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club had proposed, but a general move was not made for 13 years, when the Canterbury Jockey Club in 1882 organised a further meeting of delegates to revise the rules. Representatives of the Canterbury and Dunedin Clubs met for a similar purpose in July 1886. The minutes of these meetings have disappeared. More significant progress was made the following year. Many clubs realised the potential of a steady income from the totalisator to supplement their funds. But the issue of permits to too many clubs, some virtually individuals running proprietary meetings, was being widely criticised. There were countless abuses. In January 1887 A. J. Parsons, of the Wanganui Jockey Club, expressed concern at totalisator abuses and asked a Wellington conference of delegates from all the metropolitan clubs to consider the matter. At the suggestion of the Auckland Racing Club, this historic meeting was held at Napier on 15 and 16 March 1887, when Messrs W. Percival (Auckland), C. J. Penfold (Canterbury), Hon. G. McLean (Dunedin), C. B. Winter (Hawke's Bay), R. H. Nolan (Taranaki), Dr R. C. Earle (Wanganui), and H. M. Lyon (Wellington) met under the chairmanship of the Hon. G. McLean.

The only record of this meeting is a letter addressed by the chairman to the Colonial Secretary. The letter declared that the purpose of the meeting was to help racing as a whole, pointed out certain advantages to the country in using the totalisator confined within its lawful limits, and suggested ways of controlling the totalisator and of encouraging the breeding industry. The Colonial Secretary's reply pointed out to the chairman that legislation would be necessary to give metropolitan clubs a defined and legal status under the Gaming and Lotteries Act before the suggestions could be acted on. The Colonial Secretary proposed that the delegates' recommendations could best be carried out by formulating them in a Bill, which might then be introduced into either House of the Legislature by some member interested in racing. No Bill has ever been introduced; the authority of the Racing Conference is still not enforced by Statute.

From 1887 to 1891 metropolitan club representatives met every year and sometimes twice a year, with some meetings being attended by representatives of the Greymouth, Nelson, and Marlborough clubs. Many of the early meetings were held in Parliament Buildings, and several of those early delegates were members of either the House of Representatives or the Legislative Council. The Hon. G. McLean, M.L.C., chaired the first meeting and, except for the Hon. J. D. Ormond, the Hon. W. R. Russell (who became a member of the House of Representatives) chaired all the other early meetings. F. D. Luckie, of Hawke's Bay, became the conference secretary. The Hon. E. Mitchelson, the Hon. O. Samuel, Dr Earle, Freeman R. Jackson, R. H. Nolan, Francis Henry Dillon Bell, and, above all, Sir George Clifford, were prominent in helping the Racing Conference to gain its high standing as quickly as it did.

Attempts to Form a Jockey Club

The first 25 years of the Racing Conference brought many difficulties, as there were strongly opposing views about the form the governing body should take. The formation of a New Zealand Jockey Club was strongly favoured and, at a meeting on 13 July 1891, Clifford moved for the establishment of such a club to come into existence on 1 January 1892. The motion was carried against strong opposition from the Dunedin and Taranaki clubs which were successful in having consideration of the draft rules deferred and, by continued opposition, forced the eventual with drawal of the motion in 1893. At the same time the Hon. J. D. Ormond moved for country clubs to be given representation on the conference. Final approval of this came at a meeting in Wellington on 8 July 1893. Rules and regulations for conferences of New Zealand jockey clubs were drawn up, setting out the representation and voting powers of the metropolitan and the district clubs. This meeting truly set the future legislative pattern for racing. The proposed New Zealand Jockey Club had been conceived as a body with no parochial interests, and as a final court of appeal on racing matters. But the Dunedin and Taranaki clubs had the support of many of the country clubs in their opposition to what they feared would be an autocratic body. It was rather ironical that the last move to form a New Zealand Jockey Club in 1911 came from a country club. In November 1896 Sir George Clifford was elected chairman and, in 1897, W. H. E. Wanklyn became secretary. This was a period when the Racing Conference extended its influence and expanded its administrative functions. By 1900 the control of racing by conference was firmly established and in that year it was given the great honour of being recognised by the English Jockey Club.

In 1897 R. H. Nolan succeeded in having adopted his scheme for appeals against decisions of metropolitan clubs' committees being heard by three appeal judges appointed by the president. This system was acclaimed at the time and has stood the test of the present day. The first appeal was heard in 1898, the judges being Dr Earle, Geo. Hunter, and Nolan.

In 1899 it had been decided that country clubs be allowed two representatives on metropolitan committees. The registration of all racing clubs was enforced in 1900. A most important step for owners was the institution of accident fees in 1903. An accident fund for trainers, jockeys, and stablehands was established to relieve owners of their liability under the statutory provisions of the employers' liability and like Acts. The jockeys' and trainers' provident funds controlled by each metropolitan committee continued, but on a gradually changing basis.

Control of Meetings

In the early part of this century malpractices led to strong criticism of the control of race meetings. Sir George Clifford left people in little doubt that most of the trouble arose through the nefarious practices of bookmakers. The conference had recommended the appointment of judicial committees by each club as early as 1902. Later it sanctioned the appointment of advisory or stipendiary stewards by metropolitan committees, but this did not prove satisfactory. There was persistent public agitation for the appointment of stipendiary stewards by conference itself. A Stipendiary Committee was appointed in 1909 to carry the scheme affirmed at the annual meeting; but difficulties of cost and the opposition of country clubs delayed approval of the appointment of such officials until 1912. This was a triumph for the long fight by the Taranaki clubs for such appointments. The first appointees were J. McMahon, A. W. Gordon, and D. W. Gibson, and the first meeting they attended was the Auckland summer meeting of 1912–13. The Stipendiary Stewards' Committee was the forerunner of the present Executive Committee of conference. The original committee comprised the president (Sir George Clifford), Hon. W. H. Herries, M.P., W. E. Bidwill, H. Friedlander, E. R. Guiness, P. Miller, and R. H. Nolan. Only the president and Miller were not representatives of country clubs. The representation of the country clubs both on the Racing Conference and on the metropolitan committees had been a contentious matter for some years. A special Constitution Committee was set up in 1911 to investigate the question. Its report at the 1912 meeting of delegates resulted in the metropolitan committees being replaced by district committees on which the metropolitan clubs had five representatives and the country clubs an equal number. The new committees began in 1913. The stipendiary stewards gradually improved the control of racing and this met with general approval. They were, however, disturbed by the continued presence of undesirable elements on the racecourses. As early as 1914, racecourse detectives had been employed on a daily basis by district committees and clubs to remove undesirables from courses. The Stipendiary Stewards' Committee recommended that the Racing Conference employ permanent racecourse detectives, but this was stubbornly opposed by a minority of clubs and was not finally approved until 1921.

When the First World War broke out, the Racing Conference was pressed first to stop all racing, and then to reduce the number of race days. Following the lead given in England, racing continued, but in 1917 a special committee agreed with the Government to reduce race days by a third. The racing clubs were soon active contributors to the various war funds, and a number of courses were taken over for military purposes, notably Wellington (Trentham), Wairarapa, and Manawatu.

In 1921 the appointment of racecourse inspectors was agreed to, the first appointments being A. Ward, R. G. Black, F. Cullen, and J. Torrance. All were ex-police officers. Through the work of the racecourse inspectors (who cooperate closely with the Police), the racecourses in New Zealand are kept remarkably free of undesirables and prohibited persons. The independent licensing of trainers and jockeys by each metropolitan district committee also ended in 1921, when a Licensing Committee was appointed and all licences issued by the Racing Conference. The Southland Metropolitan Committee was created in 1925, all clubs in the Southland Province being separated from the Otago district.

From 1898 the affairs of the Racing Conference had been administered from Christchurch. With the growth of racing after the First World War it was decided that the headquarters should be more central. In 1930 they were moved to Wellington. The constitution of the conference was altered in 1928 when the Executive Committee was formed. This first consisted of the president, vice-president, and six representatives, but in 1929 this was changed to include one representative of each metropolitan district. The Licensing Committee and the Dates Committee were abolished in 1933 and their duties taken over by the Executive Committee.

Racing fell off during the depression of the 1930s. The Racing Conference was faced with many difficulties because of the plight of some of the smaller country clubs. Some became defunct and their permits were taken up by other clubs. Race days were again reduced during the Second World War and many racecourses were taken over by the military. The restricted racing and lack of transport raised many problems, as the number of horses in training was not reduced, nor was there any loss of interest in race meetings. These were often held under great difficulties because of the military occupation of the courses being raced on. In the later years of the war the Executive Committee sanctioned race meetings to raise patriotic funds.

Post-war Trends

The growth of racing in the post-war years was even more marked than in the early 1920s. Race permits were not restored immediately the war finished but over the two years following. The conference pressed for more permits, but these were not granted until after the report of the 1946 Royal Commission on Gaming and Racing had been considered by Parliament and the Gaming Amendment Act passed in 1949.

The conference considerably advanced steps in the interests of racing and the national bloodstock breeding industry when it set up its “dope detection” scheme in 1953. Racing expanded quickly in the Auckland Province (especially in the Waikato district) with the great increase of population there. This led to the formation of the Waikato Metropolitan District in 1949 by the division of the Auckland Metropolitan District, then by far the largest and strongest in New Zealand. There have been no changes in the metropolitan districts since. In 1962 the conference for the first time had its own building, in Farish Street, Wellington.

The Racing Conference has had remarkably few changes in its highest offices. Only eight men have been president. Captain (later Sir William) W. R. Russell, the first president, held office from 1889 to 1896, although Sir George Clifford acted as chairman of the 1895 and 1896 meetings. Sir George Clifford held office from 1896 until his death in 1930. W. E. Bidwill acted as chairman in 1928. O. S. Watkins was appointed president in 1930 after acting in 1929 and carried on until 1933. J. S. McLeod was elected in 1934 until he was succeeded by A. S. Elworthy in 1939. H. R. Chalmers became president in 1942 and retired in 1955, the second longest holder of the office. W. Claude Motion, vice-president for 14 years, served one year in office before he retired and G. H. Grigg was appointed. There have been only four secretaries. F. D. Luckie, secretary of the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club, acted from 1889 to 1897, when W. H. E. Wanklyn of the Canterbury Jockey Club was appointed and continued until he retired in 1917. H. R. Sellers succeeded and, on his death in 1939, A. M. McBeath, the present secretary, began his term of office.

General and District Administration

Thus racing in New Zealand is now controlled by the New Zealand Racing Conference, which, consistent with its origin, is an association of the clubs registered under its rules. The Racing Conference does not run race meetings, as it is a purely legislative and administrative body. The year-to-year administration is done by an Executive Committee elected annually and comprising the president and vice-president, ex-officio, and one representative of each of the 10 metropolitan racing districts of New Zealand. Delegates of racing clubs meet annually in Wellington in July, when legislative matters are dealt with by way of remits from the Executive Committee, district committees, or clubs. The Racing Conference registers all horses, issues all licences, administers the General Trust Fund (Accident Fund), and publishes the New Zealand Stud Book and the New Zealand Racing Calendar. The secretary is the principal executive officer, and a staff of stipendiary stewards and racecourse inspectors attend all race meetings.

In each metropolitan racing district a district committee generally supervises the racing in its district whether the meetings are run by totalisator, non-totalisator, or sports clubs. Each district committee comprises one representative of each district totalisator club and an equal number of representatives of the senior club, which is known as the metropolitan club. Each district committee must approve all programmes in its district and consider all applications for dates and licences before they are submitted with recommendations to the Racing Conference. It also hears all appeals against the decisions of racing club judicial committees and reviews all penalties imposed by the latter.

Local Administration

There are 71 racing clubs and 17 hunt clubs authorised to use the totalisator and a total of 259 days allocated to racing. All racing clubs are non-proprietary, and the committee and the stewards of each are elected from the club members. Each racing club runs its own affairs and its own race meeting. On race day, the committee or the stewards (or sometimes both according to the club's constitution) control the meeting, and all judicial matters are dealt with by a judicial committee appointed by the club. This committee must investigate all matters submitted to it by a stipendiary steward or racecourse inspector, neither of whom has any judicial powers. Most racing clubs own their own racecourses. Hunt clubs do not, and they are not individually represented on a district committee.


John Anthony Poulsen, Stipendiary Steward, New Zealand Racing Conference, Auckland.