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Formation of Racing Clubs
Auckland Racing Club
Many of the early racing clubs had a rather chequered existence and soon disappeared. Typical is the New Ulster Jockey Club, formed in Auckland on 17 May 1849. The new club took over from the committee which had controlled the Auckland races from 1842 to 1849. When the Province of New Ulster was abolished in 1852, the club became known as the Auckland Jockey Club. A second club, the Auckland Turf Club, was formed on 21 August 1873, but held one meeting only. Members of the two clubs met on 9 January 1874 and decided to amalgamate. The new club was to be known as the Auckland Racing Club.
The Auckland Racing Club held its first meeting in 1874 on its present course at Ellerslie, which had been used for racing since 1857. The property was formerly part of the farm of Robert Graham, a keen supporter of racing, and was known as Graham's Gardens. On 19 May 1872 some 90 acres were bought by the Auckland Jockey Club. The course is thus older than the club which now owns it. Later, more land was bought. The club now owns 180 acres. The course gardens attract thousands of visitors each year and, since 1960, the official stand (an imposing structure of modern design some 300 ft long and 90 ft high) has proved an added attraction. There are 16 race days a year at Ellerslie, one day being for the Pakuranga Hunt Club's meeting. The Auckland Cup, run over 2 miles, is the main race at the summer meeting. It was established in 1874 and is now the richest race in New Zealand. In 1955 the stake rose to £12,500, but is usually. £11,000. The Auckland Racing Club has always given the best stakes possible to the classic and weight-for-age races on its programme. The Great Northern Derby was first run in 1875 and the Great Northern Guineas in 1888. The Great Northern Oaks were added in 1906 and the Great Northern St. Leger in 1916. The Great Northern Steeplechase, in which the contestants run over the famous “hill” three times, is the main attraction of the winter meeting. It was first run in 1885. The Great Northern Hurdles, run at the same meeting, did not begin until 1892. The feat of El Gallo accomplishing this double in 1915 and 1916 is one of the outstanding events in the history of jumping races in New Zealand. The Easter Handicap, the main race at the club's Easter meeting, has become the richest mile race in New Zealand. Ellerslie racegoers will always associate the race with the gelding Sleepy Fox, which won it four times in succession. The Auckland Racing Club was possibly the first racing club in the world to film its races and was the first in New Zealand to introduce the photo-finish camera.
Canterbury Jockey Club
The Canterbury Jockey Club has had the oldest continuous existence of any club in the country, and for nearly half a century was dominant in New Zealand racing. In Christchurch, on 4 November 1854, following the market dinner which took place every Saturday at the Golden Fleece Hotel in Colombo Street, J. R. Cracroft Wilson presided at a public meeting, when it was decided to form a jockey club. This was done on 2 December and the Governor was asked to set aside as a public reserve an area in the neighbourhood of Trig. Point No. 2, about 6 miles from Christchurch. The club held its first meeting at what is now the Riccarton racecourse in 1855. The main race was the Canterbury Cup of £50–2-mile heats – won by Tamerlane. In 1860 the Canterbury Derby began through J. W. Mallock, who offered £50 if the club would give a like amount. At this meeting what was possibly the first two-year-old race in New Zealand was run. The Canterbury Derby was later renamed the New Zealand Derby. The first Champion Race meeting in Canterbury took place under the club's auspices in 1865. The Champion Race, run over 3 miles, weight-for-age, with £1,000 added money and a sweepstake of 50 sovereigns, drew a field of 10, and was won by Lance's Ladybird. She had been bought from H. Redwood after winning the first Champion Race in Dunedin the previous year. In 1866 the added money in the Canterbury Cup was raised to £1,000 and the net value of the stake was £1,450. It was won by Harris's Belle of the Isle. He won the race the next year with Stormbird, when the added money was still the same. Stakes were reduced the next year. In 1873 the club decided to hold two meetings a year and alter the course to, as near as possible, a mile and a half, its distance today.
The club increased public patronage in 1877 when it opened a private branch railway to the course from the main south line. In 1881 the telegraph was used on the course for the first time. The growth of the club was illustrated that year by the opening of its new stand, which was a reduced model of that at Randwick, and seated 600 with standing room for 400 more. It is interesting to note that, at the club's first annual meeting, a proposal for a stand costing £46 had been turned down, and no stand was built until 1864. From the time the totalisator was introduced in 1880 the club made steady progress and its meetings attracted the best horses in New Zealand. In 1883 the first New Zealand Cup was run. The stake was £1,000, and it was won by Tasman, owned by D. O'Brien, later to gain fame as the first owner of Carbine. The race was formerly run as the Canterbury Jockey Club Handicap, first run in 1865. Of other historic races the Champagne Stakes and the Great Autumn Handicap were first run in 1874, the Welcome Stakes in 1879, the Middle Park Plate in 1884, and the New Zealand Oaks in 1887.
Although Riccarton is the venue of the Grand National Steeplechase, the Canterbury Jockey Club did not establish the race. The first Grand National Steeplechases were controlled by the New Zealand Grand National Steeplechase Club, formed in 1874, and for a time its rules governed most steeplechase and hurdle races in New Zealand. The first Grand National Steeplechase was run near Waimate in 1875. The rules provided that the race should not be held at the same place in successive years. Thus for some years the race was run alternately in South Canterbury or North Otago and North Canterbury. In 1884 this rule was rescinded and Christchurch became the venue. In 1888 it was arranged that the Canterbury Jockey Club should run its meetings, and since then the Grand National Steeplechase has been run at Riccarton. Cutts, the famous fence in the course, was so named because it is near the entrance to Cutts's stables, Chokebore Lodge, opposite the racecourse entrance. These stables were taken over by Cutts in 1868 and occupied by the family for almost a century. Their name will live as long as the famous race which, though not the most valuable, is still the premier test of a steeplechaser in New Zealand.
Wellington Racing Club
Though racing was introduced early to Wellington, the Wellington club is by no means the oldest in New Zealand. The early racing was held at Hutt Park (which was proclaimed a racecourse reserve in 1854) and at Burnham Water, a former Miramar lagoon which had been drained, leaving 200 acres of flat land. In the 1860s a Wellington Jockey Club existed, but was not very active. Promoted by P. A. Chavaumes, a two-day meeting was held at Hutt Park in 1867 and, on the second day, a Wellington Cup was run. A second meeting was held in 1868 and a third in 1873, which was attended by 5,000 people. With an assured future, a new Wellington Jockey Club was formed under the presidency of the Provincial Superintendent, W. Fitzherbert. The new club had a two-day meeting in March 1874. Another set down for December had to be postponed until the following March. The name of the club was altered to the Wellington Racing Club in 1879. The next year the totalisator was used at Hutt Park for the first time. A dispute which developed with the Island Bay Racing Club over which was to be the metropolitan club, was referred to the Wanganui Jockey Club for settlement. Finally the Wellington Racing Club leased the Burnham Water racecourse. The Hutt Hack Racing Club also held races at Hutt Park, but by 1887 the Wellington Racing Club was firmly established as the metropolitan club and the development of Hutt Park proceeded. Arguments over the shortcomings of Hutt Park as the racecourse for the capital city came to a head in 1903 when the Railways Department refused to improve the transport to the course – which was not of easy access. Accordingly, A. E. Whyte, appointed secretary in 1903, conceived the idea of building a new course at Trentham. A scheme of splendid vision was propounded at a meeting of the committee in August 1904, and the President, J. B. Harcourt, confirmed that money enough was available. The 230 acres of land cost an estimated £9,000, construction of the course £22,000, and buildings £22,000. Trentham was built and the first meeting was held on 20 January 1906. It was appropriate that at the first meeting Ropa won the Wellington Cup in 2 min 33 sec, then a New Zealand record for a mile and a half. The three great stands were built between 1922 and 1924. Trentham thus had excellent appointments to match its splendid track. It is placed to attract the best from both Islands. Country-wide interest in the course is indicated by the large amount of off-course betting on Trentham meetings.
The Wellington Cup was first run in 1874, when the winner was the three-year-old Castaway. The distance was 2 miles until 1889; from 1890 to 1941 a mile and a half, and thence again to 2 miles. The race has been notable for some outstanding performances by three-year-olds. After Castaway (8 st.) came Korari (6 st. 10 lb) in 1876. In 1890 Cynisca (7 st. 1 lb) gained the first of his three successive wins. Renown (8 st. 10 lb) won in 1901 and the outstanding fillies Gladsome (8 st. 5 lb) and Nightfall (8 st. 2 Ib) in 1904 and 1905 respectively. Gladsome was subsequently disqualified for being ridden by an unlicensed apprentice. Then followed Rapine (7 st. 12 lb) in 1923, Defaulter (8 st. 11 lb) in 1939, and Kindergarten (8 st. 6 lb) in 1941. Beaumaris (8 st. 0 lb) has been the only three-year-old successful at 2 miles. The success of Advance (“The Black Demon”) among the older horses with 10 st. 4 lb in 1903 stands out over the shorter distance, and that of the 1961 winner, Great Sensation (9 st. 2 lb) over 2 miles in the Australasian record time of 3 min 17.2 sec. He won again with 9 st. 6 lb in 1962, and again in 1963. Wellington's classic and stakes races were established later than those of Auckland or Canterbury. The Wellington Stakes was first run in 1897, the Wellesley Stakes in 1898, the North Island Challenge Stakes and the New Zealand St. Leger in 1899, the Wellington Guineas in 1940, and the Desert Gold Stakes and the Gloaming Stakes in 1947.
Dunedin Jockey Club
The greatest difficulty faced in establishing racing in Dunedin was finding a suitable and convenient course. From 1862 to 1868 the Otago Jockey Club (a body that hardly qualified for the title) ran the racing, including the first New Zealand Champion Race, at Silverstream in 1863. This race offered the first £1,000 stake in New Zealand racing, and it was added to a sweepstake of 100 sovereigns. It was run over three miles at weight-for-age and was won by H. Redwood's four-year-old mare, Ladybird, from Mormon, regarded as the best horse in Australia.
The Dunedin Jockey Club was formed in 1869 after the Otago Jockey Club became defunct. It raced for one season at Silverstream. About 1869 it gained a lease of Forbury Park, Dunedin, and formed a course there. Racing began in 1871 and continued until 1898. In 1887 the club bought Wingatui, near Mosgiel, and transferred there in 1899. A Dunedin Cup was run by the Otago Jockey Club in 1867 and 1868. The present race dates from 1874 when H. Redwood's Lurline was the winner, ridden by R. J. Mason, who later became most successful as the trainer for G. G. Stead. The Champagne Stakes, established in 1878, has Carbine, as well as other distinguished horses, in its list of winners. Likewise the James Hazlett Gold Cup in which Limerick, Nightmarch, Silver Ring, Royal Chief, Defaulter, and Kindergarten are among those successful. In the early 1880s the New Zealand and the Dunedin Cups each carried a stake of £1,000 and were the medium of heavy wagering. At that time Otago had more clubs and more racing days than any other province.
Wanganui Jockey Club
The Wanganui Jockey Club contributed a great deal to early racing. The present club was reconstituted in 1874, although racing had carried on continuously in Wanganui since 1848. From 1879 to 1887 the club ran a Wanganui Derby and, in 1876, a Grand National Steeplechase (a title soon dropped). The Wanganui Cup was established in 1875 and the Wanganui Guineas in 1898. Early members of the club, notably A. J. Parsons, Drs Earle and Connelly, and Freeman R. Jackson (club secretary), played a big part in the establishment of the New Zealand Racing Conference; another member, A. Higgie, persistently advocated that the Racing Conference publish the New Zealand Stud Book.
Hawke's Bay Jockey Club
A Hawke's Bay Jockey Club existed in 1866. The present club dates from November 1874, when it was re-established at a meeting at the Napier Provincial Council Chambers. The first race meeting was held in 1875, but the club did not make Hastings its permanent centre until 1878. The club's first president, W. R. Russell, and its first secretary, F. D. Luckie, held the same offices on the establishment of the New Zealand Racing Conference. The architect of much of the early racing legislation was J. D. Ormond, who represented the club as a delegate for many years. The Hawke's Bay Cup began in 1875 and the Hawke's Bay Guineas in 1880. The club has strongly supported steeplechasing. The Hawke's Bay Steeplechase was established in 1879. Among the winners of this race was Moifaa, which S. H. Gollan took to England to win the Liverpool Grand National. (Gollan had already won the Hawke's Bay Steeplechase with Norton, which he rode himself.)