RACEHORSES – FAMOUS NEW ZEALAND THOROUGHBREDS
The breeding and racing of thoroughbred horses in New Zealand is as much a part of the history of the growth of this Dominion as a pastoral country as is the evolution and development of the flocks and herds that produce the export wealth of the community from wool, meat, and dairy produce. Just as temperate climate, rich pastures, plentiful sunshine, and even rainfall have improved the conformation and quality of imported sheep and cattle strains in New Zealand, so the Dominion's range of soil constituents and pastures and its great diversity of scene and surroundings have made it possible for studmasters to improve on the original thoroughbred strains which they began to import into the colony as far back as the pioneering era. For instance, horse races were held on Petone Beach as part of the celebration of the first anniversary of the founding of Wellington. And this was also the case with other settlements.
But even with skies here a little brighter, the air a little warmer, the soil a little richer, and with no extremes of heat or cold, the New Zealand thorough-bred would not have reached its world eminence without the vigorous, courageous, and sustained policy adopted by breeders of drawing on the best overseas blood lines. From the outset studmasters concentrated on winning sire families in England, Ireland, and France, and the extent to which this continual infusion of new blood is relied upon is indicated by the fact that, in the past 20 years, more than 60 representatives of proved strains in these countries have been brought to New Zealand. Today there are more than 200 thoroughbred sires and over 5,000 brood mares in the Dominion, producing an average of about 3,000 yearlings annually. The racing side of the picture is indicated by an annual training list of between 1,700 and 1,800 horses competing for racing-club stakes in excess of £1,500,000 a year.
The earliest foundations of New Zealand's bloodstock resources were laid in the forties of the last century by such imported sires as Riddlesworth, Figaro, and Aether which were brought out in 1843, and the process was continued in the decades that followed by an enthusiastic company of fanciers, among whom such men as Henry Petre (Otago), Henry Redwood ( q.v. ) (“the father of the New Zealand turf”), G. G. Stead (Canterbury), T. H. Lowry (Hawke's Bay), Sir George Clifford (Canterbury), and the Hazletts and Chisholms of Southland, deserve to be remembered. In 1861 came Traducer, the sire of Sir Modred, one of Canterbury's great horses, and Mermaid, a brood mare of distinction, both of whom left their mark on New Zealand strains. Then followed Musket, the sire of Carbine (1866), St. Leger (1881), Steppe (1886), and Soult (1892).
The rise of the world standard of the New Zealand thoroughbred goes back to the royal stud at Hampton Court which was re-established about 1855 by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort. From Hampton Court came the brood mare Mersey, the dam of Carbine, who made New Zealand the first country to return to the homeland a strain of blood that was to prove the most significant in the world of the thoroughbred. Carbine's sire was Musket, who arrived in New Zealand in 1866, and influenced the bloodstock of half the world. His progeny included such names as Maxim, Martini-Henry, Nordenfeldt, Hotchkiss, Carbine, and Trenton. Carbine in his day was the greatest horse in the world, and when he was purchased by the Duke of Cumberland, for his English stud, he dominated the world bloodstock scene for generations. His son, Spearmint, his grandson, Spion Kop, and his great-grandson, Felstead, were all Derby winners. The blood of Carbine, like that of his half-brother by Musket, Trenton, is still to be traced today in winning lines everywhere.
With the turn of the century the ranks both of breeders and of bloodstock increased. Martian was the first of the great twentieth century sires, heading the winning sires' list for six years in succession (1913–19) after a brilliant racing career. He was followed by Demosthenes, Solferino, Kilbroney (1915), Lucullus (1915), All Black, the sire of Desert Gold, Absurd, Limond, and Paper Money, all of whom flourished before the twenties and boasted formidable winning progeny records. There was a brief halt in the progress of the thoroughbred industry in the dismal depression atmosphere of the early twenties, but then came Lord Quex (1926–27), sire of Melbourne Cup winner, Catalogue, Chief Ruler (1927–28), sire of Royal Chief, Hunting Song (1932–33), who sired those magnificent steeplechasers, Clarion Call and Brookby Song, Salmagundi, Night Raid, the father of the incomparable Phar Lap, Foxbridge, 11 times at the top of the winning sires list, whose offspring won £725,000, a British Empire and world record, the prolific Balloch, two Derby winners in Coronach and Midday Sun and, of recent years, in alphabetical order, Boissier, Count Rendered, Dogger Bank, Faux Tirage, Gabador, Khorassan, Lucky Bag, Marco Polo II, Oman, Panair, Pride of Kildare, Red Mars, Rolled Gold, Summertime, and Targui.
Throughout the hundred or more years during which horse races have been run in New Zealand, many thousands have flashed past the judge's box first, second, or third (today about 2,000 races are run every year). All have had their day, and their public, but it is doubtful whether any agreement could be reached anywhere as to the names of the best two dozen performers in the history of New Zealand racing. For many the yardstick is stake winnings, for others speed, and for others again, appearance and conformation. To list the great racehorses of the New Zealand turf would be impossible, but a few names have endured and promise to do so as long as the lure of the thoroughbred and the thrill of a few shillings each way on the winner continue to be numbered among the national enthusiasms.