Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood
Among the first amusements instituted in Canterbury—even when it was a very little settlement, numbering its settlers by the hundred, when horses (except of the strictly useful kind) were scarce, and when trained racers were unknown—was that of horse-racing. For sheer love of the sport owners pitted their hacks, and even their cart-horses, against each other for a spin. Trotting matches were fairly numerous, and if the pace was not wonderful, the fun was capital, and the racing “straight.” The Canterbury St. Ledger, of £1 each, with £10 added from the fund, open to all horses—on Easter Monday, 1852—and two other events, including a “cart-horse race for ten shillings each, with £6 5s. added from the fund, for horses-that have been regularly worked in harness during the last three months, owners to ride,” drew a good crowd of spectators on the occasion. “The course was levelled, and was roped in page 126for the first time,” says a chronicler of the day, who further tells us that "two or three of the jockeys were in full racing costume.” A race ball at the Golden Fleece wound up the day's sport, and was kept up vigorously till four in the morning, about eighty ladies and gentlemen having responded to the invitation of four lady patronesses and a committee of twelve gentlemen. Among the list of names of those present we find the well-remembered ones of Godley, Simeon, Russell, Cookson, Wakefield, Westenra, Paul, Wortley, Bealey, Woolcombe, Creyke, Harman, Bowen, Muter, Townsend, Hamilton, Jacobs (our worthy and very rev. friend the present Dean), and many others, some of whom remain with us still to tell of those early days.
Of these very early days of racing in Canterbury, but incomplete records remain. In December, 1852, two days' racing in Hagley Park attracted a large concourse of spectators on the anniversary day and the Saturday following, the stewards being Messrs. Watts. Russell, E. J. Wakefield, W. Fendal, and Captain Harvey. A much improved course, 1 mile 150 yards in length, with a good start and finish, had been arranged, and on it Mr. Leach's Harkaway, Mr. Wakefield's Robin Hood, Hon. J. S. Wortley's Abd-el-Kader, Mr. Caverhill's Maid of the Mountains (ridden by our old friend Janaway), and Gartner and Ellis's John Heke, gained honours. They could race without betting in those days, and enjoy the fun. Somewhere about this time a Canterbury Jockey Club was first mooted. For a year or two Anniversary Day was the day for races, when a regularly drawn-up programme was put forth, and all the little et ceteras of a well-appointed meet were duly attended to. An occasional day's sport was also frequently arranged for other holidays, usual or special; and other places beyond Christchurch followed the lead, and had their own little meets, affording good sport.
An accident caused the race days to be altered from December to March. In 1854 the weather towards Anniversary Day was so wretched that the Jockey Club (just established) decided to postpone them till Easter Monday; and the change being found to be convenient, it was retained, leaving the old day to the full disposal of the Lyttelton boatmen, who speedily established their annual regatta.
November 1854 was an auspicious time for racing in Canterbury. On one Saturday in that month, after a market dinner in Christchurch, a few choice spirits held a meeting—either in the White Hart or the Golden Fleece, which, the chroniclers do not say—and on the motion of Mr. E. J. Wakefield, seconded by Mr. I. T. Cookson, decided to form the Canterbury Jockey page 127Club. The subscription was fixed at one guinea, with an entrance fee of a similar amount; and all those who chose to subscribe prior to December 2nd, 1854, were admitted as members The races on Easter Monday, 1855, were the first run in Canterbury under the auspices of this Club. Prior to this the rules of the Wellington Jockey Club had been those under which our little events were pulled off. The Club soon made its existence felt beneficially. The course, which before had been a ring in Hagley Park, almost untouched, was levelled, roped in, and kept in fair order. A plan of that old course would show us that our gallants and ladies fair, when doing Rotten Bow on a fine afternoon, are cantering very nearly over the same ground on which our early jockeys won their laurels in their gaily-coloured silks and satins. The winning-post was about where the Riccarton Hotel—erstwhile the Plough Inn—now stands, the "straight" home being about where the road round the park now runs from the mill to the hotel. But in 1858 the Provincial Council passed "The Racecourse Reserve Ordinance," whereby the present ground at Riccarton—a little over 300 acres—was reserved as a public recreation ground, and leased for twenty-five years to the President (for the time being) of the Canterbury Jockey Club, for the purposes of a race-course, at a rental of £15 per annum. By that Ordinance, while a charge could be made for admitting horses and vehicles into the ground, foot passengers were admitted free; but a later Ordinance—the only one, if we remember rightly, which Mr. J. D. Lance had the honour of originating—amended this state of things, and authorised a charge for them also.
For several years racing matters in Canterbury gradually grew more important, till in 1865 a Champion Race of 1000 sovs, added to a sweepstakes of 50 sovs., 3 miles, was inaugurated, for which. Stormbird, Lady Bird, Miss Lee, Otto, and six others, competed, Ladybird winning easily; time, 5 min, 56 sees., being within a second of the Otago champion. This year Mr. Creyke retired from the active duties of treasurership of the Jockey Club, having done more than any other man to establish racing on a sound footing in the province. When he first took office the whole machinery of the Club was in confusion, and affairs were at the lowest ebb. To his exertions were due the revival of racing. Entering office with a bankrupt exchequer, he left the Club in a prosperous condition, after having built a grand stand—then unrivalled in New Zealand—and inaugurated the first Champion meeting held in Canterbury.
In 1866 the January races were announced as "The New Zealand Metropolitan Meeting," and the total amount of added page 128money for the three days' events was £2300. The "Champion" was not on the programme, but the "Canterbury Cup" was increased to 1000 sovs. The winner, Belle of the Isle, was Canterbury bred, and trained by Mr. Webb, near Christchurch, for her owner, Mr. W. H. Harris, who also owned Stormbird, that ran second for this event. It must be remembered that at this time Canterbury and Nelson were the two principal racing provinces, and that it was an ordinary thing for the studs owned in the one province one year to be transferred by purchase in the next to the other. But Belle of the Isle was a thorough Canterbury filly, her sire (Malton) having been imported by her owner.
By this time races had been established in many parts of the province. Kajapoi had long had its capital little meets; Timaru events had become important; and Akaroa, Amuri, and several other places, put out good programmes that attracted the local horses and public.
In 1868 the value of the Canterbury Cup was reduced to 500 sovs., added to a sweepstakes of 25 sovs. Mr. Studholme's Knottingley was the winner, Mr. Mallock's Backbiter taking second honours. In 1869 the Club, feeling the effect of the bad times that were crippling every settler, had again to reduce the value of the Cup to 300 sovs., with a sweepstakes of 20 sovs.; but the event was as splendid a race has had hitherto been run in New Zealand. Manuka, Knottingley, and Magenta faced the starter, and reached the winning-post in-the order we have given. Time, 5 min. 42 secs. This is the first time the Cup went out of Canterbury since the race was established, but no one grudged Mr. Redwood his success. It is noteworthy that the time was only five seconds longer than the Barb took to travel over the same distance in Melbourne two years previously—a performance then considered wonderful.
In 1871 the time for holding the Metropolitan Meeting was changed from January to November—the month in which it still is held. The Cup this year was contested for by only two horses, although the distance was reduced to 2½ miles. Mr. Redwood's ch.m. Peeress, and Mr, Studholme's Knottingley made a splendid race of it, resulting in a dead heat; but when it was run off the mare knocked the old horse out of time, although he made a game struggle to the end.
1872, the first year that Mr. S. Nosworthy's Lurline won the Cup, Mr. P. Campbell's Tambourine running second, was the one when the ladies' lawn, in front of the grand stand, was laid down, planted, and fenced. The following year Lurline again carried off the Cup, Mr. Redwood's Papapa taking second place. page 129This year the Derby, won by Papapa, was done in the shortest time hitherto recorded, viz., 2min. 46secs.
Since 1873 matters have gone very smoothly as regards racing in Christchurch. The Metropolitan Meeting is still held in November, and is well supported and largely attended. The Club acts very liberally, the added money at the last amounting to £4300 for the three days' events. The Canterbury Jockey Club Handicap, established in 1866, and numbering as its winners Nourmabal, Magenta, Flying Jib, Mainsail, Knottingley, Peeress, Detractor, Kakapo, Tambourine, Nectar, Guy Faux, Mata, Maritana, Chancellor, Le Troup, Grip, and Welcome Jack, was, after a life of eighteen years, merged, into "The New Zealand Cup," a handicap sweepstakes of 20 sovs. each, with 1000 sovs. added, and has been won by Tasman and Vanguard. The Derby Stakes, established in 1861, has been made a 500 sov. race, and the Canterbury Cap has been made again a sweepstakes of 20 sovs, with 500 sovs. added. Eight of the winners of this claim Traducer for their sire; three, The Peer; while Malton, Towton, Scud, Sledmere, Ravensworth, and Dainty Ariel, produced the others.
The Autumn Meeting of the Christchurch Jockey Club has al o become very popular; the Great Autumn Handicap, a sweepstakes of 10 sovs., with 300 sovs. added; and the Champagne Stakes, a sweep., with 250 sovs. added, having both attracted good horses. The added money at these meets ranges about £1200. Besides these there are Plumpton Park races, and meets at Heathcote and New Brighton, so that residents in Christchurch and the neighbourhood—who either like the sport for itself, or as an excuse for a day's outing—have every chance of gratifying their taste at almost any season of the year, and in almost any suburb of the city. The Canterbury Jockey Club is now a power in the racing world of the Australasias, and includes many men of high standing. Mr. Penfold is the Secretary.