The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12 (March 1, 1935)
The striking pictures that adorn the pages of this article should be carefully perused before its contents are read. Its title is not a statement made on the carefree and provocative lines of Lever's famous character who insisted that “Sackville Street's the finest street in Europe.” Not even the boldest of a daring race has said that The Curragh or Punchestown is the finest racecourse in Europe. I shall show presently that the heading above is nothing more or less than the sober truth.
Anyway, it is time that more publicity drums were beaten and more trumpets blown about this Dominion's commanding position with respect to the use, breeding, and proper enjoyment of the thoroughbred horse. It is not undue optimism to believe that when the time comes for us to have to swallow G. B. Shaw's advice to “eat your own butter,” a good measure of compensation for our loss of exports can be got by the right exploitation of our country's rich capacity for the production of bloodstock.
New Zealand is second only to old England herself in the growing and furnishing of the finest type of race-horse. We alone in the world, had the temerity to send a horse to England, whose line of sons and daughters altered the whole map of winning strains in the Old Land. This was Carbine and there is, in addition, the famous Trenton, who also left an indelible improvement mark. Sir Modred, whose equal we have bred in dozens, headed the winning sires' list in U.S.A. With the one exception from France, all other countries, great or small, have had only one-way traffic with England in bloodstock.
To-day, as a result of intelligent and selective breeding for generations, in a climate ideal for the nurture and culture of the horse, and owing to our fecund, luxuriant and permanent pastures, our bloodstock has reached a standard of excellence rivalled only by the Mother Country.
One of the contributing causes towards this extraordinary phenomenon is this fact: the management of the racing of horses is, in our little country, without peer in the range of its incidence, in its efficiency, and in its sporting and entertainment value.
We have eighty or more courses, all of them good, and of them twenty at least bear comparison with the leading racecourses of the rest of the world, and four of them would take a “power o' beating” on any system of comparison. These remarks apply to galloping courses only, and the splendid arenas devoted to the harness sport, for instance, at Addington and Auckland, are not included.
The Sport of Kings
Looking from the Members' Stand at Trentham, shewing main totalisator and the crowd watching the barometer.
Travellers may rave about the exotic beauty of Deauville and the luxury of Lonchamps or Neuilly. The grandstands of American courses get praise, but the least said about their dirt tracks the better. Buenos Ayres has stands on the same novel principle as Trentham. Some of the historic courses of England have a turf that can only be the product of centuries of loving care.
In the order of their importance, I list the points of a racecourse.
The value of the race-track itself as a testing ground.
The provisions made for the comfort of patrons and for the public's understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the sport.
The facilities given to trainers for the proper education and preparation of their charges.
Position and beauty of surroundings.
In one or other of these qualities Trentham may be here and there excelled. In its combination of all four, it leads the world.
The race track at Trentham is a superb testing ground. Its exact length, a mile and a quarter, is ideal, and its shape is perfect. The band of heroes who undertook the acquisition of the Trentham ground and the tremendous task of converting it into a racecourse had a “clean slate” and made the most of that advantage.
Trentham course is an engineering job. It was a lake bottom of ancient lineage, consisting of 234 acres of potholes, stumps and patches covered with stones, waterworn throughout the ages, and of all sizes and shapes. The stones were removed, providing material for the making of the handsome and impressive sixty-yard slope up to the grandstand. The whole area was then surveyed, and the track relaid as to every foot of its circuit. On carefully constructed foundations, a clay subsoil was spread, and upon this a full layer of rich river silt. The turf is of the best English grasses, and might be a thousand years old.
The track is dead level. Such is the ideal nature of the turns that only one portion of the course needed banking. Few people know that just beyond the winning post, the outside of the course is four feet higher than the inside. Galloping accidents at Trentham, therefore, are never the fault of the course.
By way of being odious, it is necessary to stress the comparison the Old Country courses bear to Trentham. Many of them have taken shape in the dear old historic way of the Homeland, just as still run “the crooked lanes of England.” Many of them have no circuit—for instance, Epsom, Brighton and Newmarket. They have projecting “legs” for straight miles or summer conditions, and corners of every degree of fierceness. Even Royal Ascot has two dreadful corners, Leicester is a square cornered rectangle, and Newmarket has the shape of a shallow boomerang with the July “leg” at right angles. Few of them are level, and many of them have their height irregularities at awkward places. Many of them are marred by that serious curse, a crossing for pedestrians or vehicles. The copious watering at Trentham ensures a turf that is velvety and springy under all conditions. Be reminded that many English courses with great names, notably Newmarket, “cake” badly in dry seasons. When two horses, equally well, meet at Trentham, the test is conclusive. Time records for obvious reasons are not proof of the excellence of a course, but Trentham has held at various times most of the Australasian records, and for a period, held half of all the New Zealand eighteen standard distance records.
On the first test, therefore, Trentham is difficult to match.
On the second count, Trentham's provision for the comfort of patrons and members is on a scale that is a source of wonder to all overseas visitors. The three giant stands at Trentham carry seating accommodation for twelve thousand people. The cantilever principle on which they are built is confined to a half dozen courses in the world. The illustrations show the superb beauty of the design, with their entire freedom from pillar obstruction, and their air of majestic simplicity. They have, moreover, a feature which is unique the world over, and is not generally known to our own public.
Every person seated on any one of the three stands, from the farthest back seat on the People's Stand to the front corner of the Members' Stand, has an uninterrupted view of any race from start to finish. The stands are not in line, but are slightly angled, and every seat has been tested for the line of sight. This innovation was meticulously examined by the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, who reported that this miracle of planning was completely efficient. It applies also to any projected extension of the stands. The spacious birdcage and the fine brick housing for the horseboxes, provide a stage for the showing of the candidates which has about it the air of a theatre.
The accommodation for members and visitors is sumptuous. Apart from its luxury and convenience, there is ample room. An ordinary member of page 27 the Wellington Racing Club has more comfort and quiet, and more genuine facilities for viewing and enjoying the races than are afforded in the Royal enclosure at Ascot. I say nothing of the frills—the tasteful restrooms; the lovely refreshment lounge for ladies and their escorts; the totalisator extensions for members' private use, and “all that.” The modern pari-mutuel equipment has the last word in its barometer indicator, and in a series of handsome buildings. The hosts of beautiful English trees; the spacious green lawns; vivid ornamental flower gardens; and the ample parking for motor cars, all make up a pleasure ground worthy of the capital of any country.
On this count, all in all, Trentham has no peer.
The training facilities at Trentham are beyond criticism. The trial grass is inside the rail, being a continuation of the main track. When the huge sprinklers are at work, the trial grass gets its ration, and is always in order. The plough and sand tracks (and the tan when it was procurable) were specially laid and prepared when the whole enclosure was remodelled. The plough can be deepened from two to four inches according to requirements. The club makes no charge to trainers, and there are no embarrassing regulations. Any horse can matriculate under ideal conditions at this ideal university.
Lastly, the surroundings at Tren-tham are breath-taking in their beauty. Instead of a huddle of roofs, factory chimneys, or a wide uninteresting heath, there is a vista of noble mountains. Many an eye wanders from the brilliant scene of racing colours and glowing horses, to the sublime panorama with which Nature encircles Trentham.
The very difficulties that were encountered in the building of Trentham made necessary a high measure of achievement; but none of it would have been possible without the work of enthusiasts. Trentham was conceived and erected by a band of capable business men who loved racing, and, above all, understood its problems and possibilities.
The stewards at the time were: President, Mr. J. G. Harcourt; Vice-Presidents, Messrs. W. H. Moorehouse and R. T. Turnbull; Stewards, Messrs. J. W. Abbott, James Ames, H. F. Johnston, Hon. T. K. MacDonald, Neil McLean, D. J. Nathan, and John Wilkins, and there was the indefatigable Treasurer and Trustee, Mr. O. S. Watkins. destined later to take the highest position in our racing world.
To-day Mr. E. L. Riddiford makes a worthy successor to the great preceding Presidents, Mr. J. G. Harcourt and Mr. J. G. Duncan. Under his guidance, aided by his vast fund of practical experience and a loving assiduity in the cares of his office, the noble tradition of the Wellington Racing Club is maintained at its full. The Club is fortunate, too, in the services of Mr. Haley, a human encyclopedia of everything about Trentham.
By way of giving final point to the claim that Trentham is unique, one last word must be said. The best racecourse in the world has eleven days of racing. The whole complicated machinery of these Metropolitan meetings as well as the intricate administration of the Club itself, is run by a lady secretary, Miss Bray, trimly calm and capable, and as efficient as she is dainty. I am indebted to her for much information in the writing of this article.
Not more than thirty minutes by rail or road from Wellington, there is the best racecourse in the world. Enough has never been said as to the capacity of New Zealand as a superb bloodstock farm, nor of the unrivalled standard of its racecourses. This article definitely proves that Trentham, being the best in a land which has the British love of the horse in a superlative degree, and an aggregation of advantages in the growing and racing of horses, has no peer as a testing and carnival ground for the meeting of thoroughbreds.
New Zealand has many claims to world superiority in its provision for the amenities of life and the recreation of its folk, many of them still waiting to be advanced and proved. However, one reading of this article will convince the reader that all its claims have been irrefutably demonstrated as nothing but the pure truth.