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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

“The Sport of Kings”

page 433

The Sport of Kings

Lively Early-day Meetings—Constabulary Parade with Swords Unsheathed—Quaint Rules Enforced.

Now the oldest racing club in the distriet, the Poverty Bay Turf Club held its first meeting in 1870 on S. Parsons's property at Matawhero. A meeting was held at Ormond in 1873 by the Armed Constabulary. The Waerenga-a-Hika Jockey Club was formed in 1874. Races sponsored by natives were held at Waiapu in January, 1874, and at Manutahi in the following month. The first races at Tolaga Bay were held on 28 December, 1876. Among the clubs which raced in the early 1880's were the Poverty Bay Jockey Club and the Makaraka Race Club. In December, 1885, the Tolaga Bay Jockey Club was formed. The Gisborne Racing Club held its inaugural meeting on 5 November, 1889. After its meeting on 24 May, 1895, the Waerenga-a-Hika Jockey Club ceased to function. Bookmaking became illegal in 1910, and a host of unregistered meetings faded out. On 28 October, 1916, the Poverty Bay Hunt Club held its first meeting under permit. The Gisborne Racing Club went out of existence in July, 1932, and the borough took over its property, converting it into a domain. Negotiations for the merging of the Waiapu R.C. and the Tolaga Bay J.C. in the Poverty Bay Turf Club were entered into in 1949. Tolaga Bay J.C. agreed to do so.

A memorable brush between pakehas and Maoris took place at the first meeting held at Matawhero. When trouble appeared likely, Major Westrup called to ex-members of the Forest Rangers to “Fall in!” The men, some of whom rushed for their horses, armed themselves with any weapon—from stirrup leathers to palings—that came to hand. It seemed likely that the natives would make a stand, but they broke and fled across the Waipaoa River. On the occasion of the next meeting a squad of Armed Constabulary, with swords unsheathed, was in attendance.

Steps were taken in October, 1872, to organise the Turf Club more thoroughly. A Turf Committee was set up, comprising: J. W. Johnson (chairman), J. B. Poynter, T. Goldsmith, G. Davis, C. D. Pitt, W. H. Tucker and M. Hall (secretary). As Mr. Parsons declined to allow his property to be used again unless he was compensated, the meeting in January, 1873, was held on one of Captain Read's paddocks at “The Willows.” G. J. Winter was starter and W. A. Richardson judge.

Four races were set down for the first day: Maiden Plate (20 sovs.), w.f.a., 3 miles; Turanga Stakes (20 sovs.), 1½ miles, aged, 11 st., 5, 4 and 3-year-olds in same reduction as under the Auckland rule; Scurry Stakes (15 sovs.), 1 mile heats, w.f.a.; and Hack Race (5 sovs.), 1 mile, catch weights, for horses which had not been entered for other than hack races and which had not been sweated in clothing. On the second day the programme was: Hurdle Race (20 sovs.), 2 miles, five flights of 3 ft. 9 in. fences, w.f.a.; Pony Race (10 sovs.), 14 hands and under, with 9 st. top-weight and an allowance of 71b. per inch below, 1 mile heats; Ladies' Purse (20 sovs.), 2 miles, w.f.a.; Consolation Handicap (10 sovs.), 1½ miles, for all beaten horses; and Hack Race (5 sovs.), 1½-mile heats, catch weights.

page 434

No person was permitted to enter a horse for other than the Hack Races unless he had subscribed at least two guineas to the race fund. Entries had to be accompanied by a fee of 15 per cent. of the stake. All fees were added to the stake. The winner of any private match was required to pay 10/- to the stewards. To assist in meeting the expenses 5 per cent. of the winnings was deducted. Nominations were received from: T. Goldsmith, S. C. Caulton, J. B. Poynter, M. Hall, J. W. Johnson, S. T. Horsfall, G. J. Winter, C. D. Pitt, Harrison, G. G. Mill, Powdrell, Galbraith and Dalziell.

Not the least enjoyable feature of the meeting (readers of the Standard were told) was that a full hour was allowed each day for an alfresco lunch. “The popping of corks, that exquisite spiral grinding of the corkscrew, the jingling of glasses, the domestic clatter of plates and dishes, the merry laugh and pleasant joke—all these things combined to make rural festivity complete.” The absence of many of the ladies on the second day was attributed to “the necessity imposed on them to husband their beauty and strength for the ball.”

In January, 1874, a feature of the programme was a Cavalry Race, run over 3 miles, owners up in uniform, but without accoutrements, and at welter weight, 12 st. 4 lbs. A condition of entry was that the horse must have been ridden at all parades since the previous October. The “gate” was bought by R. Kelly for £30. Patrons on foot were charged 1/- for admittance, horses 2/-, and vehicles 3/-; grandstand, 2/6. After the races the grandstand was sold for £14. R. Kelly and G. Saunders each paid £25 for the right to have a liquor booth. Transport to the ground by four-wheel brake cost 7/6 return. Among the patrons were a number of Maori belles “got up regardless of expense, their riding habits, hats and every other requisite being in the newest style.”

Notable horses from other districts soon began to make their appearance at races in Poverty Bay. Some “bookies” brought horses with them. In 1876, Otio, which had, in the previous year, won the Auckland Derby, was a contestant. Perfume was brought to Gisborne in 1877, dumped overboard from the steamer, swum ashore, and won a race the same day. Meantime, local owners had begun to acquire good horses. S. C Caulton secured Dainty Ariel (one of the progeny of the famous Riddles-worth). Kalo, another of his acquisitions, paid a dividend of about £300 at Auckland. Foul Play (the shortest-priced favourite ever to win the Auckland Cup) came into local ownership in 1884, and had a walkover in that year's Turanga Stakes.


On a Sunday morning in August, 1878, a race was held, for a bet of £20, Gladstone Road between R. Thelwall on a stock horse and C. E. Major (later M.H.R. for Hawera) on foot over 100 yards. Major, who received 20 yards start, won by 10 yards. It required all Therwall's strength to prevent the horse from carrying him on into the Turanganui River. “There were many beer-thirsty mortals to witness the contest, even although the hour was early,” Mr. Major said in a letter to W. L. Rutledge (14/1/1943), “and all adjourned to the Masonic Hotel bar to drink my health.”

Shopkeepers did a roaring trade in gauze for men, as well as for women and children, on dusty race days in Early Gisborne. Describing conditions on the occasion of the Turf Club's meeting in January, 1884, the Telephone remarked: “Even for those who veiled themselves heavily, the ride out to the course was most unpleasant. Heads were enveloped in networks of various colours, and it was scarcely possible to distinguish one's dearest friends.”

A “tote,” borrowed from an Auckland resident named Adams, was used at one of the early Turf Club meetings. It was 5 feet long an1 3 feet high, and was manipulated by a handle. The club was prepared to buy it, but a letter to the owner was returned marked “Addressee Unknown.” Eventually the machine was sold, and the proceeds handed to the Hospital Fund. W. Stock, of Napier, operated a portable “tote” at the meeting in February, 1882, and the investments totalled £349. In the 1890's a small machine went the rounds of the country meetings. The natives at Anaura were content to use a blackboard.

An exciting finish occurred at the Gisborne Racing Club's meeting on 10 July, 1903. page 435 Five horses finished practically in a line. The judge (Captain Tucker) ruled that Ia had been the first to get its nose over the line, but he confessed that he could not sort out the others in their proper order. The stewards decided that Hiki and Mongonui had tied for second place.

Dividends on four horses had to be paid out on the Maiden Scurry at the Gisborne Racing Club's February meeting in 1991. Thel judge (W. G. Sherratt) was unable to separate three horses which finished next after the winner.

A very profitable meeting for Poverty Bay Turf followers was the Grand National fixture at Riccarton in August, 1910. The “double” was won by two district-bred and owned horses. C. Morse's Te Arai (Monaca-Frolic) bred by John Clark, and sold by him for £26, won the Steeples (3½ miles) with 11 st. 9 1b. up in 7 min. 15 1–5 sees., and G. B. Oman's Paisano (Strowan-Booby), bred by J. Robson and part-owned by D. J. Barry, won the Hurdles (about 2 miles) with 12 st. 1 1b. up in 3 min. 46 3–5 secs. Faugh a Ballagh, which won the Steeples in 1887, had, earlier, been a station hack in Poverty Bay. Donald McKinnon, “a bag of bones,” which H. Glover, of Tolaga Bay, bought for £30, was the winner in 1895. G. B. Oman was successful in the Hurdles with Medallius in 1904. In 1911 J. A. Lucas's Continuance was the victor. The winner in 1915 was F. J. Lysnar's Hurakia. In 1945 H. H. Dod's Master Meruit, with 10 st. up, won the Steeples by 10 lengths in 7 min. 10 secs.

The horse that has brought most fame to Poverty Bay is E. Fitzgerald's Kindergarten, the bay son of Kincardine and Valadore. In his 34 races he had 25 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds and earned £16,000. As a three-year-old he won the Wellington Cup (1½ miles) effortlessly, carrying 6 1b. above w.f.a., against a field which included Royal Chief, Old Bill, Catalogue, The Buzzer, Gladynev, Belle Cane, Serenata and Orelio—horses among which were ultimate winners of three Winter Cups, a Melbourne Cup and the Auckland, Wellington and New Zealand Cups. He was a dual winner of the Easter Handicap (1941–42), on the second occasion with the record steadier of 10 st. 3 lb. As a five-year-old he won the Auckland Cup in the greatest race in its history. With the highest weight ever imposed (10 st. 2 1bs.), he romped home with five lengths to spare—the largest stretch of daylight that has ever separated the winner of the race from the second horse—in the record time of 3 min. 22 secs. Upon retiring in 1947 (after holding, for 30 years, the position of handicapper to the Auckland Racing Club) F. J. McManemin averred that, if Carbine, Phar Lap and Kindergarten could have met, “they would have had to be sent off at level weights, and no one would have been able to foretell the result.”

As a four-year-old Golden Souvenir (Lang Bian-Valadore), also bred and owned by E. Fitzgerald, had a phenomenal season in 1945–46. At Riccarton he scored a brilliant victory in the New Zealand Cup, won the Churchill Cup on the second day, and, on the third day, was beaten in the Canterbury Cup by only half a head. Over the season he won the then record total of £10,545.


Patrick Malone (born in Ireland in 1854) settled in 1876 at Matawhero, where he opened a saddlery business. For over 40 years he was one of the leading horse trainers in the district. He trained both Medallius and Paisano (winners of the Grand National Hurdles). On 23 February, 1927, he was fatally injured when he was thrown from his gig.