Horse Racing in New Zealand

It didn’t take much time for horse racing to be introduced in New Zealand in the early settlements. It was one of the main features of the first anniversary celebrations in many settlements across New Zealand, such as Canterbury, Otago, Nelson, Wellington, and Auckland

The History of Horse Racing in New Zealand

The importation of horses in New Zealand started back in December of 1814. It was expected that in a predominantly British colony, horse racing in one form or another would be popular. Horses in general at that time were a valvulae necessity. The first horses that came to New Zealand were most likely from Australia by Reverend Samuel Marsden on the 23rd of December of 1814 on board the ship Active. Horses at that time came along with the British military garrisons. According to records, the first horses made their way to Wellington on the 2nd of March of 1840, with Figaro being the first acknowledged thoroughbred horse. That horse was bred by T. Icely, who was one of the most renowned horse breeders during that time period.

It didn’t take much time for horse racing to be introduced in New Zealand in the early settlements. It was one of the main features of the first anniversary celebrations in many settlements across New Zealand, such as Canterbury, Otago, Nelson, Wellington, and Auckland. Soon after, race meetings became a remarkable sporting and social event. The first of these events were held around 1840, and it was by the Auckland military garrison. From 1842 to 1849, all the races in Auckland were managed by “The Committee,” which mainly consisted of the Militia. There was increased interest in these meetings, with owners riding their horses often. One of the first Premiers, Edward William Stafford, was one of the first horse owners who did this.

The Formation of Jockey Clubs and Committees

Local committees usually held the first meetings in the colony that the people elected for the meetings. It was often a public meeting that consisted of interested citizens. They made the rules, the arrangements, and appointed officials. Soon after, the formation of racing clubs followed in bigger towns. These clubs had their own local laws but were mostly based on the English Jockey Club’s rules. Up until 1860, each club was a separate entity, with little to no coordination with other clubs due to limited communication and travel ability.

The first genuinely conductive move happened in 1883 by Hawke’s Bay Jockey Club. On the 12th of July, they decided to form a subcommittee to consider the formation of a New Zealand Racing Association along with setting the rules. The matter was to be submitted to the different clubs. The proposal also included a monthly publication of an NZ racing calendar, a turn register, and registration of colors.

The New Zealand Racing Conference

Just as the Hawke’s Bay Jockey Club proposed, the New Zealand Racing Conference was developed, but it took about thirteen years. It was when the Canterbury Jockey club organized a meeting to revive the rules. Therefore, horse racing is controlled by the New Zealand Racing Conference. As consistent with its origin, it consists of an association of clubs that are registered as per its rules. It does not run race meetings, as it is an administrative and a legislative body. It consists of a president, a VP, an ex-officio, and a representative from each of the metropolitan racing districts in New Zealand.

Horse Racing Types in New Zealand

Horse racing comes in two forms. The first one is Thoroughbred racing (galloping), where a jockey rides the horse. The other one is Standardbred (harness) racing. In that one, the horse is driven from a cart that is referred to as a sulky. Harness racing is referred to as trotting often, but in fact, there are two subcategories under standardbred races, which depend on the running style. Trotting is where the horse movies each two diagonally opposite legs at the same time. As for pacing, the two legs on the same side of the horse will move forward together. Most of the standardbred races in the country are the pacing type.

Harness Horse Racing Rules

The racing rules in New Zealand differ from those in North America, as NZ uses the metric system to measure distances. The races are usually at distances between 1600 and 3200 meters. The races may have up to sixteen horses, although the numbers became less in many races, and can have less than ten starter horses. The horses can easily cross the Tasman and participate in races in Australia due to the similarity of the rules between New Zealand and Australia.

Women in the New Zealand Horse Racing Scene

Before 1977, only men rode the horses as jockeys. It was the first time the New Zealand Racing Conference approved of female riders, as females became eligible to ride on the 15th of July of 1978. The first-ever win by a woman in New Zealand was Joan Phipps from Canada. She won a race in November 1977 at Te Awamutu. Sue Day was the first-ever female jockey winner in a totalizator race against males in New Zealand. That happened on the 22nd of July in 1978. She ended the race on top during the Ned Thistoll-trained Jaws at Timaru. Despite some resistance from other industry members, many female jockeys were able to compete with great skills and succeed. Some of the most successful female riders include Linda Jones, Debbie Healey, Kim Clapperton, Lisa Cropp, and Samantha Spratt, to name a few.

Female riders continued to impress the industry worldwide, ending with Lisa Allpress. She was the first woman to finish at the top 3 during a thoroughbred race in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Matmon horse in 2020. She competed with fourteen other jockeys, including seven females at King Abdullah Aziz Racetrack in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. The challenge’s winner was Mike Smith, the American Hall of Fame Jockey, and Sibylle Voigt won the 2nd place, and Lisa finished in the 3rd place.

The NZ Government Reforms and the Messara Report in 2019

In April of 2018, the NZ Government Minister for Racing appointed John Messara to review the governance structure of the New Zealand racing industry. The report would also include recommendations on the future directions of the racing industry. On the 30th of August, the Messara Report was released by the Minister. There was a lot of media commentary regarding the close of racetracks in small centers. In October of the same year, the feedback was sought on the Messara Report. In December, the Minister announced the formation of a 5-member Ministerial Advisory Committee to lay down the upcoming steps on the Messara Review. The NZTR (New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing) Venue plan made it to the light in January of 2019.

That Recommendations of the Review

  • Reducing the number of thoroughbred race tracks nationwide to reach 27 instead of 48 by 2030.
  • Preventing the allocation of racing licenses to Reefton, Winton, Thames, and Hokitika, among others, for the 2019-20 season.
  • The closure of the Stratford Racing Club tack and the race meeting to take place in New Plymouth at the Pukekura Raceway.

On the 17th of April, the Racing Minister announced that the government cabinet agreed to the report’s overall intent and will implement reforms with two bills to amend the 2003 Racing Act. The first bill was planned to be enacted in July 2019. On the 20th of June 2019, the Racing Reform Bill passed the 3rd reading and its final parliament reading. In December of last year, the Racing Minister introduced the Racing Industry Bill as the final legislation response of the government of the Messara report recommendations. One of the main aspects was that the bill canceled the freehold property rights of the local racing club owners. Instead of forcing the owners to sell the courses, and using all money from the sales in that community, it will be transferred to help developer clubs in more prominent centers.

The New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame

The New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame was founded in 2003. It announced its first inductee to the Hall of Fame through an inaugural event in 2006. The Hall of fame honors and recognizes those who have achievements that enriched the thoroughbred horse racing industry in New Zealand. It includes both horses and people, and it is held every other year.

Since 2006, more than 75 people and horses made it to the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, and every inductee is celebrated through a short video that details their success story. The last one was held on the 3rd of May of 2020.

Racing and Jockey Clubs and Racecourses in New Zealand

There are sixty-five Racing Clubs (RC) and Jockey Clubs (JC) with the needed licenses in New Zealand, and many of them go way back and have a rich and long history in the racing industry. These racing clubs are the ones responsible for managing and staging the race meetings. The clubs come in a variety of sizes as they include volunteer and community-based organization that organizes one race per year. They also include larger, commercial clubs that have plenty of race days during the annual season. Some of the most well-known clubs include Wellington Racing Club (WRC), Auckland RC, Canterbury Jockey Club, Cambridge RC, and South Canterbury RC.

When it comes to racecourses, New Zealand is home to fifty-two horse racecourses. These racecourses are spread across the country, from Ruakaka Whangarei up north, to the Ascot Park, Invercargill down south. These racecourses vary between town and country settings and offer varying levels of facilities. Each of the racetracks has its own unique racing atmosphere, which ensures a variety that will fit the different tastes of New Zealand horse racing enthusiasts.

Auckland Racing Club:

Auckland Racing Club (ARC) is one of the premier racing clubs in New Zealand, whose events take place at the Ellerslie racecourse. It is the premier home for thoroughbred racing in the country. It hosts 24 Race Days every year, and it has a reputation for its lawns, trees, and gardens as well as its famous steeplechase track. Some of the key races that the club hosts are the Auckland Cup Week and The New Zealand Herald Boxing Day Races. It also offers an excellent selection of entertainment, food, fashion, and corporate hospitality in addition to thoroughbred horse racing.

The Wellington Racing Club:

The WRC (Wellington Racing Club) is based in Trentham in Wellington. It was founded back in 1854 as the Wellington Jockey Club, and its first race meetings were held at the Hutt Park and in the Miramar Peninsula at the Burnham Water. Its first signature competition was the Wellington Cup, which started in 1867. In 1879, it became the WRC (Wellington Racing Club), which became one of the premier racing clubs in New Zealand.

The Canterbury Jockey Club:

The Canterbury Jockey Club is one of the big racing organizations in New Zealand. Its HQ is the Riccarton Park Racecourse, where it has been holding its races since 1855. It also has a vast stabling and training facility. For more than 165 years, the CJC has been a pioneer in the NZ racing industry, hosting some of the country’s highly prestigious racing events. Its races take place at Riccarton Park, Rangiora, and Motukarara.

New Zealand Horse Racing Cups

There are many racing events throughout the year, and they take place in racecourses spread across the country. So, you can always find an enjoyable and entertaining racing event in a city near you.

The New Zealand Cup:

The New Zealand Cup is one of the biggest and oldest thoroughbred horse races in New Zealand. It has been a popular racing event that took place every year since 1865. Despite having Group 3 status now, it is still one of the biggest and most famous racing cups. The race week takes place at the Riccarton Park Racecourse. It takes place every year in the second week of November on Saturday. The New Zealand Cup is a 3200-meter race.

The Auckland Cup Week:

Auckland Cup Week is one of the significant annual racing carnivals in New Zealand. It also offers the biggest stakes in the country, more than NZ$2.2m. It takes place throughout two Saturdays in Auckland in February and March. The racing carnival consists of two days of entertainment and racing. The first Saturday, which is the last one in February, is for the Vodafone Derby Day, while the second one is the Barfoot and Thompson Auckland Cup Day.

Despite being a relatively new carnival, starting in 2006, it remains one of the biggest and most popular ones in New Zealand. Other than its derbies and the races, the Auckland Cup Week hosts plenty of off-track entertainment such as the National fashions field final, which is The Ned Prix de Fashion, which offers fantastic prizes, including trips to Australia. The latest Auckland Cup Week took place last February and March. It took place on the 29th of February and the 7th of March).

Gambling on Horse Racing in New Zealand

Bookmaking and placing wagers on sports was illegal, as per the laws of the government of New Zealand in 1920. It was only legal to place bets on horses at the race track. That changed in 1961 with the formation of the Totalizator Agency Board, also known as the TAB. It is the monopoly totalizator organization that runs gambling and bookmaking in New Zealand and Australia. It is government-owned in New Zealand, but it has been privatized in Australia. In New Zealand, the TAB also owns TAB Trackside, a former national subscription television service.

Although the NZRB Board (New Zealand Racing Board) replaced the TAB  back in 2003, the physical premises still have the TAB branding, and everybody in the industry always refers to it as the TAB. The TAB offers not only bookmakers, as New Zealand punters can place stakes online through the TAB’s website, which covers all greyhound and horse races. While it is safe and legal to place bets on New Zealand websites, players can place bets on offshore-based websites. On the other hand, they will have the protection of the NZ government, as these websites do not fall under the jurisdiction of New Zealand.

The Foundation of the RITA

The government founded The RITA (Racing Industry Transition Agency) under the Racing Act of 2003. It replaced the former NZRB. It is a statuary monopoly for NZ sportsbetting, which includes horse racing as well as greyhound racing.  The RITA operates the TAB and promotes the industry to maximize its profits. It airs racing on the two TAB channels. They are TAB Trackside 1 and 2, as well as the TAB Trackside Radio.

According to the Racing Act, the board’s responsibility is to improve and regulate the racing industry. It schedules the racing calendar of New Zealand to maximize its profits. It also promotes more full ownership of greyhounds and racecourses as well as the best practice in racing events. That is not all, as the board is responsible for improving the efficiency and the technology of the industry. It also aims to improve the racing venue’s atmosphere and facilities.

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