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A galloping good time

Thousands of locals and visitors flocked to the Interislander Summer Festival at the Tauherenikau Races yesterday. PHOTO/BEAU ELTON

HAYLEY GASTMEIER

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The crowds came out for a hot day of racing at Tauherenikau on Wednesday, but for one racegoer the event has always clashed with a special occasion.

If Vanessa Phillips wants to celebrate her birthday with family, it always means a trip to the races. Yesterday was her 21st.

Her father, Jamie Phillips, is the track manager at Tauherenikau Racecourse and her mum has been helping out for years at the January 2 event, “making sandwiches” and carrying out any odd jobs.

While Vanessa says she “always loves it”, she admits she doesn’t really have a choice.

“Every year they forget to make me a cake because of the races,” the birthday girl said with a laugh.

“So last year they made me three to make up for all the other years.”

The Wairarapa Racing Club formed in 1864 and the Tauherenikau Racecourse was opened 145 years ago, in 1874.

The picturesque racecourse with stunning views of the Tararuas has been described as “iconic” in a report commissioned by Racing Minister Winston Peters, and many locals and Wairarapa visitors present in 27C heat agreed with that sentiment.

Susan Delaney, who recently moved from Wellington to Carterton, said the races in South Wairarapa were more relaxed and family-oriented than other race days around New Zealand.

“Tauherenikau is kiddy friendly which is different from Trentham, where you don’t take the kids.”

Sitting with friends under a giant umbrella, Carterton’s Karen Brown said she was a regular supporter of the racecourse.

“You got to support it, otherwise you lose it. I try and support all Wairarapa events.”

Corrina Brown, also from Carterton but no relation, said it was a fantastic family day out.

“We come more for the kids, so they can watch the horses.

“My nine-year-old daughter is a pro, she knows how to pick her numbers.”

Neville Smith, of Martinborough, has been attending the races at Tauherenikau for about 40 years.

He says even after all this time he’s still not lucky when it comes to picking the winner.

“I’m just along for the ride really. I keep coming back because I enjoy the company, it’s always a great day.”

Smith said he was pleased the harness racing was back, making up four of the 12 races yesterday .

Masterton’s Leah Hemi has been a jockey “on and off” for about 10 years.

“I’ve always been into horses,” she said.

“I like the money and seeing everyone — it is like a little family.”

The trick to being a good jockey? “A fast horse,” Hemi said.

Mario Skipper was pretty rapt with himself when horse Windsor took out the second gallops race – “It was absolutely phenomenal – coming from last from the home bend to winning at the post.”

Wairarapa Racing Club secretary Matthew Sherry said at least 8000 people were expected to attend and pretty much everyone behaved in an orderly fashion.

He said the races were always successful, which was very much down to the racecourse’s unique setting and relaxed atmosphere.

“There’s families here that have been coming for generations.”

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