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Masterton Racing Club 150-years-old

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Masterton Racing Club will celebrate 150 years of racing this weekend with a gala dinner and the running of the Masterton Jubilee Cup at Trentham on Saturday being the highlights.

Tomorrow night’s jubilee dinner at Copthorne Solway Park will have racing identity Andre Neill as master of ceremonies.

Speakers at the dinner will be popular race caller Tony Lee, Waikato Stud’s Gary Chittick, and local breeder Tom Williams, who was on the club’s centenary committee. Life member Trevor Martin will touch on some of the club’s history.

Racing in Masterton started in the mid-19th century around Bannister Columba [as it was known then] and Queen streets before moving to the Donald Property [Manaia] at Solway.

Land was bought on the Opaki Plain and Opaki Masterton Racing Club was born. The first day of racing on the Opaki track was on Boxing Day 1885 with trains bringing patrons from Wellington for the occasion. The first running of the Masterton Cup was in 1896 for a stake of 150 sovereigns.

Masterton Racing Club last raced at Opaki on October 23, 1987. Since then, the club has raced at various tracks in the lower North Island including Tauherenikau, Trentham, Woodville, Foxton, and Hastings.

Life member Ray Southey said there were many highlights over the years, but two at Tauherenikau, stood out for him — the $20,000 Day in 1993, and All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu’s visit in 1996.

Southey said the 1993 October meeting where every race carried a stake of $20,000, huge money for maiden and lower grade races in those days, was a huge success. The only exception was the Group Three Lowland Stakes, which was worth $40,000.

“We turned over $430,000 on course and over $2 million off course,” said Southey.

“We had horses come from everywhere, and the racing minister at the time, John Falloon, praised us, but it was the only time we were allowed to do that.”

Lomu’s visit following the All Blacks’ history-making series win in South Africa took Southey by surprise.

“It was just amazing the crowd. Jonah was in a tent, and he signed more than 900 autographs. Kids were queuing for miles, and I couldn’t believe it.”

Fritzy Boy
Fritzy Boy won 15 races for Opaki trainer Aly McGregor. PHOTO/FILE

Since the closure of Opaki as a race venue, the track is now a training centre, with about 60 horses in work.

Many top-quality horses have been trained at the track, including multiple group one winners Cent Home, Tavistock and Fritzy Boy, champion steeplechaser Bodle, Entice, Sir Daniel, and many more.

More than 100 people are expected for tomorrow night’s dinner, and several busloads will travel to Saturday’s meeting at Trentham.

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