Manawatu Racing Club
The Manawatu Racing Club conducted its first racemeeting in Palmerston North on Boxing Day 1881. A few years later the Club purchased 100 acres of land at Awapuni for just four thousand pounds and the Club celebrated its first raceday at the new course on the 26th December 1903.
The very popular Boxing Day racemeeting continues to be one of the highlights of the Manawatu Racing Club's year, with thousands of racegoers packing the racecourse each season. While Boxing day draws the biggest crowd to Awapuni, the major racemeeting of the year is The Courtesy Ford sponsored Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes - a Group One two year old race run over 1400 metres in the autumn. This is now New Zealand's richest Group 1 two year old race, run for $225,000.
The Manawatu Sires was first run in 1908 and is one of only two Group One juvenile races conducted in New Zealand. On this day the Manawatu Racing Club also conducts the time honoured, Group Two Awapuni Gold Cup, a 2000m WFA contest that was first staged in 1915. Over the years the Gold Cup has been won by some of New Zealand's very best gallopers including Desert Gold, Nightmarch, Kindergarten, Mainbrace, Redcraze, Show Gate, Grey Way, Balmerino, La Mer, Horlicks, The Phantom, Calm Harbour, Distinctly Secret and Sir Slick .
In more recent years the elevation of the 2000m Higgins Manawatu Classic (for 3yo's) to Group Three status and the creation of the Listed Fairdale/Goodwood Studs Flying Handicap (1400m) has seen four prestigious black type events run on this day. With total prizemoney of $595,000 the Manawatu Sires meeting is one of New Zealand's richest autumn racemeetings.
The Manawatu Racing Club also offers similar total stakes for its Premier Manawatu Cup meeting in December. The feature event is the Hotel Coachman Manawatu Cup, which was first run in 1892. This Group Three event continues to attract very competitive fields. The Group Two Kamada Park Challenge Stakes (1400m WFA) is also run on this day.
The Manawatu Racing Club is the "senior" partner as such amongst the RACE Group of Clubs that race at Awapuni, staging 9 of the 18 racemeetings conducted here. The Club will conduct two Premier and six feature meetings during the season.
Marton Jockey Club
One of the most memorable racedays in the Marton Jockey Club’s proud history took place in 1935 when Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, who was the son of the reigning monarch King George V attended the Club’s New Year’s day racemeeting at Marton.
It was reported that over 10,000 patrons attended the Marton races that day and when the military band struck up Land of Hope and Glory and the National anthem everyone oncourse burst into song. Not only did his Royal Highness Prince Henry attend the races that day, at the invitation of his host Sir Thomas Duncan, arrangements were made for the Duke to ride a horse called Black Man in the one mile and 137 yard Ladies’ Bracelet race for amateur riders which carried a stake of 50 pounds plus a trophy. Black Man and the Duke of Gloucester led clearly in the early stages, but the favourite began to wilt as the field turned for home under his big weight of 13 stone 2 pounds and they faded to finish fourth.
Later that day the Duke presented the Marton Cup trophy won by the very good mare Cuddle to her Hasting owner-trainer C J Stowe. After her win in the 1935 Marton Cup, Cuddle went on to be one of New Zealand’s very best staying mares, winning two Auckland Cups, the New Zealand Cup and Doncaster Handicap in Australia. Wellington Racing Club’s Cuddle Stakes is still run in recognition of her prowess.
The Duke was obviously impressed with the hospitality he received from the Marton Jockey Club and later presented a trophy to be known as the Duke of Gloucester Cup, for competition amongst amateur riders. The Duke of Gloucester Trophy is still competed for annually in New Zealand. Amongst the many names to have won the Duke of Gloucester Cup is that of the past Marton Jockey Club President Douglas McK Duncan, who was also President of Rangitikei Hunt Club and past Chairman of the RACE Board. Douglas Duncan’s grandfather Ken rode against the Duke of Gloucester back in 1935.
Today the Marton Jockey Club committee is still very well known for their warm hospitality on raceday. The Marton Jockey Club has conducted their racemeetings at Awapuni since 1980, despite considerable opposition at the time from a vocal group of the Club’s members who opposed the move. Marton has the four racedays at Awapuni with the biggest day being there Premier day in January with the $55,000 Listed Gallagher Group Marton Cup. Another feature day for the Club is in September with the $70,000 Gr 3 Merial/Ancare Metric Mile.
Rangitikei Racing Club
The Rangitikei Racing Club is one of New Zealand’s oldest “Racing” Clubs and this proud Club held its 150th anniversary celebration in 2007.
Racing was a popular pastime in the Rangitikei district from the early 1850’s and in 1859 James Bull Snr opened a store and later a hotel there – which is how the township of Bulls got its name. His son Jim Bull Jnr. bred and raced many good horses, specialising in jumpers. Jim’s sons Lindsay and Leighton were first class amateur horsemen in their day, with Leighton becoming a committeeman of the Marton Jockey Club. The family tradition has in turn been carried on by Leighton’s son Jim Bull, who enjoyed a long and distinguished career in racing administration highlighted by his time as the President of the New Zealand Racing Conference. Jim Bull continued the family association with the Rangitikei Racing Club and is the sponsor of the Rangitikei Gold Cup – a race that not only carries the James Bull name, but an event that Jim Bull himself won on three successive occasions in the mid 1980’s with his very good galloper Magnitude. Since his passing, his daughter Ali McLean has kept the tradition going with James Bull Holdings still sponsoring the Rangtikei Gold Cup today.
The Rangitikei Racing Club established the Bulls racecourse around 1878 and raced there until 1969 when the Club shifted its activities to Awapuni. A few years ago the Rangitikei Racing Club decided to sell the old racecourse to local trainer Stewart Mitchell who has since sold the course to Raymond Connors. The Bulls track is now a private training centre for Raymond and other trainers in the district.
Today the Rangitikei Racing Club conducts two racemeetings each season at Awapuni, with the Rangitikei Gold Cup, which was first run in 1875, held at the Club’s May feature meeting. A few years back the Rangitikei Racing Club faced an uncertain future, with the cost of maintaining their Bulls training track and contributing to the cost of developing the facilities at Awapuni proving to be a burden on the Club’s limited finances. The sale of their racecourse and the development of the RACE concept has strengthened the Rangitikei Racing Club’s position. The Club was rewarded with another Saturday date in 2013 held in November.
Feilding Jockey Club
Horse racing has been part of Feilding's history from its very earliest days.
In 1871 Sir William Feilding arrived in New Zealand and together with Mr Arthur Halcombe purchased 106,000 acres of land for just 15 shillings an acre. They established the Manchester Block, as it was then known, with Mr Frank Lethbridge becoming one of the more substantial land owners.
Barely five years after the settlers arrived Frank Lethbridge had carved a racecourse out of the fertile land, which became known as Lethbridge's Run. Frank Lethbridge was the Feilding Jockey Club's first President and also served as the judge. In the early days there were three clubs racing on Lethbridge's Run. However in 1880 the Feilding Jockey Club took over the Hunt Racing Club and Steeplechase Club. Frank Lethbridge continued as President of the Feilding Jockey Club until 1911.
In 1890 the Feilding Jockey Club shifted from Lethbridge's Run to set-up a new racecourse, where the Club raced for just over 100 years until 1999 when the decision was made to sell the racecourse to the Manawatu District Council and transfer the Club's racing operations to Awapuni. The Feilding Jockey Club land is now part of Manfield Park.
Feilding Jockey Club's vision to realise their assets and invest the proceeds from the sale of the racecourse to underwrite the Club's racing activities at Awapuni has been hailed by industry leaders as one of the best decisions made by a New Zealand Racing Club in recent years.
In 1999 the Feilding Jockey Club had struggled to conduct three low-key midweek racemeetings at their course. The Feilding Cup that year was run for just $8,000. Today the $50,000 Ricoh Feilding Gold Cup is a Listed Open Handicap race with the Club offering $170,000 prizemoney on this day, which is more than they paid out for their three meetings in the 1998/99 season.
Feilding currently runs three meetings at Awapuni, with the RACE Board allocating them the Manawatu Racing Clubs popular ANZAC day feature meeting, which has provided the Feilding Jockey Club with a second black type feature raceday. The Club is in a very strong financial position and is a major contributor to the RACE concept.