The race meeting to be staged at Cambridge Raceway this Friday, the 11th January, is to be a special one for the harness racing industry.
It will mark the centenary of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Harness Incorporated racing club, that was established in 1919. The club has become an integral part of the Cambridge community and the course facilities have not only become the centre for racing in the region, they have also been widely utilised over the years, including as a training camp for the New Zealand military during World War II.
To mark the milestone, the club will be celebrating in style, with the night having a 1920’s theme, with racegoers encouraged to dress-up in attire of the time.
Originally the track was a grass dual code track, until the thoroughbreds moved across the road to Racecourse Road some decades later and where they remain as the largest thoroughbred training facility in the country today. Eventually the all-weather harness racing surface was to replace the grass, lights went up to facilitate night racing early in 1965 and the first mobile start races came later that year.
Many equine stars have left their mark on the Waikato track. The immortal Cardigan Bay, probably the greatest of them all, equalled the NZ Record for a mile back in September 1963, before he went on to win the NZ Trotting Cup that same year from a 54yd handicap and then conquered Australia and North America, where he was the first standardbred in the world to win $1million.
The local hero Young Quinn hailed from Cambridge and was trained at Cambridge by champion horseman Charlie Hunter and he won the Waikato Flying Mile in 1975, before going on to win the Inter Dominion Final at Alexandra Park and then going on to further greatness in North America. In the space of 13 days in February 1999 Christian Cullen won both the 4-Year-Old Classic and the Waikato Flying Mile in the showy and bold way that endeared him to so many fans. Injury robbed him and the fans of even more records and thrills, but Christian Cullen still went on to win 22 of his 31 starts, including an iconic 1998 Miracle Mile. Another son of In The Pocket was to make his mark at Cambridge Raceway, when Changeover became the first horse in history to become a dual Jewels Winner in May 2008, taking out the 4YO Emerald on the back of his 3YO Emerald victory at the inaugural Jewels held at Ashburton the previous year. Changeover went on to win 29 races on both sides of the Tasman and a massive $2,426,765 in stakes, that was a record for a pacing entire at the time.
One of the all-time great New Zealand trotters, Lyell Creek set the Cambridge track alight in January 2001, when in a 9-day stint he won both the Flying Mile and the Trotters Flying Stakes. Racing until he was an 11-year-old, Lyell Creek had 56 wins and 26 placings from 113 starts, for stake earnings of $2,961,137 in a truly international career. There were two very interesting maiden wins to come at Cambridge, the first being a local, the former two-time NZ Cup winner Just An Excuse who won his first-ever race at Cambridge on 20th June 2002, winning easily by 9¾ lengths and then three months later his eventual arch-rival of latter years, Elsu also won his maiden at Cambridge on the 27th September that year. One of the great mares of modern times, Adore Me won the 2015 Waikato Flying Mile, setting a track record of 1:51.6, before just two months later she paced her now famous 1:47.7 mile at Menangle in Sydney.
Cambridge, being one of the proudest harness racing areas in the country, has also produced human heroes, with names like Hunter, Butcher, Mitchell and Dickie, to name a few, to the fore.
This year’s Cambridge Centenary Meeting has seen the Raceway Chief Executive Dave Branch, shift both the Group 3 $30,000 Harcourts Te Awamutu Cambridge Trotters Flying Stakes and the Group 2 $60,000 McMillan Equine Feeds Waikato Flying Mile to the Centenary meeting, from their traditional early January meeting and this certainly has paid huge dividends, with some of the best harness racing talent in New Zealand in attendance.
Many of New Zealand’s best harness racehorses, drivers and trainers will compete in the 10-race programme, including the two feature races. In the feature pacing race, there will be a rare clash of New Zealand’s biggest Cups winners, with both the 2018 NZ Cup winner Thefixer and the recent 2018 Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up, set to clash in the event. They aren’t likely to have it all their own way though, as last year’s winner of the race and runner-up to Turn It Up in the Auckland Cup, Star Galleria, is also in the field and will be aiming to turn the tables.
The trotters feature race includes some topline runners as well, with last season’s Rowe Cup winner Temporale heading the line-up, from the superstar Speeding Spur. Also in the field is Massive Metro the last-start winner of the Group 1 National Trot and Majestic One, a runaway last-start winner, both on Auckland Cup night on the 31st December.
The support card is also a strong one, with many races shaping-up to be exciting affairs, so this meeting is shaping up to be Cambridge’s best of the season.
Oncourse entertainment on the night will include the Croquet Club, the Colts and Fillies club with free activities for children, a pop-up photo booth, a speakeasy themed bar and band, and a Fashions on the Fields competition with five categories and an overall winner.
The gates to Cambridge Raceway will open at 5pm, so racegoers are encouraged to dress-up for the 1920’s themed event and get along early to take in all the action. The club is expecting a big crowd and a great atmosphere and it is certain to be a great night of racing.
GOOD LUCK to all involved and to all horses and their connections racing on the night, including the Breckon Farms – The Perfect Ten Syndicate filly Gladamare, lining up in Race 4. Breckon Farms is also a sponsor on the night, with their race being Race 9, the Breckon Farms Parade Day 23 Jan Mobile Pace, featuring the unbeaten Sandy and Jan Yarndley bred on the farm Mathew James, so GOOD LUCK to them and owners Lincoln Farms Bloodstock Limited too.