New Zealand horse racing
Horse racing holds a special place in the New Zealand sporting landscape, possibly second only to the mighty All Blacks and rugby union in terms of public interest and affection.
There are some 52 racetracks spread across the country, ranging from the world-class city tracks of Ellerslie (Auckland), Trentham (Wellington) and Riccarton (Christchurch) to the once-a-year venues that draw in dedicated locals as much for the social occasion as the racing.
With more than 360 race meetings each year, there are few days without a New Zealand meeting, though the best racing is reserved for Saturdays and carnival times.
The sport is governed by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing.
New Zealand is also renowned as a horse heaven for breeding, and exports many thoroughbreds to neighbours Australia and the racing hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore and elsewhere.
History of racing in New Zealand
The first horses in New Zealand are believed to have arrived in 1814 at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands from New South Wales, Australia, a gift from Governor Lachlan Macquarie to the Maori. The first thoroughbred to arrive in New Zealand from Australia was named Figaro, reportedly in Wellington in 1840.
Early race meetings were controlled by local committees with rules in common with those of the English Jockey Club. In 1876 it was decided a national jockey club be formed to standardise rules and weight scales. That was the forerunner of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing which runs the show today.
New Zealand can lay claim to having the world’s first automatic totalisator, invented by English-born inventor George Julius (son of the first Archbishop of New Zealand, at Ellerslie in 1913, and 1951 started the world’s first off-course national betting agency, the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB).
How NZ horse racing works
New Zealand is home to flat and jumps racing, though the latter plays only a small part during the colder months from March to early November.
Flat racing is dominant and continues year round, with race distances varying from sprints of 1000 metres (five furlongs) to middle distance to staying events up to 3200 metres (two miles).
Group 1 races stand at the peak of racing in New Zealand, followed by group 2 and group 3 races and then listed races, which often feature promising horses trying to make the transition to group racing.
The standard racing at the level below these races generally consists of handicaps, where the NZTR handicapper attempts to give each horse an equal chance by adjusting their weights, and maidens, for horses yet to win a race.
Racecourses of New Zealand
There are some 52 racecourses around the country, from the real country-style tracks to those in some of the more populous areas.
New Zealand’s Premier racing is mostly conducted on Saturdays and is held at the following tracks: Ellerslie (Auckland), Trentham (Wellington), Riccarton (Christchurch), Hastings, Pukekohe, Palmerston North, Dunedin, New Plymouth, Matamata, Te Aroha, Rotorua, Ashburton and Tauranga. Though most of the Premier action is at the city tracks.
Highlights of the NZ racing calendar
Auckland Cup Carnival
The focus in New Zealand’s biggest city turns to the Ellerslie course in early March for two days of super racing action, highlight by country’s richest group 1 race, the NZ Derby, on day one. The on day two it’s the stayers’ turn in the time-honoured Auckland Cup. The week features plenty of fashion and entertainment.
Best races: New Zealand Derby, Auckland Cup, New Zealand Stakes, Sistema Stakes.
Hawkes Bay Spring Carnival
Any excuse to visit this beautiful region should be used, and what better one than a racing extravaganza in September and early October, with the racing action at the Hastings course in Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of the North Island. The region is famed for its wines and other superb produce, plus its great golf courses, so plenty to do between meetings.
Best races: Mudgway Stakes (Challenge Stakes), Horlicks Plate, Spring Classic
Wellington Cup Carnival
A wonderful summer carnival helds over a couple of Saturday meetings in January at the Trentham track. As with most of the big NZ meetings, stayers are to the fore, for the tesing 3200m cup, while the Telegraph is the country’s richest open sprint race.
Best races: Levin Classic, Thorndon Mile, Telegraph Handicap, Wellington Cup.
New Zealand Cup Carnival
In mid to late November, the South Island takes centre stage for a magnificent week of racing, thoroughbred, standardbreds and greyhounds. At Riccarton racecourse in Christchurch, there are three premier meetings in the week, while the harness and greyhound action takes place at Addington Raceway. The highlights from a racing perspective are the NZ 2000 Guineas and NZ 1000 Guineas. The second Saturday is usually a sell-out as the stayers step out, on track in 3200m NZ Cup and off in the seemingly never-ending party the day brings.
Best races: New Zealand 2000 Guineas, New Zealand 1000 Guineas, Coupland’s Bakeries Mile, New Zealand Cup.
|Race||Type||P’money $NZ||Month||Track||Distance (metres)|
|NZ International Stakes||Open||$400,000||January||Te Rapa||2000m|
|Karaka Million||2YO||$1,000,000||January||Ellerslie Racecourse||1200m|
|Karaka Million 3YO Classic||3yo||$1,000,000||January||Ellerslie Racecourse||1600m|
|Telegraph Handicap||Open||$250,000||January||Trentham Racecourse||1200m|
|Wellington Cup||Open||$200,000||January||Trentham Racecourse||2400m|
|Thorndon Mile||Open||$200,000||January||Trentham Racecourse||1600m|
|Waikato Sprint||Open||$200,000||February||Te Rapa||1400m|
|New Zealand Stakes||Open||$200,000||March||Ellerslie||2000m|
|Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes||2YO||$225,000||March/April||Awapuni||1400m|
|Auckland Cup||Open||$500,000||March||Ellerslie Racecourse||3200m|
|New Zealand Oaks||3YO fillies||$300,000||March||Trentham Racecourse||2400m|
|New Zealand Derby||3YO||$1,000,000||March||Ellerslie Racecourse||2400m|
|Mudgway Stakes (Challenge Stakes)||Open||$200,000||September||Hastings||1400m|
|New Zealand 1000 Guineas||3YO fillies||$300,000||November||Riccarton Racecourse||1600m|
|New Zealand 2000 Guineas||3YO colts and geldings||$400,000||November||Riccarton Racecourse||1600m|
|New Zealand Cup||Open||$225,000||November||Riccarton Racecourse||3200m|