Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945


One of N.Z.'s Leading Racing Clubs

With its headquarters at Paeroa and some seventy years of racing behind it, the Ohinemuri Jockey Club has grown in popularity, until it is now regarded as among the leading country racing clubs in New Zealand. The club celebrated its golden jubilee in 1926, though more or less impromptu race meetings were staged prior to the constitution of the club; the course in those early days including some of the quieter streets of the town, which in no way damped the keenness of the local enthusiasts.

Paeroa seventy years back was the centre of the Thames-Waihi gold-mining district (opened up about that time), and accordingly the populace included a fair proportion of rather exuberant spirits. Race day was the "red letter day" of the year. The liquor trade enjoyed more freedom than in later years, and racing fixtures were seldom conducted with the decorum of to-day. It is gathered from stories willingly related by old-timers still resident in the district (but annually decreasing), that the day's sport by no means concluded with the running of the last race on the programme.

In those years the principal means of travel was by coaches and other horse-drawn vehicles. Miners flocked to Paeroa for "the day," and many stories are told of friendly rivalry between the various coaches on the homeward journey. With accommodation taxed to the utmost, these heavy vehicles, drawn by high-spirited horses, and carrying a "high-spirited" load, would make the homeward run a race, the drivers of the leading coaches being encouraged by the exuberant passengers to prevent the passing of any overtaking vehicle, and although the narrow, winding roads made the journey hazardous, excellent times were recorded and considerable cash changed hands on the result.

Enthusiasts and horses from Auckland travelled by river boat, often barely arriving in time for the first race, while with the gradual silting up of the Waihou River in later years, due to mining tailings, the steamer developed an unfortunate habit of running aground. With the passengers often including the totalisator staff, the racing management sometimes had their anxious moments.

To-day Paeroa is easy of access, being the geographical centre of the Northern Thames Valley. It is the junction of all road and rail communications to the Bay of Plenty, Thames, Waikato and Auckland districts, and when completed the Pokeno-Paeroa railway will bring Paeroa within eighty miles of Auckland by rail. Followers of racing at present have little difficulty in reaching the Paeroa course, and in ever-increasing numbers are supporting both the Spring and Autumn fixtures.

The growth of interest taken by horse owners among farmers of the Hauraki Plains and Thames Valley, as well as among more local residents, means more horses being successfully trained at Paeroa, which has resulted in additional interest being taken in the sport by the general public. Owing to an unfortunate loss by fire, the earlier records of the club are incomplete, but past Presidents included:

W. Kelly, M. H. R., in 1896;

Hon. A. J. Cadman, 1898-1900;

Jackson Palmer, 1901-1902;

J. M. Coote, 1903-10;

R. T. Bush, 1911-12,

W. J. Towers, 1913-15,

J. Clarkin, 1916-17;

E. Shaw, 1918-19;

P. Grace, 1920-22;

W. Neil, 1923-24;

A. McGuire, 1925-26;

H. R. Bush, 1927-28;

T. P. Vuglar, 1929-30;

P. E. Brenan, 1931-32 and 1942-44;

E. P. Fathers, 1933-34;

J. J. Barrett, 1935-36;

F. E. Flatt, 1937-39;

T. A. Barrett; 1940-41; and

H. Dent, 1945.

Secretaries over the years have been:

R. Walker, 1896;

F. Vercoe, 1898;

J. N. Dalston, 1900;

T. Whewell, 1901-02;

H. Poand [Poland - E], 1903-38; and

the present Secretary, J. J. Poland, since 1938.

The bulk of the course property was purchased from the late Mr. Nat. Dickey in the year 1897, further purchases being made later. Mr. Dickey is remembered by many as one of the keenest and most truly sporting personalities of the day. He had not only bred, but trained and raced horses on a considerable scale. Stakes in the early days were definitely not on the magnificent scale, and even as late as 1896 totalled only £265 for an eight-race programme, which included a Cup Handicap of one and a half miles for a stake to the winner of £55, and one would prefer not to be obliged to listen to the comments of any present-day owner of a steeplechaser if asked to run his horse over a course of three miles for a winner's stake of £50, the amount provided in those days. Until the year 1905 pony races were included on the programme. To-day the stakes are approximately £2400 for an eight-race programme. The totalisator was first operated in Paeroa in 1892.

The progress of the club generally has been on a scale corresponding with the rise in stakes value, and the present freehold and unencumbered racecourse property has been steadily improved over the years. It is no longer necessary for the club stewards to form themselves into working bees to bring about required improvements, but undoubtedly the present members and the public owe a debt to those pioneers of the past who made this a practice. The present membership exceeds 300, and is increasing. In 1938 additional stand accommodation was provided at a cost of £10,000, and Ohinemuri now claims as a country club to have facilities for the public comparable with any. With a sloping lawn overlooking the track, all can view the actual racing throughout.

Until 1938 the club held permits for two days' racing, the meeting being held in March, one day being always that of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, but since that year the club has enjoyed four days' racing, permits for two additional days having been transferred from the Taumarunui Racing Club by arrangement.

The reduction in racing necessitated by the present war has had its effect on the club, but as neighbouring clubs, not so fortunately placed, have had the Paeroa course made freely available to them, the local public have not suffered to any great extent as regards availability of recreation.

The officials of the club have been consistently progressive in their outlook and have endeavoured to cater for all classes of the thoroughbred, while Ohinemuri Jockey Club was among the first to adopt the "win and place" system of betting. In an endeavour to assist breeders, the club was one of the associated clubs of the South Auckland district, which some years ago sponsored the importation of a number of thoroughbred stallions.

Being in a sound financial position, with up-to-date appointments, combined with a desire to provide the best possible for owners and public, the Ohinemuri Jockey Club should have before it a very promising future.

Kindergarten at Paeroa

It is interesting to note that the champion Kindergarten started in the Karangahake Handicap at Paeroa as a two-year-old in 1940, when trained by I. Tinsley. Kindergarten, carrying 8.5, was ridden by R. E. Horne, and was unplaced, the placed horses being Belle Femme (7.2), Dinky Di (8.8.), Queen City (9.5) and Sure Pay (7.8).

A Maori Race Meeting

Short Cuts Through Ti-tree

Local politics were not the only diversions in the old days. Sixty years ago a two-day race meeting used to be held at Whangamata, the main event being for a cup valued at £15. It was a Maori meeting, but great interest was also taken by the pakeha. It is stated that if the "wrong horse" won, the race continued until the "right" one came in. Some knew a quick way through the ti-tree, which was a decided advantage, and the race was not always to the swift.

Big sports meetings at Mackaytown were also a great attraction and brought competitors and visitors from all parts of the district and from further afield.