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Cambridge Raceway Celebrates Centenary

By Michael Guerin

The home of New Zealand horse racing celebrates a centenary this weekend.

Now there is a statement guaranteed to start the odd argument. After all, New Zealand has some wonderful racing cities and towns.

 But in reality, Cambridge is the centre of New Zealand racing. Not just because of the huge number of stud farms that have housed champion sires like Zabeel or even his famous father Sir Tristram.

 And not just because Cambridge is our busiest thoroughbred training centre which in itself creates a mini economy around it.

 But Cambridge is also one of the proudest harness racing centres in the country, having produced names like Hunter, Butcher, Mitchell and Dickie.

 Tomorrow night Cambridge celebrates 100 years since the racetrack where the harness races are still held was built.

 Back in those days it was a grass, dual code track until the gallopers move across the road decades later.

 During the second World War it was used as a military camp housing up to 1000 army personnel and only returned to the racing industry in 1946.

 Eventually the all-weather harness racing replaced the grass, the lights went up and night racing started in early 1965 and the first mobile start races came later that year.

 But while much has changed, one thing has been a constant: the great horses.

Even these days when Cambridge acts as more of a feeder club for the richer Alexandra Park races it still holds on to hosting the Jewels every second year and tomorrow night hosts it signature race, the Flying Mile.

 So mainly by memory and with a little help from a thing called the internet, here are eight of the great moments and horses in the 100 years of Cambridge Raceway:—

1: Cardigan Bay: The greatest of them all came to Cambridge in September 1963 and equalled the national mile record. He went on to win the New Zealand Cup two months later and become the first standardbred in the world to win $1million. He was, and still in, harness racing’s Richie McCaw.

2: Young Quinn: There is nothing quite like a hometown boy made good and Young Quinn was definitely that for champion horseman Charlie Hunter. He won the Flying Mile in 1975 when it was worth $5000 and Quinny only needed to pace a sedate 1:58.9.

Soon after he won the Inter Dominion at Alexandra Park then went on to greatness in North America.

3: Christian Cullen: In the space of 13 days in February 1999, Christian Cullen won both the Four-Year-Old classic and the Flying Mile, pacing 54.5 seconds for his last 800m in both, times that wowed harness racing fans.

 The star who shone all too briefly beat the likes of Holmes D G, Homin Hosed and Bogan Fella and did it in a style we have never seen since.

4: Smolda: Better horses than Smolda appear on this list but his 2012 Jewels win was one of the greatest performances seen in NZ harness racing as he bulldozed  his rivals in 1:52.1 Remarkably the horse who finished second, Lets Elope, contests the Flying Mile tomorrow night, seven and a half years later.

5: Lyell Creek: New Zealand’s champion trotter popped into Cambridge twice in nine days in January 2001, beating Mountain Gold in both the Flying Mile (1:56.7) and the Flying Stakes. Both times he paid $1.15 which begs the question: who backed the other horses?

6: Auckland Reactor: Was still unbeaten when he downed Miracle Mile winner Monkey King in the Flying Mile on January 2, 2009 and the crowd lined the home straight fence to pat the freak on his way back to the stables.

Jogged home to win the Classic a week later but stunned punters when beaten for the first time after galloping away in he Futurity a week after that. Quite a fortnight.

7: Magic maidens: Former two-time NZ Cup hero Just An Excuse won his first ever race at Cambridge on June 20, 2002, bolting in by nearly 10 lengths.

You could have walked away that night thinking that is the best maiden I’ll ever see win at Cambridge.

Until three months later when his eventual his arch rival of latter years Elsu also won his maiden at Cambridge on September 27, 2002.

I’ll let you decide.

8: Adore Me: Gold Ace was the NZ Free-For-All champ and a super sprinter but in 2015 Adore Me sat parked outside him and paced a track record 1:51.6 in the Flying Mile. Two months later she paced her now famous 1:47.7 at Menangle.