Farewell Forbury Park
by Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk
This week marks the end of more than a century of racing at Forbury Park. The St Kilda site has played host to plenty of champions and moments of high drama in those 112 years.
The first meeting at Forbury Park was on a 1000 metre clay track in 1909. The site had been previously used by the Otago Jockey Club.
Before Forbury Park, harness racing had been held at nearby Tahuna Park. It had its first meeting in 1892 but needed more land hence the move to Forbury Park further down Victoria Road.
The first meetings at Forbury Park featured eight races on the Friday and the same the next day.
The present grandstand accommodating the club office, drivers and stewards etc, was completed in 1921. In 1960 Forbury Park installed floodlights, introducing night trotting to the South Island on January 26, 1961.
By 1965 it had also built an all-weather track and a new members’ stand in in time for the Inter-dominions. It would be the first and only time the Interdoms would be held in New Zealand, outside of either Christchurch or Auckland.
Auckland had been given the option to host the event, but turned it down. Wednesday, March 3, 1965 would be Forbury Park’s finest moment.
15,000 crammed in to watch the two finals.
In the trotters’ final favourite Gramel was leading into the home straight only for the field to pan out across the track. Little-fancied Poupette ($21) then got an inside run along the rails. It was a triumph for Southland and trainer-driver Harry Cox.
The pacers final was not short of controversy or drama, with Jay Ar in front and Robin Dundee with a fast finishing burst down the outside. Trainer-driver George Noble brought Jay Ar into the birdcage first presuming he’d won. The horse was duly decorated with the winner’s sash, before a second photo was called for.
It was then announced that the two horses couldn’t be separated. It was the first and only dead heat in Interdominion final history.
While Forbury Park has never had another carnival like it there have been plenty of out and out champions race there over the years. There are far too many to mention them all but Lord Module had 10 starts at Forbury, Courage Under Fire made his debut there (January 24 1998) to kick start the 24-0 start to his career, while Auckland Reactor won a Sires’ Stakes heat there in 2007 downing a field that included Themightyquinn (8th), and Adore Me won her one and only race there in 2012.
The 4Y0 and 5Y0 championship was also a stand-out every season, with Classic Line defeating dual New Zealand Cup winner Monkey King in 2007, while New Age Man won in 1997, Master Mood in 1986, and Kate’s First in 1998.
Before then the Dunedin Festival Cup had seen dual winners like Manaroa (1970 and 1972), Willow Wave (1937 and 1938) and Moneymaker (1917 and 1918).
The country’s most raced horse, 11-year-old Alexy will make his 113th start at Forbury in Race 7 (7.51pm), he has won there six times before. He’ll be driven by another veteran in Ricky May, who became the third ever Kiwi to drive 3000 winners in this country at Addington last Sunday. It will be Alexy’s record-extending 331st start.
Last year an Otago-Southland Tri-code racing review recommended Forbury Park’s closure, saying it was no longer economic. The future of the site itself has not yet been decided.
The Forbury Park Trotting Club will continue to race (with meetings planned at Wingatui and Wyndham) but Forbury Park’s final ever race is set to go at 9.06pm.