W is for Westport
Westport must be the only place where a pound of whitebait is dished out to the winning driver and trainer. But it sums up what racing in the district is all about.
“We work hard to make it positive for the community,” says Westport Trotting Club president Johnny Reedy, “we really put the effort in for all owners and all supporters to make it special.
The club has just three meetings a year, December 26 and 28, and then one in March. Boxing Day is by far the biggest, it’s a West Coast institution.
“It’s full, we are travelling as well as we can.”
“We have 3-4000 on course and that’s from a population of 5,500 in Westport and 10,000 in the district.”
But it’s far from just locals turning out, with racing fans and holiday-makers coming from all over the South Island, particularly from Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury.
Betting on-course, he estimates, can be around $200,000 on Boxing Day.
It’s also attracted some great horses over the years. “Bondy couldn’t win a Westport Cup but he won the Hunter Cup.” (Bondy’s win was the last time the Hunter Cup was held at Moonee Valley in 2010.)
“Armalight won her first race here as a three-year-old.”says Reedy, who’s the third generation of his family to be involved in the sport.
They raced the classy Starship in the 1990s, while dual Dominion Handicap winner Durbin Chief (1957-58) was another top horse to come from the Coast.
Harness racing in Westport dates back to races in the town centre (Victoria Square) in the 1890s.
Tom Arnett won three Cups in a row 1904-05-06, while Harry Gaskill and Dave Bennett won a record six each. In Gaskill’s win in 1924 he was third past the post only for Imprint and Some Wilkes to be disqualified.
In 1957 there was a sensation of another sort when the Club recorded the country’s first ever triple dead heat. It was in the President’s handicap when Night Owl, Wimpy and Keff could not be separated.
The Coast’s notorious weather can be a problem. The 2015 meeting was abandoned while Patterson Park was inundated with a surge of water in 2018 courtesy of Cyclone Fehi.
But through it all the club not only survives – it thrives.