Hoofbeats of over 100 years - Part 2

… continued from part 1.

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At the time of the Levin Bayer Classic last November, Levin historian Mr F.C. Swanwick began the story of racing in the Horowhenua from the first meeting held in Otaki in 1854.  This week he continues his story from the time the Agricultural and Pastoral Association and the Levin Racing Club bought out the Horowhenua Park Co in 1906. 

Some time about this period the name was changed to the Horowhenua Hack Racing Club. 

Mr Charles Welby remembers being at a meeting about this time. 

Mr Hector McDonald was riding in a race (he was a jockey) and told Charles that he was riding to win.  So Charles found enough  boys with enough threepences (2 and a half cents) to make up half a crown (25 cents) bet and got an adult to place it with a bookmaker.  Hector won and the boys won about 15 shillings ($1.50). 

When licensed bookmaking was a made illegal about 1910, at Levin a visiting band played the bookmakers off the course with the tune "We parted on the shore".  (This story from Mr Charles Welby.) 

At some time a steward's stand was built as it existed by the 1920s.  During World War 1 the permit was withdrawn 1917-18 but restored the next year. 

In 1920 the club purchased the Feilding Club's totalisator for $400 and in 1923 the name was changed to the Levin Racing Club, racing on a one day permit except in 1924 and 1935 an extra day was raced on a floating permit. 

In 1940 the club purchased a one day permit from the Napier Park Club and until about 1943-44 had two days of meetings.  Through the 1930s and early 1940s in my memory raced on a Saturday in November.  The course was taken over by the army for a camp about 1943 or 1944 and restored to the club in 1946 with immense piles of concrete to remove. The track was condemned very soon after. 

The A&P Association formed its own show-grounds so the Racing Club bought its interest in the racecourse.  Four acres of land was bought on the south-west side and the track was rebuilt.  For a time the club had to race at Foxton and Otaki. 

The Levin Motor Racing Circuit was formed inside the track in 1951 and car racing continued until 1974. The 15 per cent of takings provided a boost to the club funds. 

In October 1960 an open event for women riders was held, thought to be the first in NZ.  The women jockeys were all employed at stables and their race was the most popular of the day. 

The Hokio Beach Racing Club was formed in 1961 with the meetings being held yearly for several years on the beach south of the Hokio Stream.  An equalisator for betting was provided.  I can remember one of these meetings and that Mr Hector McDonald was one of the jockeys. 


Records lost in fire

The Levin Racing Club records were lost in a fire in 1911.  Presidents gleaned from available records are as follows:  Messrs R.A. McDonald 1916, J. McLeavey 1917, T. Bevan 1924, W.G. Vickers 1930, W. Ryder 1935, E.M. Rider 1946, W.C. Hannan 1956, M. Wills 1959, Dr S.J. Thompson 1962 and Mr N.W. Ryder 1966. 

Secretaries as far back as known were Messrs R.D. Wallace 1916, F.A. Nicholson 1919, W. Bull 1919, Colonel F.S. Varnham 1924, E.R. Bryant 1926, F.A. Nicholson 1927, R.G. Romans 1946 and J.R. Goodwin 1955. 

The opening of a $50,000 new stand in 1968 was one of the big events of its history.  The summer meeting on November 26 was used for the opening day. The stake money for the Levin Cup was $2,300. 

The shuffling of the race days has been a drawback to the club over its history.  For example - in the 1960-61 season the club raced on Wednesday February 25 and Saturday March 1.  In 1961-62 dates allocated were Wednesday January 10 and Wednesday May 9.  Latterly the club was raced on a Tuesday in November and a Wednesday in July each year.  This is up to 1968. 

Two people who played a notable part, perhaps minor but very necessary, in running meetings over many years were Mrs Vera Welby who cared for the conveniences for 40 years and Mr Charles Welby who acted as a gatesman and at times did other duties for 30 years up until a few years ago. 

The stakes for the Levin Racing Club's July 1969 meeting increased to $10,000.  Messrs Jenson and Mungavin took over the Levin Motor Racing Circuit in 1970.  Mr Fred Wade was elected president in 1973.  Shop window displays were used in Levin for publicity of the November 1975 meeting. 

Mr and Mrs Welby were presented with a silver tray in 1975 in appreciation of many years of working at meetings. 

In 1976 Mr F.M. Corbett was elected president.  The next meeting was held in conjunction with the publishing of the Bill Skelton Story.  Dalgety Wine and Spirits sponsored a race, the Kentucky Beau Handicap for $300 also donating a dozen Kentucky Beau whisky to be divided between the winning jockey and trainer. 

Additions and alterations were built on to the main stand costing $22,000 in 1976.  The stakes for the Levin Cup race was increased to $5,000 in 1978.  The Levin Car Racing Circuit relinquished its use of its track on the course in 1976. 

In 1978 it was recorded that Mr James R. Goodwin had been secretary for 23 years.  He resigned in 1979 with Mr James Watters being appointed in his place.  Mr S.R. Kenny was elected president in 1980 with Mr W.J. Ward succeeding him in 1981. 


Feature race

In 1980 the club decided that it would like to establish a feature race for three-year-olds for a substantial stake and name it the Levin Turf Classic. 

The $100,000 stake money to be raised seemed to be an impossible task for a small club but optimism prevailed.  A sweepstake evolved whereby all horses wishing to be entered had to enrol three times with fees of $44, $55 and $35 to be paid each time. 

The first enrolment brought 665 nominations, the second 640 and the third 460.  As the field was restricted to 14 horses it was decided to stage two consolation races with stakes of $8,000 and $6,000.  Promotion costs were to be $6,000. 

The sweepstake brought in nearly $94,000 so there was a big amount yet to find.  The club not being able to find a sponsor, bridged the financial gap from its own funds.  A record crowd attended the meeting.  This and the vastly improved betting tallies delighted the club. 

Altitude ridden by Stephen Autridge won the first Levin Turf Classic.  The owner was an American, Mr Nelson Bunker-Hunt with the horse being NZ bred and trained.  Though Mr Bunker-Hunt was not present at the race he donated a handsome trophy to be held by the winning owner of each race. 

Mr Ivan Harris donated a statue of a jockey in Altitude colours and offered to paint it in the previous winning jockey’s colours each year.  This statue was to be on show each race day. 

The race was run in 1982 and 1983 with the stake money raised by the same method with the additional sponsorship by Bayer NZ Ltd of a large sum of money and the renaming as the Levin Bayer Classic. 

For the 1983 Classic the town staged a week-long promotion of Roses and Races Week.  Events staged included a retailers promotion, Farewell to the Regent Theatre, draw for barrier positions at the race in the Mall, opening of Cambridge St Gardens extension, Festival of Arts and a Grand Parade.  Retailers staged competitions with prizes valued at $7000. 

Some remembered clerks of course over the years are Mr Tubman in 1921 and Mr Macantonera about in the later 1920s and Mr Gordon Vickers about the 1939-1940 era.  Others later were Messrs Maurice and Gavin Parker, William Ash and Ben Winiata.  Present clerks of course are Messrs Robert Lammof and Barry Mahoney. 


Fashion stakes

Fashion stakes were held at the meetings some years ago.  A prize was offered for the best dressed woman.  This was sponsored by the fashion shops in Levin particularly A.W. Allen Ltd.  Winter meetings have been referred to as champagne meetings for many years.  Winning owners are presented with champagne. 

The Levin Racing Cub has always been generous with giving assistance to other organisations in Levin.  The course, buildings and facilities have been freely available at very nominal costs. 

Some of these organisations have been the Horowhenua Electric Power Board, Boys and Girls Agricultural Club, Boy Scouts Association, Levin Chapter of Round Table, Vintage Car Club, Levin Darts Club, New Zealand Horse Association, RNZ Engineers Reunion and many others.

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Hoofbeats of over 100 years - Part 2

Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:4/4/1984
Publisher:The News
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Hoofbeats of over 100 years - Part 2 by Pippa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License