YEAR: 1909



"Who in their wildest flights of fancy," wrote "Spectator" of the 1909 race, "could have dreamed of the sport becoming so popular in such a comparatively few years... The chief race, the New Zealand Cup Handicap, carries a stake of no less than 700."

The class was now 4:45, and the winner was Mr W Kerr's Wildwood Jnr (owner) with Terra Nova second and Lord Elmo third.

Credit: 'Ribbonwood' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 25Oct44


YEAR: 1909


Wildwood Junior , with owner Bill Kerr

Wildwood Junior, having his first and only race of the season, gave the other contenders a pacing lesson in the 1909 New Zealand Cup. By the time the post was reached, Bill Kerr's brilliant but unsound pacer was 40 yards ahead, winning in 4:39. The margin remains the most decisive in the history of the race.

In 1895 Kerr bought the three-year-old colt Wildwood for 500 on one of his trips to the United States. Two years later he bought the mare Thelma from her breeder, J Todd, of Lincoln, for 50. She turned out to be a great New Zealand-bred foundation mare. Wildwood Junior was the second foal of their mating. A five-year-old black stallion, Wildwood Junior was the eigth favourite of the 10 starters, mainly because he had not raced that season.

On the same day, Willowood, Wildwood Junior's full-brother and the result of the first mating of Wildwood and Thelma, won the Au Revoir Handicap after losing several lengths at the start. Unlike the Cup winner, whose victory was unexpected, Willowood went out favourite. He was retired unbeaten in three starts, recording a win in each of the 1907-08, 1908-09 and 1909-10 seasons.

The 1909 Cup was raced at a time when the country was divided on the gambling issue. The 1908 Gambling Act, passed by Sir Joseph Ward's Government still had bitter opponents. A day or so before the Cup, more than 100 people waited on the Prime Minister in Wellington, protesting at the increase "almost beyond belief" of the gambling evil. Sir Joseph Ward, from all accounts, gave them a sympathetic hearing, but it did not prevent him attending the Show Day racing. Certainly, as the momentum of Cup week gathered in Chrischurch , the country had its agitators seeking a change in the legislation to reduce racing permits.

That enormous strides had been made in harness racing in Canterbury was evidenced by the opening day of the meeting. The Metropolitan Club offered stakes of 5502 sovereigns. The Cup stake, increased to 700 sovereigns, was the richest offered for a harness race in New Zealand or Australia. The Cup card was regarded as the best offered by a harness club with the qualifying time of the race tightened to 4:45. For the first time the race carried a restricted handicap, which was set at 10 seconds and designed to give the backmarkers a better chance of victory. The Cup was raced on the first day, Tuesday, setting a pattern that existed for many years.

An exciting newcomer, King Cole, a son of Ribbonwood from the Rothschild mare Kola Nut, was the favourite, but, along with Durbar, he boke at the start and was out of the race. Albertorious, bracketed with Revenue (driven by Manny Edwards), was the next-best supported, but for the third time he let down his backers, finishing well back.

For a lap John M, Verax, Imperial Polly and Master Poole formed the leading group. Further on, Wildwood Junior got within striking distance of the leaders and, with a mile behind him, burst into the lead. From that point the outcome was never in doubt. The further they went the greater the lead became for Wildwood's speedy five-year-old son. There was a great contest for second, with Terra Nova finishing half-a-length ahead of Lord Elmo, a duplication of their 1908 placings. Then followed Revenue, Imperial Polly and Master Poole. Imperial Polly, unsuccessful in the Cup on three occasions - 1909,1910 and 1911 - was by Prince Imperial. Later, at stud, when mated with Logan Pointer, she produced Imperial Pointer, who to Rey de Oro produced Imperial Gold, dam of tha amazing Gold Bar. Lord Module, the star of the 1979-80 season, traces back to Imperial Polly.

Bill Kerr's association with harness racing stretched back into the previous century. In 1887 he bought a block of 50 acres on Wainoni Road, halfway to New Brighton, and established his stud, later appropriately named Wildwood, and private training establishment. He and his brother Charles trained numerous horses there. Later, the brothers dissolved their partnership, Charles setting up as a public trainer and Bill concentrating on breeding and training his own horses.

Wildwood Junior first raced as a three-year-old in the 1907-08 season and soon worked his way into the best circles. As a green colt he won the Progressive Handicap at Addington in 4:50.8 and later, as a four-year-old, the Courtenay Handicap in 4:41. He eclipsed those times in his first Cup victory, clocking 4:39.

Wildwood Junior, standing an impressive 16.1 hands, was described as a commanding and perfectly-shaped stallion. However, his racing days were restricted because he had unsound legs. His only races in the 1909-10 and 1910-11 seasons were the New Zealand Cups, an both times he was successful. In the latter season he was the top money-winner, solely from his 700-sovereign share of the 1000-sovereign Cup prize. As a two-year-old, Wildwood Junior served two mares, and the matings produced two good performers in Calm and Goldie, both of whom won their first three races. Calm was favourite for the 1913 Cup, but finished third.

With earnings of 1656, Wildwood Junior was retired to Kerr's stud as a seven-year-old, but not before he had become the first double-winner or the New Zealand Cup.

Prince Albert won the main race on the Thursday, the Christchurch Handicap, from King Cole and Lord Elmo. On the Friday, Al Franz, a speedy four-year-old, won the Courtenay Handicap from Albertorious and Aberfeldy.

A total of 27 bookmakers operated each day, yet despite that opposition the totalisator took a record 45,018. The 3072 invested on the New Zealand Cup was only 86 short of the 1907 record.

Credit: Bernie Wood writing in The Cup

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