YEAR: 1887


Jimmy Brown the first horse to win twice on one city programme - back in 1887 - rose to fame between the shafts of the Akaroa coach his time feats causing Emerson Clarkson to buy him for racing. Jimmy, a track star too, eventually went blind. That was why one day at Heathcote he ran off and crashed into the river where his driver had to strip off to save him from drowning.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 28 Mar 2012


YEAR: 1882

The first trotting race meeting recorded in the Canterbury district was held in 1882 on the Lower Heathcote course opposite the Heathcote Arms Hotel. One of the good performers in those days was Jimmy Brown, a blind trotter who on one noteable occasion "lost the compass" and wound up in the Heathcote River.

Credit: R Bisman: A Salute to Trotting


YEAR: 1946


How many of the thousands of people who will assemble at Addington on Saturday to witness the 43rd contest for the NZ Trotting Cup have any idea what trotting was like when first established in this province? In the coming race will be found horses which are the acme of physical fitness and grace. Sixty years ago at any meeting you would have been confronted with the clumsy efforts of horses that, only a few days previously, had been earning their oats between the shafts of a butcher's, baker's or grocer's cart.

Yes, the progress of this humbler racing sport has been as meteoric as to make one wonder where its limitations will cease. For instance, when Bert Edwards drove that grand old trotter, Monte Carlo, to victory in the first contest, the stake was only 300, and on a good track the winner took 4.44 2/5 to cover the two miles. In 1910 the value of the Cup had jumped to 1000; in 1913 it was 2000, and in 1929 it had gone up to 4000. Last season it reached 7500, thereby making it the richest stake ever given for a single light-harness race in the world. There has been a corresponding improvement in the times also. Monte Carlo's feat of going the journey in 4.44 2/5 was hailed as a great one at the time, but it looks insignificant when compared with Haughty's 4.13 3/5.

Away back in the seventies, on almost any general holiday and sometimes on Saturdays a band of sporting enthusiasts would meet on the New Brighton beach, near the present township. During the day about half-a-dozen events would be decided, some for trotters and some for gallopers. They were rough and ready meetings, and the prizes were usually of the utility order, such as a saddle, a bridle or even a whip. When the New Brighton Racing Club was formed these informal gatherings ceased. Mixed racing and trotting meetings were held on a new course for some years, but after a while the galloping element faded out and it was left to the New Brighton Trotting Club to carry on, which it has done successfully to this day.

It was the Lower Heathcote Racing Club, however, that did most to establish the light-harness sport. I wish that you enthusiasts who know trotting only as it is conducted at Addington today could journey with me to the Heathcote course as it was in the eighties. What a contrast you would notice. The old course was situated on the Sumner Road, just before you came to the bridge. All the arrangements were primitive.

My present concern, however, is more with those old-time trotters which, in their humble way, helped to lay the foundation as it is now. To a few present-day racegoers the names of such ancient celebrities as Fidget, Shakespeare, Sapphire, Bobby Burns, Maid of Munster, Narrow Gauge, Cock Robin, Wait A While, Chanticleer, Victor, Young Irvington and Long Roper will conjure up memories of the so-called 'Good old days.' Mention of Cock Robin brings to mind the fact that even Gloaming's trainer was an active participant in the trotting sport. Before becoming associated with Yaldhurst, Dick Mason owned Cock Robin and on one occasion rode him to victory in a race at Oamaru. The versatile Dick was just as finished an artist on the back of a trotter as in a galloper's saddle, and this particular win gave the ring a nasty jolt.

Amonst the regular competitors at Heathcote was a pony called Jimmy Brown, who, though blind, generally knew the shortest way to the winning post. Once Jimmy would not answer the helm and, swerving off the course, landed up in the Heathcote River. Both he and his rider had cause to remember that mishap. Perhaps the cheekiest ramp ever attempted at Heathcote was engineered by a then well-known bookmaker with a mare, originally grey. She won several races at country meetings, but a coat of brown paint transformed her into an unknown quantity when she stepped out at Heathcote. She won alright but, unfortunately, it was a hot day. When she pulled up the brown paint had run and she looked more like a zebra than a racehorse. So the fat was in the fire and there was weeping and wailing in the camp of the wrong-doers.

Most of the races were run under the saddle, and it was no unusual thing to find a good horse giving away up to 60sec to 90sec start, and even that concession failed to put the cracks out of court. For a long time the handicappers never made less than 5secs between any division of horses, for which there was probably a good reason. Under the rules when a horse broke, its rider was compelled to pull it up and turn round before going on with the business. When, as often happened, there were several that could not trot a furlong without getting in the air, the race savoured more of an equine circus or a Waltzing Matilda contest than a trial of speed. Just fancy a race at Addington with similar conditions. The Lower Heathcote Trotting Club died a natural death in 1893, but its memory lingers on.

When Lancaster Park was brought into being as a sports and cricket ground, difficulty was experienced in financing it. To help in this way a club known as the Lancaster Park Trotting Club was formed and held meetings on a three-laps-to-the-mile course, the same as that on which the bicycle races were run. The venture did not serve its purpose and its operations were subsequently taken over by a more practical body known as the Lancaster Park Amateur Trotting Club. Its meetings were well conducted and did much to popularise the sport. Another club that had a rather meteoric career was the Canterbury Trotting Club, with headquarters at the Addington Show Grounds. In the meantime the Lancaster Park Amateur Trotting Club, finding its headquarters all too small to accommodate the ever-increasing crowds, formed a course on the Twiggers Estate at Addington. This meant that two clubs were racing side by side, separated only by a tin fence. Naturally such a state of affairs could not go on, so eventually the Government forced the two bodies to amalgamate.

It was a fortunate move, for out of the amalgamation grew what is today the best-conducted and most influential club in all Australasia - the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club.

Credit: F C Thomas writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 30Oct46

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