The saddle race to be run at the winter meeting of the Canterbury Park Trotting Club on Saturday, May 28, will be the first of its kind to be run on the course since September 28, 1946.
On that day the New Brighton Trotting Club raced there and included on the programme was the Seaview Handicap, a 2.17 class mile saddle which was won by Grattan Bells. Grattan Bells was trained by H J Smith and ridden by C Thornley.
'Irvington' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 1Jun60
The saddle race at Addington on Saturday created keen public interest; the race was run in two divisions and excellent sport was witnessed, the riders displaying a surprisingly high standard of horsemanship.
A large crowd thronged the birdcage fence to watch the horses parade and the riders mount, and the 'Scotsmen's Grandstand' - the back fence - was patronised almost as well as on NZ Trotting Cup day. The increased interest was reflected in the on-course totalisator turnover for the day, which amonted to £82,318 10s, a rise of £12,195 on last year. Off-course investors wagered £54,524 10s, which represented an increase of £7165 on last year's total.
Comments after the race were varied, but the 'fors' appeared to outnumber the 'againsts'. Some of the newly initiated went so far as to say it looked silly, but the majority commented most favourably and agreed it would add variety to light-harness programmes which may perhaps be in danger of becoming too stereotyped. And the warm approval carried by acclamation as each winner returned to the birdcage on Saturday would be heartening to Canterbury Park stewards.
Veteran horseman P P Gallagher, in the vicinity of 60 years, had the mount on Dark Signal. He later gave his unqualified approval of the reintroduction of saddle racing. Gallagher was one of the best 'knights of the pigskin' in the Dominion when saddle races were an integral part of the sport, and he is unquestionably thoroughly seasoned and well qualified to judge the success or otherwise of the experiment - for such it was generally regarded on Saturday. The Murfitt family, represented in Saturday's race by F Murfitt on Alison's Pride, produced many good saddle winners in the past, and others who rode their share of winners in this department were G A Collison, J A Carmichael, T C Nyhan and C A Thornley, who all had mounts on Saturday.
In the vintage years of the weight-carrier, many good horses, including NZ Cup candidates, raced and were successful in saddle, and what better medium is there for the education of young horsemen, and many horses too, for that matter?
Gentles' smooth and decisive win in the first division was perhaps due in no small measure that he was from the south, where the odd saddle race is still to be found. Lucky Dora, who won the second division, gave some trouble at the start but soon became balanced to win comfortably after being well ridden by her owner, R J Jones.
Few would quibble over the distance of Saturday's contests - a mile and a quarter. However, there is little doubt that a mile is the ideal distance for a saddle race; but it is also appreciated that the turning start at the mile post at Addington is a distinct disadvantage, hence the Club's wise precaution in ensuring a straight run from the mile and a quarter starting post on Saturday. Perhaps Addington Trotting Course Ltd, if saddle racing becomes firmly re-established, might view favourably the suggestion af constructing a chute at the top of the track, thus providing a straight run from the start; and this could also be advantageous for mile harness races, particularly flying miles, another 'variety' contest that claims considerable merit.
A steward of ther Greymouth Trotting Club stated on Saturday that the saddle race at his club's recent centennial meeting was the second best betting race on the programme. It was also a great sporting success. After all, saddle racing has been resumed without much warning - it could scarcely have been otherwise - and with so little time available for practice or adjustment, it says a lot for trainers, horsemen and horses that the race on Saturday was such a signal success.
If saddle races have come to stay - and we sincerely hope they have - rapid improvement can be expected in all phases of this fascinating variant of the people's pastime; and the people themselves have already demonstrated only too clearly that it may be a long time before their curiosity in the nimble pacers with the weight on top is in any danger of diminishing.
To the clubs which have been courageous enough to 'give it a go,' the Greymouth Trotting Club and Canterbury Park Trotting Club, the sport as a whole should eventually be indebted.
Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 20Apr60