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End of an era . . . Waimate Racing Club president Mike Cooney relaxes ahead of the Waimate Races next week. Inset: All eyes were on Waimate in 1978 when (from left) Joanne Lamond (now Watt), Joanne Hale and Sue Day became the first female jockeys to ride on race day in New Zealand. PHOTOS: GUS PATTERSON AND SUPPLIED

A long history of thoroughbred racing in Waimate will come to an end when the Waimate Racing Club holds its last race meeting at the Waimate racecourse next month.

In April, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing confirmed its plan to discontinue the course’s racing licence on the back of the controversial Messara report, which recommenced centralisation of the racing industry.

Waimate Racing Club president Mike Cooney said the club, which held its first meeting in 1880, had a long, proud history and was one of the oldest in New Zealand.

“I really thought for a little club like us that pays its own way they might have left us alone.

“The committee has always maintained the course, it has all been voluntary work, there is not a great deal of cost to the national body for us to race here.”

The format for the last meeting on June 9 would be the same as other years and Mr Cooney is hoping for good fields and good weather.

“It is a great winter track because normally there is really good footing there.

“It’s a great little racecourse, but we are just a statistic of the state of the industry.”

The club has still retained its license and will continue to hold a race meeting at a different course next year, which would be decided by the members.

The racecourse itself is in a reserve which is owned by the Waimate community, so it was not owned by the national racing body, and was unable to be sold.

Mr Cooney said he had been looking over the old books of the club, and was amazed at some of the horses and jockeys who had raced there in the past.

“Back in the ’50s, one of the main trainers were the Pratts at Orari – at one point they had the top trainer, the top jockey and the top apprentice.

“We used to be top of the tree in this area.”

Mr Cooney said the Waimate race meeting had always been well supported by the local crowds and businesses.

He said a lot of people were disappointed it would be the club’s last meeting at the Waimate racecourse, but many in the industry understood the reasons why.

“The stage we are going through at the moment – things are not very good in the industry.

“It’s disappointing being our last one there for now, but who knows what is going to happen in the next 20 years – the game might turn around.”

The first race starts at noon and Mr Cooney encouraged everyone to support the club and enjoy the day.

The Waimate racecourse will continue to be used by the Waimate Trotting Club for its annual meeting.

FIRST FEMALE JOCKEYS

All eyes were on Waimate in 1978 when Joanne Hale, Joanne Lamond and Sue Day became the first female jockeys to ride on race day in New Zealand.

Vivienne Kaye also raced at Trentham on the same day.

Joanne Lamond, now Watt, was only 17 at the time of the race.

Mrs Watt, who now lives near Oamaru, said it was quite a big deal at the time.

“The response was really good, though, and all the boys were fine.

“We had to fight for a while to be allowed to ride.”

Mrs Watt rode Nigel Francis and Padlock and said she was a little nervous beforehand, but once the races started she was fine.

“I had ridden in a few trials, so I was used to the racing.”

Mrs Watt has continued to be involved with horses, although these days it is quarter-horses rather than thoroughbreds.

She said she attends the Waimate races most years, and plans to be there again this year.

150 years of racing in Waimate

★ New Zealand’s first Grand National Steeplechase was held at Willowbridge, near Waimate, in 1875.

★ In 1975, a re-enactment was held which was attended by then Prime Minister William Rowling and featured many period related costumes and events.

★ In 1880 the Waimate Racing Club was formed from the merger of the Waimate Steeplechase Club and the Waimate Hack Racing Club.

★ Gore trainer Rex Cochrane became the first trainer to train 1000 winners in New Zealand when Palimony won the Cochrane Memorial in Waimate in 1978.

★ In 1989 the Waimate Racing Club and Waimate Hunt Club amalgamated their individual meetings to one day – the June date which the club still holds.

★ In 2013, a storm blew the roof off of the the main stand, causing $500,000 worth of damage. The course was reopened last year after the stand was replaced.