5 Feb 2015

Pirongia Boxing Day Races

From Country Life, 9:35 pm on 5 February 2015

carol b

For the past 78 years Keith Ormsby has spent every Boxing Day at the Pirongia races. In fact, the 78 year old will tell you it's 79 years, because his mother was pregnant with him and went to the races the December before he was born.

The races have been running for 148 years and the club that hosts them, the Alexandra Racing Club, is believed to be the oldest racing club still in operation in New Zealand. "Well, we're claiming that until someone takes it of us." Keith says.

Over the years a handful of races have been cancelled; in wartime, during the polio epidemic and because of bad weather but otherwise, in his life time, Keith has been there. This year, as usual, thousands of people packed their picnic blankets and put their Christmas left overs in a chilly bin and headed out for a day at the Boxing Day races.

The races are held at the Alexandra Racing Club track, which for the other 364 days of the year is the front nine of the Pirongia Golf Club. A running rail is put up around the golf course and, on December 26th, the starter's flag comes down for both trotting and gallop races.

Visitors drive up the fairways and park in the shade of the trees. Keith says it's a family day. "You can bring a tent, you can bring a gazebo, you can bring a chair, it's up to you….we've got people that  have come here for years and they go to the same spot,  the same tree and have their little picnic and catch up with friends from other years. "

Punters bet in the equalisator. They won't know which horse they've bet on until just before the race starts. If they're lucky they can win as much as 15 dollars on a race.

After 148 years the races run like a well oiled machine.  By 10 o'clock on the morning of the 27th, people are teeing off at the golf club, oblivious to the fact horses were thundering around it the day before.

Gallery: Pirongia Races

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