Auckland Cup and racing at Ellerslie

To celebrate Auckland Cup day at Ellerslie today, we've had look through various Heritage and Research collections held at Auckland Libraries to find out some the history around the Auckland Racing Club, the Auckland Cup and Ellerslie racecourse.

Horses have raced at Ellerslie since 1857 when Robert Graham hosted a race meeting on his property, on the site which is now Ellerslie Racecourse. The Auckland Racing club then purchased thirty-six hectares of land from Graham in 1872 on which the course is situated.

In Miriam Macgregor Redwood’s history of New Zealand racing, Proud silk, she describes how Graham’s colourful gardens adjoined the racecourse, and that for three shillings entrance could be gained to them by a gate between the two properties.

A publication compiled by E.G. Sutherland, held in Sir George Grey Special Collections called Auckland Cup history makes note of the importance of the aesthetic appeal of Ellerslie Racecourse.

“It seems worthy of mention that by making Ellerslie attractive the Auckland Racing Club has added to the popularity of the sport. Ellerslie’s attractive outlook has been partly responsible for bringing thousands of visiting racing patrons within its borders to witness the best class of thoroughbreds in action. It’s well laid out floral beds, ponds and large variety of choice trees and palms have drawn kudos from Royalty, Governors, Viceroys, tourists and visitors from all parts of the world.”

Indeed even Queen Elizabeth visited Ellerslie Racecourse during the royal visit in 1953/4.

Auckland Racing Club
In William Mackie’s history of the Auckland Racing Club, A noble breed, he describes how the Auckland Racing Club was founded, “The Auckland Racing Club officially came into existence on January 9, 1874, when the members of two existing clubs – the Auckland Jockey Club and the Auckland Turf Club – decided to amalgamate, but because this new club was merely a continuation of the same racing enthusiasts operating under a changed name, it is proper that a history of the club should include some reference to events which preceded its formation.” Indeed.

The Auckland Turf Club had broken away from the parent body in 1873. Redwood quotes the Evening Star from August 23, 1873 on the reasons behind this, “There appear to be one or two members owning horses who, by virtue of their wealth, dictate to the others and keep the whole management of affairs under their thumbs.”

The Auckland Jockey Club was originally called the New Ulster Jockey club, as the North Island was called at the time New Ulster after the Irish province. Mackie notes that, “the only remaining official records of the New Ulster Jockey Club are racebooks of racemeetings held on January 1 and 3, 1852. They are printed on silk and were given by the Auckland Racing Club to the Old Colonists Museum.” These are now part of Auckland Libraries Ephemera collection.

Ref: OCM Ephemera - 'Auckland Races' Under the patronage of his Excellency Lieutenant Governor Wynyard, 1 January 1852, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

The Auckland Cup
The Auckland Cup has been run since 1874. It was run on Boxing Day from its inception until 1958 and then on New Year’s Day from 1958 to 2006. Since 2006 it was been part of the Auckland Cup Week programme that is held in early March.

Mackie writes that, “at the first meeting of the [Auckland Racing] Club in May 1874, one of the events, run over a distance of 1 ½ miles, was named the Auckland Cup. This race was won by Mr. J Watt’s three-year-old Batter. At the Summer Meeting of 1874 the Auckland Cup was run on Boxing Day over a distance of two miles and in subsequent published records of the club this race is shown as being the first official, recognised Auckland Cup contest.” 

This race was won by Templeton who must have been an impressive horse as to inspire Thomas Bracken (composer of 'God Defend New Zealand') to write a requiem of sorts to his fading prowess called Old Templeton. The day was reviewed positively in the December 28 issue of the New Zealand Herald, and was found to be absent of ‘sheanannaking’ and ‘hanky-panky’ and that everything was ‘above-board’ and ‘up hill and down straight’. A complete list of Auckland Cup winners can be found here

Sutherland’s Auckland Cup history provides some wonderful reminiscences about the Auckland Cup and racing in Auckland from down the years.

“Of humorous incidents connected with bygone years of racing in the vicinity of Auckland ‘Old Timers’ have stored up many happenings of the bad old days of the turf to relate.
One which strikes the writer as worth reporting was that on one jovial occasion at a racing fixture a then prominent citizen, after joining in the spirit of the period to the full, at the annual reunion of acquaintances he unconsciously attached someone else’s horse to the ‘buggy’, an error which was left to the gardener to discover on his master’s return to the Remuera homestead.” (Sutherland, p.3)

Old timers beam with delight when mentioning that the H.M.S. flagship Nelson was in port at the time of one of Nelson’s Cup victories. Their memories are refreshed over the fact they witnessed the hilarious display of excitement staged by the flagship’s personnel present at Ellerslie after cheering Nelson to victory. Needless to state there was some reason for the visiting sailor boys to be in an exuberant mood. They quite naturally wagered on the ability of the horse bearing the same name as their flagship to win the Cup.” (Sutherland, p.8)

A fitting conclusion to this post is showing off one of the most incredible items in our collections relating to racing at Ellerslie: a silk and ivory race programme from 1892 in the form of a fan which is part of the Old Colonists’ Museum Ephemera Collection.

Ref: OCM Ephemera, 'Farewell Race Meeting for His Excellency the Right Honorable Earl of Onslow G. C. M. G. and the Countess of Onslow', 20 February 1892, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

For more information on the Auckland Cup and racing at Ellerslie see:

 Author: Andrew Henry


  1. Terrific post Andrew. You might want to step up security on the fan.


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