A Day at the Races - Air Chathams

A Day at the Races

The very first horse race meeting on Chatham Island/Wharekauri/Rekohu was held on Boxing Day 1865 and was organized by Thomas Ritchie and William Hunt. The first horses had arrived on the Island some 20 years earlier, and by the mid-1850s breeding mares were being imported from Sydney in payment for potato crops.

The Chatham Islands Jockey Club was officially established in 1874, making it the second oldest registered race club in New Zealand. The Club’s races are held over three days around Christmas time when the weather should be behavingand extended families living off island are more likely to be home seeing loved ones and camping around Te Whanga Lagoon.

Waitangi township at this time is a flurry of trucks, trailers and four wheelers harnessing horses to the sides and training up and down Petre Bay beach with the “black rocks” being used as the 2km mark for trainers and jockeys. All going well and based on the commitment or availability of these trainers, late September usually boasts of the first sightings of horses heading to the beach.

Any local Chatham Islander driving over Waitangi bridge and down Terry’s Straight is aware of their inferiority on the road and keenly adjusts their driving to 15kms when passing by.


Times have changed over the past 150 years and without a doubt, more money and time are poured into new practices. Petrol and diesel are purchased while horse feed and essential equipment need to be freighted over to the island and stored accordingly.

In the busy, modern world where horses are no longer the main form of transport on the Island, the number of trainers and therefore “stables” fluctuates depending on only the most dedicated, who continue working to keep the former glory alive and provide the local Chatham Community with their highly anticipated entertainment during the summer holidays.
Children within the community have come to expect a day of hot chips and lolly scrambles

Ray Pirika began the ‘First Five Trotting Club’ in October 2006, aptly named for the first five horses involved and by 2010 had about 23, and it was then completely integrated with the CIJC. This meant that in addition to the well seasoned gallops, carts were being purchased and there was a new interest in racing. The pacers are generally rehomed from mainland New Zealand, and they are well bred, welleducated and they get a second chance at racing, Chathams’ style, with nine months holiday and three races per year. The Chatham Island Cup is the prestigious of these.

The second oldest registered race club in New Zealand

Over time, roles within the race community have been passed down, often through Island families. The grounds have been preserved with the renovation of the grandstand, and both the Chatham Island Jockey Club and the Norman Kirk Committee can be commended for the maintenance of this building, the event grounds and the 1400 metre grass track.

Children within the community have come to expect a day of hot chips and lolly scrambles and can be seen running from “The Den”, to the grandstand and over to the middle of the field where picnic blankets and chairs are laid out in front of trucks and it is at these race meets that you will find locals who are all committed to a social day out, celebrating a warm island tradition.

December 31, 2024, marks 150 years since the establishment of the Jockey Club, who intend to pay tribute to an amazing legacy that has been passed down through the Chatham Island Community.

The Club welcomes anyone with a keen interest in racing to support and attend the 150th year anniversary celebration!