Racing, together, this time…

Waikato Thoroughbred Racing Club’s chief executive Butch Castles at the new club’s Te Rapa course. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Waipā’s two racing clubs in Te Awamutu and Cambridge have joined forces with the big city Waikato club in Hamilton to become one multimillion dollar super entity called Waikato Thoroughbred Racing.

The mega club’s first meeting was held yesterday (Wednesday) in Cambridge on the synthetic surface which chief executive Butch Castles says is one of many reasons the new organisation has good reason to look forward with optimism.

Cambridge Jockey, Waipā and Waikato Racing clubs merged into one on Tuesday (August 1), the same day every racehorse in the country celebrated their birthdays. Now it’s the new club’s birthday too and the start of a fresh financial year.

Its first test as a club was trials on Tuesday at Te Rapa where Te Akau Racing’s Mark Walker had more than 70 horses trialling for upcoming spring campaigns.

The three clubs owned hundreds of hectares of prime Waikato land with the turnover on their balance sheets in the millions of dollars every year.

But they each brought something special into the mix including 25 full time staff and training facilities arguably the leading ones in Australasia.

Waipā in Te Awamutu, founded in 1915, enjoyed many years of racing before becoming solely a training and trialling venue three years ago. It has a 1650m grass track with a 300m straight and is home to more than 200 horses who use the swimming pool, grass and sand tracks.

Cambridge Jockey Club started as a low-key picnic racing club in 1944 and is now Australasia’s biggest and the country’s leading training venue. Its synthetic track – opened in 2021 – was the first in New Zealand and partially funded as part of the Covid recovery initiatives.

Waipā Racing Club in Te Awamutu. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Cambridge apprentice jockey Jess Allen, who won the Gold Cup on Enchanted Elle at the Taumarunui Racing club’s meeting on the Te Rapa course on Saturday, is pictured in June aboard Kai on the Cambridge Jockey Club’s synthetic track. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Now the club hosts more than 300 horses who use an equine swimming pool and train on the synthetic and grass surfaces and a steeplechase track. There are 15 race and 20 trial meetings a year.

Waikato Racing Club at Te Rapa in Hamilton came into existence in 1924, runs 20 meetings a year and is the flagship course for the region. Up to 100 horses train there and its steeplechase course provides spectacular viewing.

Chunks of the course have been developed in recent years into retirement villages and commercial activities. A plan change under consideration by Hamilton City Council will unlock 6ha for further housing.

Its last meeting as Waikato Racing Club at Te Rapa was the Taumarunui Racing Club’s event on Saturday with the feature Gold Cup won by Enchanted Elle and ridden by up and coming Cambridge apprentice jockey Jessica Allen.

Andy Cruickshank who was the Cambridge chief executive now becomes chief operating officer and while still based in the town, will be working out of Te Awamutu and Hamilton on a regular basis.

But don’t expect to see any new logo or changes to livery immediately.

“To start with it’s about making sure we are operational from the backroom stuff. Making sure all the financial stuff is under control,” said Castles.

“There’s great benefit in pooling resources.

“It’s a change, a leap of faith by all our members to do this.”

It had been talked about for a long, long time but the catalyst came when Counties and Auckland racing clubs became Auckland Thoroughbred Racing in August 2021.

If they could do it, so could Waikato.

“For it to finally come about (here) is great. The biggest positive is we will be able to make the decisions into the future for the betterment of racing in the region,” said Castles.

Decisions like where there might be a greenfields’ racing surface and whether other clubs like Matamata and Te Aroha might want to join in.

“These three clubs were a natural fit.

“We need to bed this in and make sure Waikato Thoroughbred Racing Club is something other clubs might want to join,” said Castles.

Cambridge Jockey Club president Bruce Harvey, left, with chief executive Andy Cruickshank pictured last month with the 2023 Melbourne Cup.

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