The definition of tradition

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

Sideline Sids pocket dictionary defines tradition as "a belief or custom handles down from one generation to another".

For over a century, Queen's Birthday weekend traditionally brought together thoroughbred racing fans for the Great Northern carnival, featuring the Great Northern Hurdles on the Saturday, which was the entree to the Great Northern Steeplechase on Queen's Birthday Monday.

The Great Northern Steeplechase is one of the iconic steeplechasers in the world, over 6400m, including three times over the Ellerslie hill.

The Hill, where the jumpers must work their way up the incline then jump the two fences on top before running down the slope to jump the Ken Brown brush at the bottom, is one of the great sights in jumping races in the world.

A major change to the Great Northern Steeplechase was made in 2005, when the great race was pushed back to September from its long-time Queen's Birthday date.

The change made sense, as the taxing three times over the hill early in the jumping season made it difficult to get the required mileage into horses.

Recent negotiations to amalgamate the Auckland Racing Club and the Counties Racing Club into a Super-Club to progress Auckland regional thoroughbred racing, is likely to see the demise of The Hill - and the Great Northern Steeplechase at Ellerslie.

There was little opposition shown by the Auckland Racing Club members at their meeting to discuss amalgamation, as the reality is that jumps racing in the country is in serious decline from the glory days of the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's.

In the three decades after WW2, horses were the main source of transport on the sheep and cattle farms in the country, with a good number of farmers having an owner/trainer permit to train a racehorse or two.

The mechanisation of farming has seen the dearth of the working horse and the demise of the owner/trainer, who were the backbone of jumping races in New Zealand.

The new super-club, tentatively named the Auckland Turf Club, would embark a program of increased stake-money and course improvements including a StrathAyr surface, which could be used on at least 40 days per year.

When horse racing began at Ellerslie in 1857, the venue was a long carriage ride out of the central city, where today Ellerslie is an oasis in the heart of the City of Sails.

The Auckland Racing Club is sitting on a goldmine with ‘The Hill' prime land for development, potentially valued in excess $100 million.

Sideline Sid has no problem with progress, but believes that that the ARC will only get one shot at selling the prime piece of real estate.

They need to get the best price possible and then ensure the proceeds are spent wisely to sustain racing at Ellerslie.

The Great Northern Steeplechase will continue into the future, with a suggested venue change to Te Aroha.

Racing at the Waikato rural course is likely to see a decline in stature, from the days where the country's jumps fans set their calendar for attendance at New Zealand premier jumping race at the country’s premier racecourse.


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