history of REEFTON RACECOURSE
History of the
The Reefton Jockey Club was formed in July 1877 and the first race meeting was held on 26
December 1877 at a paddock at Fern Flat, Waitahu, approximately six kilometres north of
Reefton. In 1881 the Club negotiated the formation of a racecourse on the agricultural
lease of William Thomas Smith, clerk of the Reefton Jockey Club, at the west end of
Broadway. Construction commenced immediately for a makeshift grandstand to seat 400
people and the first race meeting was held there in December 1881.
In 1883 the Reefton Jockey Club bought the property from Mr. Smith for £1000. With a
permanent racecourse now secured, the Reefton Jockey Club embarked on a series
of improvements to the course and facilities. A caretaker was appointed in 1884 and a cottage
was supplied on-site. In1887-88 a refreshment stall, dining and ladies’ room were erected,
and track fencing was improved. In 1890 further improvements were carried out including
relocating the judge’s box and totalisator house and the provision of additional seating.
In January 1891, Reefton Jockey Club decided to build a new and more permanent grandstand.
The Committee advertised for competitive designs from architects, with £25 awarded to the
successful design. The winning design was selected from Dunedin architect Francis William
Petre (1847-1918), designer of the grandstand at Forbury Park, Dunedin and many Catholic
churches including the earthquake-damaged Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in
Christchurch. The estimated cost of construction was £903, a cost readily afforded by the Club
on account of being nearly debt-free. It was anticipated that the grandstand, when completed,
would be ‘the best on the West Coast’.
In June 1891 tenders were invited for the removal of the existing grandstand, in July tenders were
called for the new stand and construction was completed on 21 December 1891.
The Inangahua Times described the new grandstand - 'The building occupies 3000 square feet
of ground, being 100ft x 30ft, and divided into eleven rooms consisting of the principal booth,
and the dining room, each of which is 36ft 6in x 20 feet 6in, the stewards’ room 20 x 12 and the
ladies’ cloak-room, the larder, lavatories, the scullery, and two bar stores, each of which are
12 inches thick and ten feet high resting on a foundation 2ft 6in thick, are of the same material.
Each room is lined with tongued and grooved boards, and is supplied with all the conveniences,
water being supplied through pipes from two tanks which are placed in the upper part of the buildings.
... the gallery, which affords seating accommodation for at least 800 persons, and there is standing
room for fully 200 more. Immediately behind the gallery on the side facing the saddling paddock
is a balcony which projects for six feet over the base of the building. Access is afforded to the
balcony by a spacious staircase, from which full command is obtained over the saddling
paddock. Each end of the gallery is enclosed with glass sashes, and an ample view is thus
obtained of the whole course by every one of the occupants. The front is enclosed with a
handsome ornamental railing... The distance from the highest part of the roof to the ground
is 32 feet, and the top is surmounted with two flag-poles, which tower up 16 feet more. The
roof is supported in front by six cast-iron columns six inches in diameter, and at the back and
ends by 8 x 8 totara posts. The roof itself is composed of 16 wrought iron T principals curved
to a neat radius, covered with galvanised iron and finished with nicely ornamented barge
boards and lattice work.'
The Reefton Trotting Club was formed about 1898 both clubs share the same facilities, with
a grass track for racing and a dirt training track. Reefton Trotting Club race in December
and March each year and Reefton Jockey Club just the once in January. The track with a
circumference of 1150 metres and a straight of 230 metres, is the smallest course in
New Zealand for galloping meetings.
The Trotting Club bought a half share in the property in 1956. In 1967 the Clubs purchased
the eight acre former Monteith's Brewery property, which became the main stabling yards
and car park, bringing the total land area to 42 acres. In 1982 a sports complex was built at
the course, one-third owned by the Reefton Jockey Club, Trotting Club and Rugby Club
respectively. The complex contains a squash court.
The Grandstand has undergone a number of changes over the years. In the 1930s, toilets for
men were built inside the west end of the stand. In the 1940s the back viewing verandah
and back stairway were dismantled for safety reasons.
In the 1950s, with the financial position of the Jockey Club in better shape than it had been
for some time, much overdue maintenance and repair was carried out on the grandstand.
At this time a ‘photo finish’ camera was built on top of the ‘judge’s tower’ at the eastern end
of the building. At the same time, rooms beneath the grandstand were modernised.
In the 1970s a patrol box for race filming was added to the ‘judge’ and ‘photo finish’ tower –
thus making it 4 storeys high! At the same time a concrete pad and tiered steps were added
in front of the grandstand, with a sloping lawn in front to the outside rail of the track. In 1975 a
permanent commentator room was built inside the seating area on the back wall of the
stand. In 1977, seven ‘tote’ windows were included in the bar and social area of the grandstand.
A major change to the appearance of the Racecourse Grandstand relates to the roof. According
to Dom O’Sullivan’s centennial history of the Reefton Trots, in the 1960's the roof got lifted
completely off the grandstand and it was reroofed through the insurance payout. However, it is
also recorded that in 1980-81 the grandstand roof was replaced with a free standing steel
frame roof on six aside JRB steel legs bolted to concrete pads. It is not clear if this means
reroofing occurred twice, that is in the 1960s and 1980s, or whether there is a discrepancy in
the recording of when the roof was blown off in high winds.
In 1996 the grandstand toilets were updated to include women’s toilets as well as men’s.
Around the same time, a new concrete floor was added in the bar and social area. In 1998
tote windows were installed for the seating public. In 2000 the front portion of the floor
and seats were renewed. It is understood that the building has been repainted recently.
As well as the Rugby Racing & Beer, the racecourse has had many other uses over the years,
including other sports meetings, circuses, the annual Reefton Rodeo and the Inangahua A & P Show.