The recent Racing Tauranga meeting at the Gate Pa course was a far cry from the start of horse racing in the city back in the 1870s.
Today the Tauranga Racecourse has some of the best facilities in the country and the Christmas at the Races promotion attracted a large crowd who dressed up in their finery to cheer their fancies home to victory.
Horse racing in Tauranga, as with many other districts at the time, started with the militia.
In November 1872, the newly established Bay of Plenty Times reported a meeting of gentlemen held in the Tauranga Hotel to appoint stewards and organise details for a race meeting.
The outcome of the gathering was a race meeting set down for January 1873.
The stewards appointed were William Kelly (House of Representatives), F.E Hamlin (Royal Marines), captains Gundy, Chadwick and Turner and Messrs McDonald, D Asby and Haig. Lieutenant Samuels was appointed treasurer of the yet to be founded racing club.
It was held on the Government Paddock course by kind permission of Major Roberts who was the Commanding Officer of the military district.
The Government Paddock adjoined the Monmouth Redoubt, with a mile course put in place by temporarily levelling the dividing fence between the paddock and the militia camp. The course started in what is Monmouth St today, into Willow St, round into Brown St and back into Monmouth St.
The feature race was the Ladies Plate for a stake of 12 sovereigns. Post entries were taken for the hack race for which the winner received a silver cup presented by the Bay of Plenty Times.
Following the meeting at Government Paddock, officers and men of the Redoubt supported townsfolk for the formation of a racing club and the acquisition of a suitable course. They were spurred on by the news of racing in other districts, where meetings were attracting large attendances and stakes were being increased.
It appeared that Tauranga was being left behind and even in nearby districts there was evidence of progress.
A jockey club had been formed in Thames in 1868 and by 1870 negotiations were under way to purchase 50 acres of land (which is still raced on to this day). Over the Kaimai Range at Matamata, Mr J.C. Firth who owned over 50,000 acres had become interested in racing and was promoting events.
During 1873 the Waikato Turf Club was formed after holding a successful meeting the previous year.
However, a newspaper report of April 26, 1873 asked why the Tauranga Jockey Club did not look after its own interests, with regard to a reserve on the other side of Greerton which the Government was prepared to hand over to trustees for a racecourse to be developed.
It stated that no better place existed in the district, as it had half a mile of level ground and rising land on the western side which would provide unlimited room for spectators.
A public meeting was held to form a jockey club and to secure the reserve for a course.
Captain Norris, Mr Morrison and Mr Edgecumbe were appointed trustees to negotiate with the Government and it was decided to form a club to be known as the Tauranga Jockey Club.
Sir James Ferguson was appointed patron with Lieutenant Samuels the secretary.
Reports say the meeting was noted for its enthusiasm and 33 members joined up on the spot.
Action was the order of the day with the Government Paddock to be abandoned as a track and plans were made to hold a the next race meeting at the new course a few days after the first January meeting in Auckland.
And so the present racecourse at Gate Pa, known to the Maori as Marawaiwai, came into being.
The first meeting at the Gate Pa course was held on January 8, 1874.