Horse racing has long been described as the Sport of Kings, a title it may well deserve, but in reality it is a sport that is supported by many thousands of people who have absolutely no claim to royalty.

In fact, racing depends on the ordinary bloke not only to put a few dollars across the tote but also to invest in the industry in many other ways.

This week, in the build-up to the Wairarapa Racing Club's New Year meeting at Tauherenikau tomorrow, I had the good fortune to be handed plenty of ammunition for a fascinating walk down memory lane.

It came in the shape of 35 on-course race books for meetings held at Tauherenikau, Opaki and Trentham dating back to the 1960s.


They were very kindly gifted to me by a man who was clearing them out of his book collection and realised they would be gold to a devoted racing fan like me.

And gold they have been.

While we recall the feats of champions it is not often we reflect on the racedays in our own backyard that sparked our interest in the sport many decades past.

Take for instance the Carterton Racing Club's meeting held at Tauherenikau in April, 1968.

Austin Reid was the club president, Fred Yule was one of two vice-presidents, Kevin Cullinane chaired the Judicial Committee and Jack Wedderburn was one of four veterinary surgeons on hand.

The first race of the day was a Hack and Hunters hurdles, raced for a purse of $800, of which the winner received $520.

Among the nine jumpers that faced the starter were three trained by the dapper Woodville trainer Jock Harris, Hilty Parker started Foxy Boy, Alf Scholes entered Mangaroa and Colin Croskerry lined up Caveat Emptor.

Apart from Jock Harris, who I believe is still living, the rest were names I, at least, had long forgotten.

Percy Burgess was well represented at the meeting -- training on the doorstep of the racecourse and immediately alongside the Tin Hut -- as was Garth Ivil, likewise training at Tauherenikau and Syd Brown, recognised as a top trainer, especially of young horses, brought a team from Woodville.

The New Zealand Hack Stayers Plate, from memory the longest hack race in the country being contested over 12 furlongs, was carded with three local runners and the main race of the day the RSA Memorial offered $1500.

One of those to line up in that feature was Callendar's Gift, owned and trained by Bill Taylor at Tauherenikau and Clareville trainer Ces Humphries paraded So True for Arthur Clouston.

A little less than a year later Wairarapa Racing Club staged the second day of its autumn meeting.

Martino, owned by Arthur Southey and Mrs Southey and trained by Mr Southey at Opaki won the highweight at odds of nearly seven to one.

Rather surprising as it had won the highweight on the first day in the hands of Herbie Rauhihi at much the same odds. Third to it was Taranui owned by John Chittock and trained on the course by Jack Walker.

The juvenile fell to another local, Altar Boy trained by Percy Burgess, but this was in the days of division races and the second division was won by Eric Temperton's Pakistan Prince.

The sprint and second leg of the TAB double drew a field of top liners.

It was won by Shelly Burford, trained by Merv Andrews at Bulls and among those beaten were Sharda, Honda, Bourbon Lass and Plain.

The books from those early years threw up many memories and a few surprises, which went to show memory is not always perfect. I had not realised for instance that former Tauherenikau apprentice Don Strawbridge had taken on training, albeit to a limited extent, when he moved to Whanganui having a horse in his charge called Flying Freak.

On the pages were memories of horses such as the Eric Ropiha trained Fans which went on to greater heights.

The thought occurred to me the book we will work from tomorrow will likely go into storage too, only to reappear in 30 or 40 years time and rekindle memories for someone of a great day at Tauherenikau.