Alexandra Racing Club
150 Year Anniversary Celebrations of Pirongia Boxing Day Races, 2016.
The event will be run for the 146th time in 2016.
The Boxing Day picnic horse races began in the Pirongia village back in 1866.
At the time the village was called Alexandra, it was populated largely by militia men and their families and had two hotels.
Christmas sports were started by the two hotels in 1866 to boost the morale of the settlers whose conditions were causing many to leave the settlement. The sports comprised athletic events, fun activities such as climbing a greasy pole and catching a greasy pig and a few horse races.
From 1867 the Christmas sports were run by the community until 1889 when the horse races were run separately from other activities.
About 1890, the Alexandra Racing Club was formed. From that time the Boxing Day Races have run almost continuously for the 150 year period.
The few times they were not held were due to World War II, polio and influenza epidemics and severe weather conditions.
Over this period there have been many picnics and meetings of family and friends as post Christmas gatherings. People pack up their leftovers from Christmas and bring their refreshments to enjoy the many events based around the ten horse race program in this picturesque setting. Some people set up rather elaborate picnic sites amongst the trees of the Pirongia Golf Course/ Racing Course.
It is a unique situation to run a horse race meeting on an operating golf course! The golf course is transformed to a suitable horse race circuit the week prior to Boxing Day. The curved rails are erected with spaces left for the golf carts to pass through up until the day before the race.
The Boxing Day Races have always been a major community day for both Pirongia township and the surrounding district. From the very beginning there have been many local people involved in both organising and running the day that attracted as many as 10'000 spectators in one year.
Over recent years there are many clubs and organisations that contribute to making the day run smoothly. This is a wonderful source of fund-raising coming into the area.
Thomas Finch, one of the original organisers of the races and his original Alexandra Hotel (later the Pirongia Hotel).
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History and About the Races
Over the 150 years there have been significant contributions by many people. There are some families whose members, over several generations, have both attended and contributed for almost the entire time. These families include Finch, Macky and Ormsby. Over the years there have also been significant contributions by names such as Beet, Walter, Coles, de Thierry, Sherwin and many others whose names are recorded on the honours board of the Alexandra Racing Club.
Over the years the horse races have been supplemented by numerous forms of novelty events and activities for families. In recent years popular activities and demonstrations have included kids rides, Clydesdale Race, kids carts, saddle trots and vintage cars.
Right from the very outset the horses have been a central focus of the days entertainment. Competing and winning races have been both a source of pride and bragging rights for the areas owners, trainers and riders. They have received crucial support from the wider horse racing community. It is unusual to see both thoroughbred and trotting racing in the same meet. The premier race is the Alexandra Cup/ Molly Dawson Memorial Trophy raced in memory of Molly Dawson (Nee Macky) who was the owner of the 1965 Melbourne cup winner 'Light Fingers'. The winner of this race often goes on to win further races at other prestigious racing events.
Most of all this day has continued to be run because of the casual and fun nature that these picnic day races have to offer.