A horse stud on Motiti Island

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

Heard the story about the thoroughbred horse stud on Motiti Island - Yeah Right.

Going back over a century, there was indeed a thoroughbred horse stud on the Island that sits majestically off the Western Bay of Plenty coastline.

The horse stud had its origins in Auckland, where coach and horse-bus operator William "Dad" Paterson admired the Motiti Island bred Clydesdales.

In 1893, Paterson brought land on the island to breed the big horses for his Auckland transport business.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Paterson family began to breed thoroughbreds and by 1913 there were more than 50 broodmares on the Island, with the well-bred Seaton-Deleval standing at stud.  

A supposedly broken down entire, became the Motiti Island Stud's best purchase, going on to create headlines on the track and in the sale ring.

Tapestry of Turf by John Costello and Pat Finnegan, tells the tale of the purchase of Surveyor who was believed to be broken down when he was purchased for 110 guineas, at a Papatoetoe sale in 1922. 

Surveyor went on to win 13 races including the 1925 Wellington Cup and the WRC Champion Plate.

Despite the remoteness of Motiti Island, the Paterson stallion proved to be one of the best New Zealand bred sires of his era. 

The Motiti Island stud fortunes declined in the 1930's and eventually ceased operations during World War 2. 

Matakana Island also played a part in the early horse racing history of the Western Bay of Plenty. 

Gray Prebble in his entertaining book Horses, Courses and Me, recorded that the Tauranga Municipal Band decided to attend the convivial races at Matakana Island on New Year’s Day in 1921, rather than a official function at Mount Maunganui. 

An offended city father reported the matter to the police, the meeting was raided and the Motu-o-Tangaroa beach course no longer heard the pounding of hooves, the excited yells of the crowd and the calling of odds. 

A century ago were the carefree days in which vivid and colourful personalities enriched local horse racing.

To complement the more dignified gatherings at Gate Pa, picnic meetings became the order of the day. 

Unhampered by the rules and regulations of our times, there were joyful times with bookmakers calling the odds to receptive audiences.

With their inherent fascination for gambling and excitement, the local Maori found pleasure and exhilaration in the thunder of hooves at the picnic meetings. 

Strict control in later years took the devil out of racing. In those bad old days intrigue had no bounds. Inconsistent running and other ruses were but modest infringements against the blatancy of “ring-ins” which became a subtle art.

 The daubing of paint and delicate dyes were known to show up to the dismay of the wily and ever vigilant bookmakers.

“Ring-ins” were secreted in from afar and after a satisfactory clean-up, vanished from the scene, along with their connections and a pile of cash. 

A story was told about one of Te Puke tracks covered in fern and scrub – of how twelve horses started in a race and thirteen finished. 

While we can never go back to the days where the rules were often made up on the spot, we can relish the opportunity to look back at early local horseracing history, with a smile of our faces of more carefree times.


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