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Petone's First 100 Years (1940)

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The Sport of the People.
Trotting Club.

Few sporting bodies in the Wellington District can claim a more varied career than the Wellington Trotting Club, and few indeed have a finer record of wise and able administration.
Towards the latter part of the last century, a small body of enthusiasts founded a trotting club under its present name and held meetings at Island Bay and Miramar until 1898. In that year the club formed a new trotting ground at the Recreation Ground, Petone, laid down its track and erected the grandstand which was demolished in 1939 to make way for the big new concrete stand. Until 1900, the club had eight days racing per season, but in that year, owing to lack of support from the public, it wound up its affairs and went out of existence.
No trotting meetings were held for the next two years, but in 1902, the late Francis J. McGovern, an hotel proprietor of Trentham, called a meeting of those interested in the sport. The result was the formation of the Upper Hutt Trotting Club, and the beginning of the present Wellington Club. Mr. McGovern is recognized as the founder and first patron of the present club, and its first meeting was held on his private property at Trentham.
The eight permits held by the previous club, however, had been whittled down to one per season. Racing continued with varying fortunes on Mr. McGovern's private Trentham property until his death in 1906. At the annual meeting that year, it was decided that the club should race on the Petone Recreation Ground, that its name should be changed to the Hutt Valley Trotting Club, and that its offices should be located in Petone.
Owing to obtaining another permit, the club enjoyed two days racing in its first season at Petone. In 1907, a two-day meeting was held in December. Stakes for the seven races held on the first day were £341, and on the second day, £305.
At this meeting, the late Richard Walton Short, J.P., first acted as secretary, a position which he filled with distinction until his resignation in 1932 on account of ill-health. He thus rendered the club twenty-five years of service, and played a major part in raising the sport and the club from its modest beginnings to its present flourishing position.
From 1907 until 1912 or 1913 the club raced on Boxing Day, but support from the general public was not forthcoming on this day, and in 1914 the racing date was changed to January 23rd. The club would have had a wonderful asset indeed if it had retained this date, as the capital city of the Dominion is not now blessed with any sporting activity during the Christmas Season.
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In 1916 the officials of the club decided that the time had arrived when the organization would require larger grounds to accommodate the increasing patronage. It was thus decided to race in future at Hutt Park, and to re-name the club the Wellington Trotting Club. The first meeting was held on the new grounds on January 21st, 1916, and for the eight races, £595 was given in stakes.
Slow but steady progress was made during the war years, but after hostilities ceased, the sport became more popular with the public, and the club began to make rapid headway. In 1929 the club instituted a scheme of major improvement at Hutt Park.
Among the works carried out were the formation of a new grass racing track, a clay training track, and a cinder track, and the construction of two new grandstands, a totalisator house, and other smaller additions. The total cost of the improvements amounted to £17,000.
Since this date, other major improvements have been effected, bringing the grounds and buildings up to metropolitan standard. The sport in this centre went ahead even during the years of the financial depression, 1932 to 1937, and at the present time, the quality of the sport provided ranks with the Dominion's finest.
Many stalwarts worked hard to achieve this result. The late Mr. O. S. Watkins, president in 1907–8, inaugurated a liberal policy by advocating an increase in stakes and offering to guarantee the club against loss up to £600. Mr. E. L. Riddiford, president from 1916 to 1918 and from 1920 to 1922, gave wonderful service in critical times, and his successor, the late Mr. R. A. Armstrong, 1923–31, instituted the improvement programme of 1929 and helped raise the club to metropolitan status. Mr. J. E. August, first elected steward in 1910, followed him in fostering the sport. Mr. John Sharpe was elected a steward in 1907, and honorary treaurer in 1909, a position he has continuously held since. His wise conservation of funds has been a material factor in the club's success.
The club has a fine record behind it, and has every reason to look forward confidently to the future in the certain knowledge that it will continue to grow in strength.
Presidents.
T. Edwards 1906
O. S. Watkins 1907–1908
A. M. Samuel 1909–1915
E. L. Riddiford 1916–1917
A. M. Samuel 1918–1919
E. L. Riddiford 1920–1922
R. A. Armstrong 1923–1931
J. E. August 1931-
Patrons.
F. J. Govern 1902–1906
Hon. J. Carroll and T. M. Wilford 1907–1915
E. L. Riddiford 1918–1919
E. L. Riddiford 1923–1937
Sir Thomas Wilford 1938-
Hon. M. Fagan 1939-

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