GY Races hoof it toward 50th

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The man who won the Glenorchy Races’ first ever start can’t believe it’s still trotting along 50 years later. 

Dick Watson (right) recalls the horse racing fundraiser – held this Saturday for the 50th time – started by accident. 

Watson and mates had ridden their horses from the Routeburn to an annual running event at Glenorchy because the lake was too rough to go by boat. 

“We had about seven or eight horses tied up under the trees. 

“Afterwards, somebody said, ‘What do we do now?’ [Routeburn Station owner] Wattie Watson said, ‘Why don’t we have a horse race?’ 

“I entered the first horse in the first race and won it.” 

Watson, 67, and Russell Reid, 75, have been on the Glenorchy Races executive for all 50 events. 

Watson says today’s races differ little from the early ones. 

“It’s been virtually the same card for as long as I can remember. 

“Probably the safety factors come into it a bit more – riders now have to wear a helmet, that’s the only rule we’ve got. 

“And we’ve improved the fence to keep the public from the horses.” 

Watson says early meetings were held as late as late February and sometimes into March. 

“When it started to become popular we decided we’ve got to put a stamp on the calendar and say, ‘This is Glenorchy race day’,” Watson says. 

Since then it’s always been on the first Saturday after New Year’s Day – or Sunday if it’s too wet. 

If you’re curious why horses enter each year from Waikaia, near Gore, Watson can take the credit. 

“Around when we were struggling to get horses I was working for [Queens­town contractor] Darrell McGregor at Waikaia, pushing up flood banks that burst in the 1978 flood. 

“I told the farmer about the races and he said, ‘We’ll bring a truckload up’, and they’ve been here ever since, virtually.” 

Unfortunately, sometimes horses don’t leave the event, Watson says. 

“I’ve shot probably three in 50 years – broken legs, things like that. We haven’t had to shoot a rider yet, though a couple have been carted away in a helicopter.” 

Watson estimates the races have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Glenorchy causes, mainly through gate sales. 

Recipients include the rugby club pavilion, Glen­orchy School, swim­­­­m­­­ing pool, medical rooms, Mt Alfred TV transmitter and ambulance, as well as talented local youngsters for travel, for example. 

Reid recalls receiving “all these letters requesting money at the committee meeting after the races”. 

“I used to call us the Rural Bank.” 

Volunteers who’ve played major roles over past years have been invited to a hospitality tent on Saturday. 

“We’ve got a special corporate tent, which is against our policy, but this is a one-off,” Watson says. 

GY Races – all you need to know

  • This Saturday at Glenorchy Recreational Grounds
  • Adults $10 at the gate
  • 10 races from 11am, 30-minute lunch break
  • On-course BBQ, bar, desserts and takeaways
  • Equalisator betting, under which a better can’t nominate the horse on which he/she wants to bet, but must take the next lettered ticket or tickets available for sale. That letter is then matched to a particular horse