Canterbury’s First Steeplechase – 4th August 1864

As ‘The Press’ reporters made their way from their Cashel Street offices to the Riccarton property of Edward Jerningham Wakefield, they noted the sudden increase in traffic – especially difficulties being caused around ‘…Triangle Corner…’.   It was such a reoccurring problem that the area (the intersection of Colombo, Hereford and High Streets) had earned the name of ‘Bottleneck Junction’ and 4th August 1864 was to be no different.

With noon approaching, brilliant sunshine beamed over Christchurch, melting away the morning’s hard frost.  Transportation of every description rattled into Riccarton, fares aplenty for the city’s Cabbies and Omnibus Drivers.  Towering above all the others was a Cobb & Co Coach with every available seat taken and then some – crowds piled in, around a specially designed oval-shape horse track that stretched out over a few paddocks.  The track was broken up by wooden and gorse fences, a water jump and a ditch.

It was later reported that many felt disappointed as they viewed the area (which today includes the grounds of Villa Maria College) that was to host Canterbury’s first Steeplechase.   It was hardly worth all the hype that had been all over the papers.

As spectators moved slowly around the outside of the track, the nearby grandstand began to fill and the eatery was doing good business. While bets were placed, cops milled around the crowds just in case trouble was to erupt.   A simple shed – filled with hay – housed the horses that were to race.  Their names were Jessie, Red Rover, Harry Hieover, Discount, Mildew, Locomotive, Peacock and Joe Buggins.

Even though the race was entertaining and full of ‘…jealous riding becomes ugly…’ it was to be the disqualification of the winner ‘Jessie’ that would be more memorable.   Upon being challenged, the Vet confirmed suspicions that Jessie was older than 5 years – the maximum age of entry.  The prize money of £72 was held, the bets were frozen and a law suit was threatened.  It caused quite a dark cloud to hang over the event.

A few days later, the date for the re-race was announced – 10th August.  Despite the new race taking part in a blizzardy snowstorm and to a much smaller crowd, it was regarded a better example of an old English Steeplechase.  The winner of this second race was Locomotive.

This history is acknowledged by the naming of Peer Street which runs along the eastern boundary of Villa Maria College.  Edward Jerningham Wakefield (the only son of Canterbury Association co-founder Edward Gibbon Wakefield) owned a racing horse known as ‘The Peer’ and he was well known on Christchurch’s racing tracks.  In fact, Church Corner was known as ‘Peerswick’   for a while, meaning “Peers Village”.

Please note the attached image is not of Canterbury

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