On 10th November 1961, harness racer ‘Cardigan Bay’, the first standard bred horse to win one million dollars, took to the track in Christchurch while Addington’s main public grandstand was well ablaze! Showing the focus of a true champion, he won the New Zealand Free-For-All as the grandstand collapsed in ruins in the background. Amazedly, with twenty thousand spectators watching the races that Show Day, no one was injured or killed.
Cardigan Bay, affectionately known as ‘Cardy’, was foaled on 1st September 1956 in Gore, Southland. He was destined to become a world famous harness racer, winning not only in New Zealand (New Zealand Trotting and Auckland Cup) but also in Australia, Canada and the U.S.A. With his win of a million dollars in 1968, he became 9th horse in the world to do so. He won over eighty races in all.
With his move to America in 1964, he became an instant sensation. He easily defeated three American Hall of Fame race horses of that era. When he beat champion ‘Bret Hanover’ at the Pace Of The Century race in New York, Cardy’s driver’s (Stanley Dancer) proud smile was easily viewable in the snapshot photo taken at the finishing line.
After his million dollars win, New Yorkers enjoyed ‘Cardigan Bay Day’ celebrations and the red carpet was rolled out for his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The other guests that night were The Beach Boys. It was a styling way for Cardy to enter into his retirement; Stanley Dancer’s saying in interviews that in spite of the win, it was only Cardigan Bay’s ‘…whole heart…’ attitude that drove the aging champion on now. It was time to bow out.
Cardy was returned to New Zealand with thousands awaiting his arrival. He died peacefully in Auckland at the age of 31 in 1988. In 1970, his racing achievements were proudly displayed in a series of postage stamps.
Here in Christchurch, very close to Addington Raceway, on Lincoln Road sits Cardigan Bay Reserve, honouring the New Zealand bred horse that thrilled thousands of people, here and overseas.
*Image courtesy of stampsboard.com – http://www.stampboards.com*