Luau in the winner’s circle

As if people needed another reason to go to Hawaii, it turns out the collection of islands grouped into a state used to have a somewhat active racing industry.

While researching each state’s anabolic steroid policy over the summer, I half-jokingly searched for a Hawaiian jockey club figuring none of the islands had the room to accommodate something as spatially wasteful as a racetrack. After discovering this page, I found out I was quite wrong.

The following information comes from Hawaii for Visitors.

Organized horse racing began in Hawaii in the 19th century when the Parker Ranch on the Big Island brought in Thoroughbreds from the United States mainland and United Kingdom. The state’s first jockey club was founded in 1872 by King Kalakaua to regulate the sport.

It appears the state actually carried two tracks at the same time during the late 1800s and early 1900s, one of which, Kapiolani Park Racetrack in Oahu, was a mile oval complete with a grandstand and clubhouse. The track’s marquee event was the Rosita Cup, held on King Kamehameha Day, June 11.

By 1918, both of the tracks were out of business.

After over two decades of inactivity, the Oahu Jockey Club was formed in 1939 to coincide with the opening of Kaliua Race Track. The track was a popular destination for military personnel stationed in Hawaii during World War II. Plans were made to make expansions, but they never came about and the track was closed in the late 1940s, signaling the end of organized Thoroughbred racing in the state.

Since the closing of Kaliua Race Track, the state legislature has made sporadic attempts to revive the sport, but none came to fruition. The issue has been brought to the table with greater frequency as of late, with three bills being introduced in the last 11 years, most recently in 2000.

Today, racing in Hawaii only exists at local rodeos and the 4th of July Rodeo at Parker Ranch on the Big Island, the place where it all began. 

According to the Jockey Club, there has been only one Hawaii-bred Thoroughbred foaled since 2005.

Though the odds of the Aloha State getting a full-fledged racetrack are slim, one has to wonder how such an operation would work out if they somehow decided to do it.

Obviously the track would have to rely on a literal boatload of ship-ins to fill the cards. Though Hawaii is a long way from the mainland, it is almost an equal distance from Asia, which could draw some entrants from that side of the Pacific as well.

The purses would have to be ridiculously high to draw the mainland horsemen in. With the cost of travel, not even the lowest-level owners and trainers would consider going halfway across the Pacific Ocean for a $4,000 claiming race.

This means anything close to an extended meet would probably be out of the question. However, a short boutique meet could be interesting.  There are worse ways to spend three or four weeks than flying off to Hawaii to race and bet on Thoroughbreds.

Yeah, it’ll probably never happen, but it sure is fun to speculate.


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4 responses to “Luau in the winner’s circle

  1. Did you write this because we’ve been pummelled by the snow gods?? 🙂

  2. Oh I meant to add – check out Triple Dead Heat’s blog! Me and my guys have our 15 minutes of fame – LOL

  3. mibredclaimer

    I didn’t intend to, but looking back, there probably was something subconscious about it. Standing on the rail at a tropical island racetrack would sure beat driving 30 mph in a foot of snow and ice like we have for the last week or so, wouldn’t it?

    Also, that’s a nice interview and story. Very well done.

  4. ChiSpy

    True fans of horseracing would also enjoy knowing that there also was a racetrack on Mauai, located on the beach where the prime hotels are clustered in Kapalua.

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