Two Decades of Wellington Cup Meeting

Leigh Phelan
17 January 2020
When the first race gets underway at Trentham on Saturday, there will be one group among the crowd who have become something of a regular fixture.
This bunch of passionate racing enthusiasts have been attending the Wellington Cup day for the past 22 years, and they’re not planning on stopping any time soon.  
Created by Brent Mckenzie, the fun began when he first attended the meeting in 1997 to watch his brother Grant’s two-year-filly Zablinka go on to win in the Wakefield Challenge Stakes. 
Mckenzie realised what a great social opportunity the historic meeting could be, and with each year the group continued to grow and Mckenzie hasn’t missed a single meeting since. 
Mckenzie has developed it into what is now a three-day social event with 26 members planning to attend this year. All in their late 50’s early 60’s, Mckenzie said jokingly, “We don’t attend as many bars as we used to.” They call themselves ‘Aurora Australis’, after the Southern Lights as an ode to their many members who originate from the South Island. However, members come from all over the country as for many it’s their highlight of the year.
Mckenzie explains that majority of its members have a vested interest in racing, many of them owning shares in several different horses over the years  
The countdown to the Cup begins on the Thursday, when they head to Miramar Golf Club, where this year they played 18 holes. For the past 12 or so years they have chosen to stay at the Ibis, making them regulars there just as much as at Trentham. On the Friday its the compulsory and somewhat competitive lawn bowls tournament. All a bit of light heart competition before the big day on Saturday.
Each year the group hires out a private box and amongst themselves they hold their own betting competition and a ‘picks’ board. With a bit of a chuckle, Mckenzie explained the member who got the most picks of the day takes home a prize, and whoever got the least inherits the job of setting up the board for the following year. 
“We have a really good time, and the club has always looked after us.”
Mckenzie explained one of their best days was when Wanderacross won the Melbourne Racing Club 1600 in 2006 and they made $43,000 through their punting competition. 
Over the years, members have come and gone, but the friendships have always stayed the same. For many of them, this is the only time they see each other. 
“There are a lot of friendships in the group. We only see each other once a year, and we renew those friendships.”
Mckenzie explained that adding on those days prior to the meeting only makes the social gathering that much better, with plenty of laughs and a few drinks in-between. 
As a yearly attendee for over two decades, Mckenzie explains he has seen many changes. From jockeys and trainers who have come and gone, to the crowds and entertainment.
“We’ve been here since before Trackside and what not, back then people had to actually go to the races to experience it. The crowds and the enthusiasm aren’t there. Only big days you get that.”
Although there have been many changes, ‘Aurora Australis’ have never lost their enthusiasm for the upcoming meeting at Trentham. Which not only brings a great day of racing but is keeping friendships such as theirs together for decades. 
What began as a simple trip to the races has now grown into a group without which the Wellington Cup meeting just wouldn’t be the same. And when it comes to the race itself, Mckenzie said his money is on Shaune Ritchie’s The Good Fight.

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