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YEAR: 1988

JACK CARMICHAEL

Jack Andrew Carmichael, who retires this season from driving, was born in Wanganui 65 years ago. His father Andrew and brother Alf were freezing workers who trained horses they owned themselves. Among their winners when Jack was a boy were Kraal, Harvest Boy and Silver Black (later trained in Hamilton).

In 1939, Jack went to the Exhibition at Wellington. With 60 in his pocket from shearing, he was "well off". "It was a hell of a lot in those days," he said. He carried on to Christchurch, where he got lodgings with Dave Bennett and a job working in the stable of Wes Butt. "I was there for twelve years. I used to ride Mankind in his saddle work, and rode him when he ran second to Gold Bar at Addington in 2:4.

"In those days we did a lot of travelling, all by train. It was nothing for us to take 12 to 14 horses to the Coast. But travel was cheap then, and the meals and board didn't seem to cost anything. You'd find, too, that all the owners would be there to watch them race," he said. His first success came with Dawn Grattan at the Westland Trotting Club's meeting on March 21, 1942, and a significant win in that period was taking the Greymouth Cup with Direct Medium.

After marrying Dorothy, Jack bought a farm, where he grew potatoes, then raised pigs and milked 30 cows. He liked the farming life, but agreed to train Coronet Lass and Monopat (dam of Micron and bred by Des Grice) for Ted Graham. Two horses soon became four and then a team, with Tekapo Queen, Gold Globe (by Johnny Globe)who won six races in the early 60s, followed by Dorstan, Bonny Rachel, Rocky Star, Chequer Board, Hindu Star, Precocious, Globe Bay and Worth Seein'.

"Precocious was a great old stayer - she'd just keep going, but I think Globe Bay was the best I had. He was a lot better than what people thought. He was a very nervy horse and early on he was stood down for breaking in a race. He was always a bit funny when he looked like being squeezed up and his form leading up to the Cup, the year he won, was a bit patchy. Rauka Lad was the horse they were writing up. I remember there was a bit of a skirmish up front with a round to go. I had to pull him down to the inside and then take him back out. Any other time he would have broken, but this time he just cruised round. He was always going well," he said.

His one regret as a trainer was losing Worth Seein', a daughter of Johnny Globe and Fifth Brigade, the dam of Berkleigh. She got to c4 and then went down with a liver complaint and died. She would have been a top trotter," he said.

For many years Jack was on the committee of the Trainers and Drivers Association and was there during the campaign for a losing driving fee. The trainer of 330 winners has noticed a change of driving standards and tactics over the years. "It used to be a bit easier because you'd be driving against the same fellows. There are a lot of different ones against you now, and there is a lot of different types of driving," he said.

Jack has also noticed a change in the style of training. There was a time, he recalled, when there would be no rush to investigate the speed of the yearlings and 2-year-olds. "It's not a bad thing, starting on the young ones earlier, but I still think waiting for them would be better. I know with Micron we didn't do much with him until he was four and he just about went straight through to Cup class," he said. "I'm inclined to think there is too much emphasis placed on 2-year-old racing. People still like to see the older horses, like Lord Module and Robalan race. They like the name horses," he said.

With the game nearly up, Jack intends to keep training for another 12 months. "I might retire then. I don't know if I want to keep training horses," he said. Like most others in his era, Jack used to admire Maurice Holmes when he was on the track, but has detected a slip in such considerations in recent times. "Life's changed. The younger ones used to look up to the older ones; nowdays they wouldn't give two hoots," he said.

-o0o-

Jack Carmichael was No.1 driver for Prebbleton trainer Des Grice ever since Bob Young died. "He has always been a very competent horseman," said Grice. "I think he's one of the best tactical drivers in the country. He would be in the same class as Maurice Holmes and Bob Young. The biggest problem was getting the information out of him after the race; he was good the next day," he said.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 13Jul88

 

YEAR: 2011

Jack with Yankee Loch
JACK CARMICHAEL

Old habits die hard in the harness racing game so it is just as well that age is no barrier to success.

Ask former top trainer Jack Carmichael, of Templeton. He recently renewed his licence 71 years after he first went racing and soon revealed that old skills also die hard, producing his own Flaming Frieda, driven by Ian Cameron, to win at Timaru.

"It was just circumstances, really," says the modest veteran of well over 700 wins. "I retired a few years ago (2005) and handed in my licence so I wouldn't be tempted to take on a horse. I didn't believe in just going on for the sake of it. I was going to breed from a mare I had, Frieda Holmes, and sell the foals as yearlings." He first foal fetched $9000 and the next one $20,000. Then "Hoagy" as he is widely known (after the composer of the famous song Stardust) was unhappy with the $9000 offered for the third foal, Flaming Frieda, and took her home.

"I had her here and was working her along and, well, with the cost of training fees today I thought I might as well do it all myself. I was getting up at the same time and pottering around with them anyway. I never changed my routine really, everything was here and I didn't think I had forgotten how."

Carmichael's career is steeped in trotting tradition. He began by riding in saddle races on the West Coast in 1940, including the noted saddle pacer, Mankind, a minor legend of the era. Jack drove his first winner, Dawn Grattan, at Hokitika in 1942. "I was related to Wes Butt (whose property was known as Mankind Lodge) who had a big team then and worked with him. I was in the army at the time. We were sleeping under the public stand at Riccarton and training there. I managed to get weekend leave to go over and drive and it was hard to get in those days." Those were the days when it took 12 hours for the average equine rail trip to the West Coast, after which horses campaigned there for weeks at a time, giving rise to the quip "trained on the train". "You certainly didn't do much with them between races. They often raced twice on the same day and with the travelling that was about it."

Carmichael went on to star in much bigger arenas. He trained and drove the 1973 New Zealand Cup winner Globe Bay for Christchurch garage proprietor Stan Wheatley, who bought his dam after her half-sister, which he owned, was "nobbled" at a Hutt Park meeting. Coronet Lass started Jack off in the training ranks after years of working with Butt and farming. Chequer Board, Glen Moira, the erratic but brilliant Micron, and Astralight were among his many stars, but his record in Inter-Dominion trotting finals with Precocious(1975) and Yankee Loch(1989) were special highlights.

The aptly named Precocious had an unusual career. When she was a two-year-old, an unnamed colt jumped the fence and put her in foal. The resulting filly, appropriately named Over Fence, was not only a good winner but later left a high class trotter in Precocious Lad. "I only trained Precocious at odd times. Bob Mitchell had her at the 1973 Inter-Dominion and I went over to drive her. We were off the back mark and it wasn't going to be easy. An old bloke there took me aside and told me the locals would make things tough for me in the final but I should remember that stewards might give me a 'holiday' but they wouldn't take the race off me. Sure enough, one driver in particular tried to push me off the track for a whole round. I gave as good as I got, remembering that advice, and won the race. There was a long enquiry but the old bloke was right. They gave me a month's suspension but we kept the race. The other driver, Bert Alley, became a good mate of mine."

It was experience against the tough Australian drivers which paved the way for the second Inter-Dominion triumph with Yankee Loch in 1989, also held across the Tasman. "I had a good mare called Kate's Return. She frustrated me until I found out she loved going to the front. When I went over to Australia they just attacked me all the way and ruined her chance. So when Yankee Loch's turn came and I knew he would race best in front, I rang an Australian driver, Jim O'Sullivan, who had won big races at Addington at that time and asked him to drive him in the series. Jim went to the front and they didn't attack him like they would have if it had been a Kiwi driver. Yankee Loch beat the hot favourite, True Roman."

Jim Curtin drove Yankee Loch in New Zealand to win several major races. But Ian Cameron is the "stable driver" at the moment. "When you go to the trials, fellows like Jim are either away at the races or booked up. Ian has always driven quite well in my opinion and he helped me out when I went to workouts. He's done nothing wrong."

Jack bears no grudges against Australians, incidentally. His wife, Dorothy, comes from there and they have had a long and successful marriage. Besides his work with horses, Jack put in years of administration with the Owners and Trainers Association running trial meetings at Addington. He is one of the select few elected to Addington's Hall of Fame.

So are there any more champions in the pipeline? "No, I wouldn't say that. Flaming Frieda (by Courage Under Fire) is a little bit better than average. She went through a bad spell when I had to tie her up to do much with her but it was Jim Dalgety who reminded me that perseverance was the key to success. She can do more yet and I have some Badlands Hanover youngsters out of the mare. I have tried one of them (Harvest Boy) and when he lined up I even put a fiver on him because I think he will be alright, but he needs a bit of time."

Time is something Jack Carmichael feels he still has plenty of. "I've been lucky but I notice a lot of horsemen seem to live to a good age. I think the early-to-rise and early-to-bed might have something to do with it."

Jack, 88, this year and the oldest professional trainer in the country, is still fascinated by horses after 75 years working with them. By any standards, the career of a genuine stayer.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 2 July 2011

 

YEAR: 2007

Russell Carter was 84 when he died last week.

An enthusiastic trainer/driver from his Springston farm, Carter's pride and joy was Miss Pert, a mare by Waratah he won nine races with. The biggest was the 1979 New Brighton Cup when she defeated Main Star and Timely Robin.

He drove her in all her wins, and her Inter-Dominion Heat second to Wee Win, but was not in the sulky for her Grand Final third to Rondel and Sapling, giving it instead to Jack Carmichael.

Earlier, he won eight races with Our Smokey, a son of Smokey Hanover who started with Felix Newfield but won his races for Carter. He drove Peterson's Pride to win her first two races for Trevor Mounce, and won two races with the ill-fated Sooties Delight, a Stand Together grand-daughter of Miss Pert's trained for him by Murray Edmonds.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 9May07

 

YEAR: 2002

TED GRAHAM

For as long as Arthur Pash can recall, Ted Graham was a regular with himself, Alan McKinnel and Pat Cross at the same table on racenight at Addington. There was little doubt that Ted was the oldest on track, because he was 87 when they checked in to meet as usual the Friday before last. The night came and went, with three at the table instead of four, and the next day they learnt of his death.

Graham's first horse was Coronet Lass, a mare by Van Logan who had won races previously from the stables of Hughie Donaldson and Hec Henderson. She was first trained for him by Lance Heron, and Dave McGregor drove her to win a race at Addington, but she was with Jack Carmichael when she finished third to Au Fait and Dianthus Girl in the Dominion Handicap. Carmichael recalls that Graham was his first owner when he started out as a public trainer. At the time he was in two minds whether to go training, and says he told Graham to "wait a few days" while he thought about it.

By far his best horse was Micron, a son of Lordship he raced in partnership with Doug Goslin, who reached open class and ran unplaced in the NZ Cup the year Lunar Chance won. Micron also won a heat of the Inter-Dominions in 1975. He won four races at four, four at five, and three at six, one being the Kaikoura Cup after he lost 60 metres at the start. He later stood at stud. Others Graham raced were Cardigan Lass, Hindu Star, Coronet Peak and Monopat.

Graham was a prominent Canterbury administrator. He served on the committee of the Canterbury Owners' Association for many years, was president for more than a decade, and later became patron.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 15May02

 

YEAR: 1999

Ted Sunckell...pictured at Forbury in 1967
TED SUNCKELL

Harness racing in this country is built on the foundation of farm boys like Ted Sunckell. They grew up with horses because their parents needed them to work the fields.

Going back to the days when Ted was a lad, horses were also the method of transportation, communication, getting to school, and racing along the country roads. When he was 15, he took his father's horse Miss Locander from Waiau to the Blenhiem races. This was a two-day trip, and by the time Miss Locander reached Blenhiem she was muscle sore and didn't race well. On the third day of the meeting, obviously recovered, she bolted in and paid 80 to win. On the way home, Ted and visiting trainers from Wellington would stop at the Clarence Reserve cookhouse for a feed and sleep under the stars.

His interest in racing took him into the stables and a job with Addington trainer Drum Withers when he was 17. His first horse came later, when he paid 200 for Tatsydale at a Tattersalls auction in Christchurch. She was bred in Southland by Cliff Irvine, and driven by Vic Alborn won six races, and finished fourth in the Dominion Handicap behind Dictation, Ripcord and Single Task. This was the day when Maida Dillon paid 257/12/6 to win, Johnny Globe beat Vivanti in the Derby and the free-for-all was won by Parawa Derby from Cargo Song and Gay Knight.

From Tatsydale and U Scott, Ted bred Welburn, a tidy little trotter before being sold to Australia. He lost form in the confines of a smaller establishment but found it again after being given away and relocated into the paddock-training environment he enjoyed with Ted. Parados was a smart pacer from Tatsydale trained by Stan Edwards, and other horses from the family were Tatsy Brigade, Song Key, High Note, Gay Tune, El Red and Tatsy Star. Gay Tune ran third in the Trotting Stakes, and at stud left Gay Marlene, who made her name as the dam of Thriller Dee, 1:57.8, and the winner of 24 races. In more recent years, he had his horses trained by Jack Carmichael, Felix Newfield, and his association with Don Nyhan and Globe Derby was more than 30 years.

When it was time to give up the farm, Ted did not give up the horses. He won a race at the Akaroa meeting in 1989 with Star Act, and scored with High Note at Reefton in 1993. Even when frail, he kept working a horse and a cold winter night still brought him into Addington where he could watch a few races. He once said to his son Jim: "When my time comes, I'd like to let go the reins and just fall out the back of the cart."

He says: "He had a Clever Innocence mare in work, and he'd arrive down about 9am to work it. It was hairy watching this. I don't know how he had the strength to do it. Once she took off and did five laps with him. He had one hand on the reins and on hand on the shaft, hanging on."

This season, Ted did not renew his licence. When he died last month at the age of 93, he had run a longer race than most.


Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 6Oct99

 

YEAR: 1993

ARTHUR IDIENS

Arthur Idiens, a former committeeman of the New Brighton Harness Racing Club and member of the Canterbury OTB, died in Christchurch last week. Mr Idiens, who had been ill for some time, was aged 62.

He raced, bred and sold many horses, his first good one being Jillinda, who he bought at a dispersal sale after she had won three races as a pacer. Trained by Max Miller, Jillinda won a further seven races, all as a trotter, including the Ordeal Cup.

Jack Carmichael trained many of his horses, notably Astro Blue who he bought off Phil Williams; Winning Double, the winner of two races before being sold to the US; El Guago, a smart youngster who ran second in the NZ Derby; Alvarez, a lower grade winner later sold to Australia, and Johnny Rondo

His current racing interest was Rhythm Lord, a recent qualifier by Lordship, being trained by Pat O'Reilly jun.

Credit: NZ HRWeekly 28Apr93

 

YEAR: 1989

Jenner winning the 87 Ordeal Cup from Tyron Scottie and Simon Katz
JENNER

Grand trotter Jenner, hero of 33 wins from 185 starts over 10 seasons for $281,005, has been retired.

The 11-year-old Game Pride gelding will make his final track appearance leading out the field for the $125,000 FAI/Metlife Rowe Cup in Auckland on May 20. He will be kept in light work, training with the Kenwood Stud yearling band at Cambridge under the supervision of his breeder and master, Charlie Hunter.

Jenner has been a special favourite of Hunter's from the day he was foaled. This is not surprising, as his third dam, Royal Charge, raced and trained by his father, the late Jack Hunter of Lower Hutt, on lease from Christchurch breeder the late Clarry Rhodes, gave Charlie his initial winning drive. Permitted to breed a foal from Royal Charge, Jack Hunter put her to U Scott to produce Min Scott. Raced by Charlie's mother, Min Scott was guided by Charlie to win the 1963 Dominion Handicap at Addington, giving him his first important big-race victory.

His accomplishment of being a winner in 10 consecutive seasons is a record for a standardbred in NZ - approached only by pacers Lordship and Tactician (nine consequtive seasons), while among the trotters Fantom and Johnny Gee are next best with consecutive wins in eight seasons apiece.

Raced by Hunter's wife Annette and Jeanne Meale, wife of Kenwood co-director Brian Meale, Jenner was as honest as they come. Until jarring up on hard tracks late in his career, he had no hang-ups apart from a hind fetlock injury that kept him out of the 1985 Rowe Cup. He won 20 races at Alexandra Park, six at Cambridge, four at Addington and three at Claudelands.

He trotted a mile in 2:01.5 winning the Thames Rhodes Memorial as an 8-year-old, and was placed in 4:11.8 for 3200. Hunter drove him to 19 wins, John Langdon to six, Grant Payne to three, Gary Smith to two and Barry Anderson, Kerry O'Reilly and Jack Smolenski to one each.

Apart from Hunter, Jack Carmichael, Gary Smith and Peter Wolfenden trained him at different times. While Carmichael didn't drive him to a win, he trained him for victories in the Trotting Championship and Ordeal Cup.

Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 3May89

 

YEAR: 1982

BEN GRICE

Ben Grice, one of trotting's best-known personalities, died in a training accident on his property on New Year's Day. He was 96. Mr Grice fell from the sulky while jogging a young horse on the track at his Prebbleton property. It was the second horse the veteran owner/trainer/breeder had worked that morning.

With his son Des, Mr Grice ran the well-known Kingcraft Farm, current home of World Skipper, Lopez Hanover and Keystone Mutiny. The stud has produced a host of classic winners over the years. Mr Grice has been active in trotting for more than sixty years, first in Mid-Canterbury and then, for the last thirty, at Prebbleton.

The most notable of the hundreds of winners the Grices have produced was the top racemre Haughty, winner of the NZ Cup two years in a row in 1942 and '43, the second time from 36 yards behind. Among the younger brigade, horses like Buccaneer, Jonboy Star, Glamour and Royal Lopez won the NZ Sapling Stakes, while Petro Star and Ruling Lobell made their mark by beating the fillies in the NZ Oaks for Mr Grice.

-o0o-

Report by Tony Williams writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 19Jan82

Last week, the NZ Trotting Calendar paid a brief tribute to the late Benjamin Thomas 'Grandad' Grice, whose death as a result of a training accident on New Year's Day brought to an end an era in NZ trotting.

But any lifetime spent in trotting as long as Ben's - he was 96 at the time of his death - can not be brushed over in a few paragraphs, particularly when the man in question has made a contribution to the industry which made him a legend in his own lifetime.

Possessed with a delightful sense of humour - particularly when it was sharpened with a few whiskies with his mates - Ben Grice had a host of stories to tell, especially about the early days. But a lot of those stories could never be repeated - they would turn a modern day administrator's hair white - and many of them died with Ben.

Raised in Ashburton, Ben's interest in trotting was stimulated by his father, and it was on his father's property at Willowby that Ben built his first set of loose boxes. Later, on his own property at Winslow, which was formerly part of the old Longbeach estate, Ben converted an old woolshed into boxes and a feed barn, and really set about making a name for himself.

An accomplished horseman who early in his career was not scared to invest a few bob on his horses, he quickly realised you could not train horses up to the stage where they were ready for a bet, then drive them yourself. So over the years some famous horsemen were to don the famous Grice colours, red with cream crossed sashes and cap. Men like Free Holmes, Albert Hendriksen, 'Drum' Withers, Ossie Hooper, Gladdy McKendry, Ron & Ces Donald, Maurice Holmes, Bob Young and, more lately, Jack Carmichael and Denis Nyhan. Ben always believed in employing the best available reinsmen, and that policy paid off as his stable sent forth a string of brilliant pacers.

One of the best of these was Kingcraft, by the little-known stallion Quincey from a fast racemare in Colene Pointer. Colene Pointer, a mare by Logan Pointer from Queen Cole, by King Cole out of the great Norice, was very unsound so Quincey, a locally-based stallion, was walked to the Grice property to serve her. The resulting foal, Kingcraft, was a top performer, and in his first season at three was unbeaten in two starts. The same season, his dam, Colene Pointer, had recovered sufficiently to resume her racing career and won four races, including the Timaru Cup.

Colene Pointer's dam, Queen Cole, was purchased by Ben from Mrs M Duncan of Coldstream Lodge, which stood on the present site of the Fendalton shopping centre in Christchurch. It was not until nearly 60 years later that Ben found out that his expensive mare nearly didn't make it to Ashburton. The late Dave Bennett was working for Mrs Duncan at the time and, along with a mate, was assigned the task of delivering Queen Cole to the shunting yards to be put on board the train to Ashburton. Unfortunately, the mare escaped in the shunting yards and Dave and his friend spent several anxious hours trying to catch the runaway mare. She was finally cornered, loaded aboard the train and delivered to Ben. But Dave Bennett kept the secret of that narrow escape for many years, and it wasn't until a couple of years before his own death that he confided what had happened to Ben.

Queen Cole, and a Prince Imperial mare of unknown history, were the two mares who paved the way for most of the Grice winners, many of them brilliant juveniles who measured up to the best in the two and three-year-old classics. Buccaneer, an outstanding 2-year-old who won three races at two and then went amiss, is rated probably the best of them by Ben's son Des, who, "Went to help dad for a year after the war and I'm still there."

The Grice stable transferred to Prebbleton in 1950 and, naturally enough, Ben Grice named the property Kingcraft Farm, in honour of his old champion. Kingcraft won a division of the 1929 NZ Cup but he was scratched from the final that year. He then finished unplaced in a division of the event in 1930, but in 1931 was beaten a length by Harold Logan in the final after finishing third in a heat on the first day.

A string of grand pacers, dual NZ Cup winner Haughty, her son Brahman who held the 2-year-old mile record for 25 years, Riviera, Petro Star, Tradition, Regal Voyage, Village Guy, Jonboy Star, Courtier, Smokey Lopez, Ruling Lobell, Don Lopez and Avalon (world yearling record holder with a 2:06.8 effort at Washdyke a few seasons back) are but a few of the more famous names associated with Ben Grice.

It was one of Ben Grice's deepest regrets that one of his horses never won the NZ Derby, a classic the veteran horseman dearly wanted to win. He lined up some brilliant pacers in the event, but bad luck always seemed to dog him. He did, however, win the NZ Oaks with Petro Star and Ruling Lobell, the NZ Sapling Stakes four times with Buccaneer, Jonboy Star, Glamour and Royal Lopez and numerous other classics and semi-classics. The Grice horses were always aimed at classic and semi-classic races and, right up until the time of his death, Ben was working with a handful of likely youngsters, one of whom could yet fulfil, even after his death, Ben Grice's greatest ambition - a victory in the NZ Derby.


Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 12Jan82

 

YEAR: 1981

WES BUTT

Wes Butt didn't get an awful lot of pay when he first went to work in a stable. Nor did he get paid very much for training his first outside horse. In fact, he got nothing at all. The veteran trainer, "the last of the old brigade" as he puts it, recalled last week how he'd worked for Dick Humphreys at Templeton for six months before he plucked up enough courage to ask for wages.

And then, a few years later when he was on his own, he trained a horse called Walter Wrack for nothing. "His owner would bring all the feed over and pay me something when he won." Walter Wrack did win, luckily. And, significantly, he was the first horse Butt ever drove in a race. Now, having driven in his last race, at Addington at the weekend, he recalled it was nigh on impossible for a youngster to get drives back in the thirties. That is, unless he had his own horses. "I worked for Dick Humphreys for more than three years and in all that time never drove in a race. That was left to the older men, the top drivers who drove race after race. "The owners always went for the experienced men and the punters would never bet on a horse driven by a youngster."

Wesley Richard Butt turned 65 last Christmas but he's had no misgivings as his turn to retire has come closer. After those tough initial years, trotting, he readily admits, has been good to him. Very good. He regrets nothing. Horses have been part of Wes Butt's life as long as he can remember. Raised in Blenheim where his father had a farm, he used to ride five miles to school every morning and home again at night. It would have been around 1928 when Wes' father sold the farm and the family moved down to Hororata where he was engineer and county clerk. It was school for Wes until he finished standard six and went to work on a farm - "I always liked the land" - and then as a "carpenter's boy."

Once again the family moved, this time to Templeton, a few miles down the road from where Butt is now well established. Jobs at that time were diffucult to come by. Certainly, there was nothing around he wanted in the building line. "I went down with Dad to see Mr Humphreys but we didn't hear anything for a long time. Dad went down again. Mr Humphreys told him this time to send me down for a while to see how I liked it." That was all the encouragement Wes Butt needed. He rode his bike to the stables every day for the week, with only Saturday afternoon off. And got nothing in his pay packet each week. "I had been there six months before I said to him one day 'do you think I'm worth anything to you Mr Humphreys?' 'Yes,' he said, 'ten shillings a week.' which wasn't too bad at that time."

Wes wasn't too much worried about the money at the time anyway. He was sticking to his father's advice. "Never mind the pay: just work hard and learn all you can so that you can get out on your own." He stayed at Humphreys for three years without any rise in pay. "I remember when I said I was leaving he told me I was just getting useful...and then offered me fifteen shillings a week to stay. "And that still wasn't too bad considering you could go to a good dance or the pictures for anything from sixpence to one and six." But the extra five bob wasn't enough to entice him to stay on permanently although he did go back from time to time just to help Humphreys out.

It was a pretty significant piece of trotting country that he was leaving behind. Those twenty-two acres Humphreys had were, in Butt's words: "one of the greatest spots in the country for trotting." Well known tainer Albert Hendriksen had the property and Dick Humphreys worked for him before taking over himself. Humphreys later trained the mighty Harold Logan on the place. Butt recalled his first fast drive, behind the top trotter Huon Voyage who later won a Dominion Handicap. Jim Dalgety owned the property at one time while Snow Upton, Derek Jones, Doug Watts and Jack Pringle were among other top names Butt associated with the stable.

Once away from Humphreys, the young Butt took up a job at the local pipe works, working mainly in the pumice factory and carting concrete pipes. "It was a tough place to work, but it was work which left me time to do the horses," Butt recalled. By this time it was 1936 and Walter Wrack was in his care. Forty-five years ago, so it's understandable if Butt's recollection of the time is perhaps a little hazy. By his calculations he lined the trotter up at Greymouth to finish second - "Humphreys beat me, too" - in the first race before winning later in the day. In fact: the records show Walter Wrack finished third both times that day: but came out the second day of the meeting to win his first race and beat good mare Violet Wrack, driven by Dick Humphreys, into second place. Since then Wes Butt has driven 760 more winners and trained another 704. Violet Wrack later went on to win a number of races for top trotting trainer Bill Doyle. Walter Wrack returned to Greymouth a couple of months later to score again.

The West Coast has always been a happy hunting ground for Butt, especially in those earlier days. Having succeeded with Walter Wrack (he eventually finished up with Roy Berry), Butt concentrated on horses he could race himself. His policy was to lease them and then get them going for a Coast campaign. "It was often the way that if they could finish round about fourth or fifth in Canterbury, they were always good enough to win on the Coast." Native Ruler and Wee Pal were this first of his own he ventured away with, in December 1938. A trotter, Native Ruler won at Reefton ("I think that was his only win.") while Wee Pal really provided the goods at Hokitika. "I think she came second in her first race and then dead-heated for first later in the afternoon. She won again the next day." Which wasn't exactly how it happened. Wee Pal, in fact, dead-heated for first first time out and then won later. She finished second the next day. But what Wes does remember to this day is coming home with "a terrible lot of money." Wee Pal's wins contributed a large part of the 174/10/- she won that term and Native Ruler, with a fair number of placings before the win earned more than 200 for the season. The first thing Butt did on his return from Hokitika, though, was to buy himself a new sulky. "It was a brand new Bryant and it cost me 32/10/-." That sulky is still in use although there's not much of the original left in it.

Butt still savours the memories of those trips away with the horses. No floats in those days, it was trains all the way...or on foot. "It's seventeen miles from here to New Brighton but everyone used to jog their horses in, give them a couple of races and jog them home again." Getting the 50 or 100 miles to Ashburton or Timaru, too, was a bit of an event. A train would come out from Christchurch on the Friday, dropping off boxes all the way down the line with instructions to have the horses loaded by a certain time the next morning. Templeton was one of the main muster points. "We would leave here at four or five in the morning, stopping to pick up more horses along the way. We'd get to Timaru just before the following passenger train. After the races it was the same in reverse. The passenger train would set off first, the horses following to arrive home near midnight. Once back we'd unload the horses and jog home in the pitch dark carrying all out gear on our knees. Even if it rained we didn't worry about it. It was just something that had to be done."

Getting across to the Coast especially to the Wesport meetings, was something more of an event. That train would leave Christchurch early in the evening, arriving finally at Inangahua about eleven the following morning. In between there would be a stopover at Reefton where the local club "would put on a huge spread for nothing. They were great trips," Butt recalled. "The men would play cards all the way, drink, tell yarns, skite...a really good time." Then, once through to Inangahua, the work would start. The horses would have to be unloaded and then jogged through the Buller Gorge to Westport where they'd arrive round about tea-time. The Club would send trucks out to cart all the feed and gear back through for the visiting horsemen. "Most trainers took a team over for the circuit in those days. It wouldn't have been worth while with just one or two horses."

The circuit provided a lot of races in just a few weeks. After the two days at Westport, there was a trek back through the gorge for the Reefton meeting, The on for two days at Greymouth, four races then at the gallops at Omoto, two days at Hokitika, one at Kumara and the two day galloping meeting at Reefton on the way home. If the racing wasn't exactly memorable for everyone, there were good times to compensate. And the occasional buying and selling.

Wes Butt remembered he and a friend buying a horse called Plentiful in Canterbury for 25 and being able to get it going along reasonably well before taking it over the hill. "It wasn't much good but it did run two thirds at Hokitika and then a second and a win at Kumara. I sold it that night for 10...and saved myself the 4/10/- fare home for it," Butt recalled. He must have bet a few bob on it to be pleased with that deal? No, he had been pleased enough to get the stake money which was close enough to 100 in all. Besides, he'd given up betting even at that early stage. "I had more to do with my money than to lose it. Yes, I had a few good bets early on...and missed. I learned early after several misses. Even now I'm not interested. Wouldn't even know how to put a bet on."

Wes Butt has another reason to think kindly about the Coast. For it was a soft drink manufacturer from Greymouth, one Andy Grogan, who really put him on to the road to success. He was the owner of Mankind, the first of two horses Butt was to train with that name and the one he named his property 'Mankind Lodge' after. Mankind, the winner of a couple of races earlier, was trained at the time by E J Smith "just down the road." Grogan asked Butt to get him a horse and Wes thought Mankind was the one. The 250 asking price wasn't too much, even though it was a fair price at the time, so Mankind changed hands. He was five at the time and a gelding. "From the time he came here, he just got better and better," Butt recalled. "He was a great beginner but you just couldn't touch his mouth. And this is where others had gone wrong." There was the day at Addington when Cyril Yeatman rode Mankind for Butt in the last race of the day, a mile saddle event. "I had told him to leave the horse's head and just hang on to his mane. He shot away to a big lead and as they hit the straight Cyril looked around to see where the others were. They were miles away but as he turned he must have pulled on the inside rein. His front foot hit the slippery clay, the horse slipped and dropped his rider."

But even though he lost that one, Mankind was to win a lot of races for Mr Grogan and Butt, more than 4,000 between 1940 and 1944. He was "a lovely horse around the place" who went through to the top classes. 1941 was an especially good year for the team. Mankind won the August Free-For-All, leaving the champion Gold Bar down the track at Addington. Three days later he finished second and third in successive races, the first over a mile and a half with Wes in the sulky, the next time over a mile from 24 yards behind with Jack Carmichael in the saddle. In November, again with Carnichael in the saddle, Mankind ran second to Gold Bar when Allan Holmes' champion ran a world record 2:03.6 for a mile from a stand. This was on the same day as Gold Bar set his world race record of 3:27 for thirteen furlongs at Addington.

Jack Carmichael did most of the riding for Wes Butt in those days and, when Wes was in the army, looked after the small war-years team. Wes remembered the day in September '41 that they took the two horses in the stable - Mankind and Brigadier - to New Brighton and won with them both. Mankind beat Gold Bar over a mile and a half that day, too. Jack had been working for some years with Butt. Originally he had come down from Wanganui for a holiday and he'd never gone back north. He was a cousin of the future Mrs Butt, Beryl Bennett. Wes, a neighbour, used to train on Mr Bennett's track in those early days, and that's how he became 'tangled up' with his wife. Mrs Butt recalled how Jack had lived with them for about thirteen years until he had branched out on his own. Wes was in the army at this time, stationed at Burnham. He was able to get home on Sundays to let Jack know what to do and occasionally at other times as well. "I was in pretty good with the lieutenant-colonel so I was able to get away now and again," he said. He remembered winning a race in 1940 with Mankind at Addington on the Saturdayand then being shipped up to Fiji for service in the Pacific on the Monday. The win was a good farewell present.

Butt used Mankind to illustrate how little young drivers were tolerated by the betting public in those days. Mankind wasn't at the top then but he was on the way up. It was on the old New Brighton track. He started in a mile saddle trot early in the day with Doug Watts aboard. Even from 24 yards behind, the combination won with ease in 2:10. Mankind was hot favourite. Later in the day he lined up in the last race and downed a top field of sprinters, beating the well-regarded Huguenot by a neck. Wes himself was in the cart. "I was just learning to drive then, but I still couldn't believe it. We were eleventh favourites and paid more than 36 to win. The public wouldn't tolerate any young drivers, no matter how good the horse was." Wes hardly ever got into the saddle himself. "I didn't like it. I just wasn't much good at it, I suppose," is his explanation.

But what he did like was a block of land adjacent to the blacksmith's shop further down the road from here he lived at Templeton. He'd had his eye on it for years. "There were 25 acres and it always appealed to me. But there was no way I could afford it at the time it was available." But Andy Grogan was at hand. "I asked him when I came out of the army if he would buy the place for me and I'd train for him until I had paid it off. He agreed straight away. It was he who got me started here." Those original acres have been increased to forty and there's the big covered barn and yards, five furlong track and house to complete the set up.

In the earlier days most trainers in the area worked their teams around the roads. "They were lovely roads then. Cars and trucks were no bother. Most of them belonged to horse people anyway so they did their best to make things easier for you. "Now, a lot of drivers see how close they can get to you," Butt said.

Wes and Beryl were married in July, 1942 and it was inevitable the Butt children would be interested in horses. The boys, Robin and Murray, have already made their mark on NZ trotting themselves as trainers, while the two girls, Christine and Margaret, are winning owners, having raced Right As Rain, a daughter of For Certain with whom Wes won the NZ Oaks. Wes remembered that Robin was especially keen, even helping out with the fast work while still going to primary school. It's Robin and Murray who'll carry on driving members of Wes' team in the seasons to come... and probably so will his seventeen-year-old grandson, Robin's son David, who will have a probationary licence in the new term. That's if he continues with his intent to knock off smoking. "I told him I wouldn't have any boy driving for me if he smoked; he said to me the other day he'd given up, so I'll have to let him drive, too," Wes said.

Wes has had a few men working for him over the years, and some of them have stayed a good long time. "We had the same gang for years and years," Mrs Butt said, while Wes recalled Jack Carmichael, Jim and Bill Smith, Snow Wright, 'Button' White - "he was with us for about 20 years" - Ralph Bonnington and Barry Hamilton. In the early days the team had built up slowly but once the wins started to come, Butt got more and more horses, up to thirty or so in the busier seasons. "We had to work pretty hard in the mornings but everyone was off the place by five. We had breakfast at seven and then got stuck in. He had his biggest teams in the period from the early fifties through to the mid-sixties. It was during this time he took six of his seven trainers premierships. The season immediately after the war gave him his first title with 36 winners. Butt took the crown again in 1952/3 (38 winners), '54/55(33), '55/56(46, his best season ever), '57/58(30), '58/59(23) and '61/62(33). He was also the country's leading reinsman twice, in 1945/46 when he tied with Fred Smith and Alan Holmes (28 wins each) and again in '52/53 when he drove 29 winners over the season.

Over the years Wes Butt has driven the winners of some of the most important events on the country's racing calendar, the Champion Stakes with Golden Oriole ( owned by Murray), three Sapling Stakes with Golden Oriole, Wildwood Chief and Spry Guy, two Rowe Cups with Battle Cry and more recently Even Speed, a Great Northern Derby, again with Golden Oriole, a Dominion Handicap with Johnny Gee, four NZ Trotting Stakes with Johnny Gee, Even Speed, Signal Light and Black Miller, a New Brighton Cup with Bright Highland, a NZ Oaks with For Certain, Timaru Nursery Stakes (Seafield Lad), a Wellington Cup with Anarca Direct, an Easter Cup with Wee Win and an Ashburton Cup with Van Rebeck. He also drove those last two to win heats of Inter-Dominion series.

Of course, he regards Johnny Gee one of the best of all the horses he's had anything to do with in recent years. He won the most money about $60,000, including $20,000 in place money. He won a dozen free-for-alls and went 2:01. He was a top horse. Wes Butt will always remember the 1970 Dominion Handicap when he trained both Johnny Gee, the winner, and Tony Bear (driven by Robin) who took second only half a neck back. These two made a formidable bracket in the big trots around that time, one which the punters could not often resist. The bracket was strengthened now and again with the addition of yet a third top trotter in the stable, Briganelli. Johnny Gee won a lot of races for Butt, including four races at Manawatu from his only four starts on the track.

Golden Oriole was "a nice mare" and Van Rebeck "a good old horse." And then the names of the top liners start running freely...Campbell King, Lucky Law, Jimmy Scott, Liberty Bond, Axis, Admit, Benghazi, Moss Hall, Courageous, Margaret Hall, Captain Sandy - "although he was just about finished here then" - and, about ten years ago, Partisan, who won nine of his seventeen starts for Butt. "If he hadn't been unsound, he could have been the best I ever had," Butt surmises. Easter Cup winner Wee Win would have been one of the toughest horses Butt ever drove, even though he didn't have a sprint, while Even Speed was a good horse, too.

Butt won races on most of the South Island tracks and on many of the northern ones too, even at Trentham. He won a race with good mare Zona Grattan by half the length of the straight there once. The same horse started from 96 yards behind at Forbury soon after the war and beat a top quality field into the bargain. White Angel was another mare he still has a lot of time for. "She gave me my only real chance to win the NZ Cup, but her chances were ruined by a wet track. She did win the Hannon Memorial in 1953." Earlier on, in the 1951 Cup Carnival, Butt started her three times and won each day. There's an asphalt tennis court alongside the Butt home now. It used to be White Angel's yard. The Butt children used to pay her a lot of attention and she'd be as gentle as a lamb with them. Put her around other horses, though, and "she could be a sour old thing." Wes remembers the day she provided the second leg of an 8,000 double at Ashburton. Piccolo, the rank outsider paying something like 96, won the first leg. And White Angel, about eighth favourite, won the second from 12 yards behind. "And she had to go around 39 others to do it."

And that's not the only long price he's been associated with. Two races after he had won the 1964 Sapling Stakes with Golden Oriole he came out and drove Mrs Butt's own horse Stormy Lad to victory. He paid 101/-/6 to win and more than 22 for the place. The next year at Hutt Park he drove Super Glow to win and pay more than 73. Back in April, 1947, for instance, there were two races for trotters on each day of the Nelson Trotting Club's meeting and Wes scooped the pool with Tu Rangi and Statesman. A few years later, he won four of the eight races at Canterbury Park, coming out on the second day to win two more.

So what makes a good driver? Wes Butt has his own ideas on that..."For a start he must be able to get his horse away and then he must be patient. He shouldn't burn a horse out by trying to rush around the world. A top horseman will always have his horse for another day." As for race tactics,"you can only go the way the horse goes best. Some need nursing until well into the straight, so you sit on the fence and take your chances as they come. And then there are the other types, like Wee Win, who like the pace to be on all the way. Then you get out there and battle and make it tough for the rest to keep up." Butt has no preference for either pacers or trotters. "I don't mind what they are if they are good. But I do get a lot of satisfaction from a good trotter."

He also thinks the younger drivers have an easier time these days than they did when he started. Probationary driver's races and series had helped a lot and many of the up and comers were getting a lot of experience even though they are young. "By the time they come out of their time, many are top men." The trend today was for owners to give the drives to the younger men, exactly the opposite situation as Butt encountered early on in his career. "It's not unusual these days to see Doody Townley, Derek Jones or Felix Newfield, all top men, left in the stands race after race."

He regards himself and Cecil Devine, who had to retire at the end of last season as "the last of the old-timers. We're probably the last to have raced against Jimmy Bryce and Free Holmes, for instance. They're a new lot now." Butt couldn't sort out the best he drove against but he had to mention Maurice Holmes, Doody Townley, Derek Jones, Bob Young and Doug Watts..."tough, hard-headed drivers." Himself, he had always done his best and "you can't do better than that." And now that his driving career is over, he had no regrets he'd had a great time all through.

He was just thankful he had come this far relatively unscathed. "I think you're pretty lucky if you can go till your 65 and still be okay. "It wasn't so bad in the old days when tracks were soft. These days the tracks are like shingle roads. If you hit them at 30 miles an hour and get dragged along, you feel it if you are getting on. It's nothing to the youngsters though. They're tough. He had been in hospital a couple of times and still had a little bother with an old injury to his back. But, he had been lucky.

Wes Butt can still remember, however, an aching arm after winning a race at Methven some thirty years ago. It was with the trotter Ascot, a good sort owned by Frank Woolley. Ascot was a 'highly strung' horse who, while a pacer, looked as though he could trot when Butt got him. And so it proved. He could trot very well as long as nothing else came up beside him. And then came the Methven race, September 27, 1952. Ascot started off 36 yards behind, sufficiently far back to avoid a mix-up soon after the tape went up. "We passed that okay and were going forward when Super Claim charged up to us without a driver and started to go round us. I remember thinking to myself 'this is lovely, he'll break my horse up if he comes any closer' so I grabbed him and held him in behind us. Old Ascot kept trotting and we hit the front with a round to go and stayed there. My arm was aching so much when we hit the post I had to let him go. The only reason I held on was to keep him away from my horse. He would have broken for sure." The feat of fine horsemanship was well written up at the time and the Methven Club itself recognised it for what it was with a fine trophy. It was another to add to the many which decorate the Butt home today, momentoes of those good days and some good horses.

So what will Wes Butt do now? Make more use of the tennis court? He has the cups to prove his prowess in that field too. No, Probably not. He will perhaps spend a little more time in the garden. And get his scrap-books and photographs up to date. But really, the horses will remain a seven day-a-week job. No, retirement won't mean much slowing down for Wes Butt. If any.

-o0o-

Article appearing in HRWeekly 15Sep99

The name Butt has flourished since Wes made his start in harness racing more than 60 years ago. After a career as a trainer and driver that few could match and fewer could beat, Wes keenly followed the fortunes of the succeeding Butt generations. Robin, Murray, David, Anthony, Tim and Roddy kept the founding father with continuing interest in racing. News of his daughter Chris's ill health nine months ago took the edge off him, according to his eldest son, Robin. He slipped quickly, and died on Tuesday, aged 83.

He was champion trainer seven times and champion driver twice.

Although he did not win a NZ Cup in 14 attempts, there weren't many other races of note that he failed to account for. He finished third with Wee Win and fifth with Mayneen, who strung together seven successive wins, but he always said his best show was with White Angel. "She struck a wet track the year Mobile Globe won. She was no good in that. She had won three out of three at the Cup meeting the previous year," he recalled.

In more recent times, the trotting triumvirate of Johnny Gee, Tony Bear and Briganelli were his notable colour bearers. They had a field day at the 1970 NZ Cup carnival when open class trots were held on all four days. Johnny Gee won the Dominion Handicap on Show Day. He finished second on the other days to Light View in the Worthy Queen, Inferno in the Free-For-All, and Tony Bear in the Greyhound. Johnny Gee and Tony Bear won 36 races between them.

The first job Wes got was working for trainer Dick Humphreys - no pay for the first six months, then six shillings a week - and his first winner was Walter Wrack at Greymouth in 1936. As a young fellow making his way against some hard heads, Wes developed his own style as a driver. "I would drive on the fence a lot; if you didn't get a go, there was always another day. The boys tell me if they used my style they wouldn't win a race today. We would be embarrassed to sit three wide in my day. I liked to sit and sprint," he said later.

Wes was good at it. He drove 762 winners including his very last drive behind Brow Raiser. He recalled getting lucky that night, hoping onto the back of a horse being driven up three wide by his son Robin, and Brow Raiser brought off a happy ending.

Another moment he cherished was competing in the Wes Butt Trotting Stakes at Addington in 1981 against his sons Robin and Murray and Robin's son David, who was having his first raceday drive.

He recalled jogging a horse from Templeton to the Port Hills, walking it over the Bridal Path, catching the ferry to Wellington, and then jogging the horse to Hutt Park. Wes had the same accommodation as the horse, a bed on the straw in the box next door.

And he would tell the story when times were tough, of racing Margaret Hall and Acropolis in an event at Auckland. Acropolis was the only threat to Margaret Hall, and Wes was driving him. Making his way from the back and chasing Margaret Hall, Acropolis was gradually taken off the track by a rival as he was closing in. The driver apologised to Wes and said he couldn't keep the horse straight. "I sort of believed him," Wes said. "Much later I found out that he had been paid to make sure Acropolis didn't beat Margaret Hall."

His major wins as a included the Louisson Handicap (Golden Oriole), National Handicap (Wee Win, Te Koi), Champion Stakes (Golden Oriole), Wellington Cup (Mayneen, Anarca Direct), New Brighton (Bright Highland), NZ Trotting Stakes (Signal Light, Johnny Gee, Black Miller, Even Speed), Easter Cup (Wee Win), NZ Oaks (For Certain), Sapling Stakes (Golden Oriole, Wildwood Chief, Spry Guy), Great Northern Derby (Golden Oriole), Rowe Cup (Battle Cry, Even Speed), Inter-Dominion heats (Wee Win (three) Van Rebeck, Johnny Gem).

He trained 710 winners, the best of them being Johnny Gee, Tony Bear, Mankind, Jimmy Scott, Stadium chief, Golden Oriole, Partisan, Te Koi, Liberty Bond, Axis, Margaret Hall, Trade Fair, Van Rebeck and Benghazi


Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 21Jul81

 

YEAR: 1980

Armalight (Bob Negus) parading after winning the 1981 NZ Cup
ARMALIGHT

Take a young filly, gifted from one brother to another, and a young man whose ambition is to own a bit of land where one day he can keep that filly and her foals, and the end result is Armalight and her owner, Brent Smith.

Armalight's rapid rise from 'just another maiden at Westport on Boxing Day' to he position as the best 3-year-old in the country is unusual in that her owner-trainer admits to "just learning about training as I go along." But the learning started a long time ago for 27-year-old Brent, back in the days when he helped his father, the late Howie Smith, with the training of Armalight's dam, Ar Miss.

Ar Miss, a daughter of Armbro Del and the Grattan Loyal mare Trixie Milne, proved an outstanding filly under Howie Smith's care, winning the NZ Sapling Stakes at only her second start when still a maiden, then going on to take the NZ Oaks later that same year. The Sapling-Oaks double was nothing new to Howie Smith at that time, for, nearly a quarter of a century before, he had trained Mr Andy Todd's outstanding filly Perpetua to win both classics.

Ar Miss was raced by Brent's older brother Vic, who was given her by his uncle, the late Ossie Smith. "Ossie gave her to Vic, and I guess he was sort of grateful at getting his start that way, so when Ar Miss started breeding, he promised me the first filly," Brent said when explaining how he came by Amalight. "The first foal by Nevele Romeo died, so we had this free return to Nevele R Stud. At that time Dad had a lot of time for Timely Knight. He really liked him, so Ar Miss was sent back there. I was just lucky that the resultant foal was a filly, her." he said.

That early experience gained with his father influenced young Brent to try his hand at training Armalight himself, a big gamble for a young man with a very valuable filly. "I sent her to Ron Carter to break in, thinking I had better do everything right, rather than risk mucking her up myself. Then after a couple of runs at the trials as a 2-year-old, there was the temptation to go for the Sapling Stakes. Eventually I decided no. Take it easy and do it right."

The experience he gained with his father has proved invaluable to Brent, even though he is the first to admit he still has a great deal to learn. "I always enjoyed the practical side of it with Dad, and I can only go by what I learned working with him. The rest I have just had to find out from others. Bob Negus (the man who drove Armalight in her early racing) and Jack Carmichael have been a great help. I suppose they must get sick of me asking all these questions, but all I can do is learn from them until they have had enough," Brent said.

Bob Negus came into the Armalight story at the same time she opened her racing career. "I had her entered for the Champion Stakes at Ashburton on Boxing Day and a maiden race at Westport the same day. I gave a bit of thought and decided the Champion Stakes might be a bit tough, so I had to find a driver for her at Westport. I knew Bob a little, I was best man for one of his sons, and he was going to Westport with Scholar. He agreed to drive her," Brent said.

That Armalight won her first event is now history, but her record since belies her modest start. Two seconds , both at Nelson - beaten narrowly by the talented Regal Guy and Treasurer respectively - at only her second and third outings, caught the eye of the trotting public and Armalight and her young owner were on their way. Immediately after her Nelson second came the offer for Armalight that Brent now has no regrets he could not accept. "At the time, it would have meant $50,000 in my hand," he recalled. That bit of land was in the back of Brent's mind as Armalight underwent the veterinary examination to confirm the sale. But her off-front hoof, which had been slightly deformed since birth, failed to stand up to the searching veterinary examination for such a big deal, and the sale fell through. You couldn't blame the vet for turning her down on it," said Brent. "The wall of the hoof grows forward instead of down and at that stage she had raced only three times and it was impossible to tell if it would worry her later. Now I'm not sorry she did not pass the examination. I have no regrets at all."

That's not surprising in view of Armalight's record since, six wins, including three heats of the DB Flying Fillies Series and the NZ Metropolitan Championship, and a nose defeat by Armbro Wings in the Great Northern Derby. Though she was beaten only a nose in the Great Northern Derby, Brent surprisingly describes the race as a non-event as far as he was concerned. "I was sitting in the trainers' stand, with Alec Milne actually, and at the 600 metres I knew she had no show from where she was. I thought she had finished fifth, then Alec (who had produced Armbro Wings to win) was shaking my hand saying 'I've done it, I've won'. I started to walk down to the birdcage and somebody came up and said I was fourth. Ten yards further on somebody said I was third, then in the birdcage somebody came up and said I was second, beaten a nose. I thought 'this is good, another ten yards and I'll have won it', but it wasn't really such a nervous time as I would have thought."

Nerves are something Brent has found out about in the past few months, and he admitted not sleeping very well sometimes. The pressure which goes with training such an outstanding filly is something he didn't really think about until he walked Armalight into the birdcage at Timaru for a DB Fillies' heat. "It wasn't until I heard an announcement over the course speaker that she was paying $1.60 to win and 60 cents for a place that it really hit me. I thought 'hello' and it was only then that I realised that there were more people than just myself involved." Until that time, Brent only had the worry of wondering whether he was doing everything possible for the filly, and doing it the right way. He still has that worry, plus the added burden of knowing that Armalight, and to a lesser extent himself, are public property.

Initially, Brent worried mainly about his own abilities. "All I could do, and really still can, is get her as fit as I can, then it's up to her and her driver." But the pressure builds up as each big race approaches, and it can't be an easy thing for a young man with his first horse to handle. The interview was conducted nine days prior to Armalight contesting last Friday's NZ Oaks, and since her win in the NZ Metropolitan 3-year-old Championship at Easter, Armalight had caused her young trainer more than average concern. "I didn't really think she could win that one. I honestly thought she wasn't in the race. I thought I hadn't made one of the payments, but when I got back from Auckland, there she was in the field. I had given her four days off after Auckland so I thought she would be a bit short of work for it." Short of work or not, Armalight proved her complete class by beating a strong field of colts and geldings in record time of 3:23.1 for the 2600 metres, and she did it without being pressured.

Then the trouble started. After she cooled out following that win, Brent discovered Armalight was lame in her near foreleg. "She was as lame as anything when I went to put her on the float and take her home. The next morning, thankfully, it proved to be a stone bruise coming out, nothing as serious as I first thought. I was going to give her four days off anyway, so it did not affect her preparation too much." But before the stone bruise came out, Brent's real worry was that the injury to her near foreleg was caused by her exerting too much pressure on it because of her problem off foreleg.

So far, thankfully, the off front hoof has not caused her any worries, other than making he walk with a peculiar 'roll'. Once travelling at speed, she shows no sign of it. Brent gives all the credit for overcoming her hoof problem to farrier Ron Gibbons. "He spent a lot of time with her and we tried a lot of ways of shoeing her before we got it right. She has a pad under the shoe to build her hoof up to the correct height on that side, and it's thanks to Ron she's had no problems." Ron Gibbons' patience with Armalight has, or will have it's reward though, in the form of a new pair of boots. "I promised Ron that if she won the Metropolitan Stakes I would buy him a new pair of boots. He is always complaining about his footwear, so I made the promise and now I'll have to go out and buy them."

Tom Ryder, who boards Armalight at his Wigram Road property, also comes in for a lot of thanks from Brent. "It's good of Tom to let me keep her there, and he has done a lot to help too," he said. Latest in the list of Brent's 'advisers' is Templeton horseman Jack Carmichael, who drove Armalight for the first time in the Metropolitan Stakes. Brent has been taking Armalight to Carmichael's for fast work in recent weeks. It was because of his association with Ar Miss that Carmichael was offered the drive on Armalight in the Oaks, Bob Negus having to turn down the drive because of having his own filly, Elfin, engaged. "Jack drove Ar miss to win the Oaks for Dad, so he seemed a suitable choice to drive her when Bob advised me to get somebody else," Brent said. Brent gives Bob the credit for Armalight's rapid improvement from the time she started racing. "Bob was really good, teaching her about racing at every start and not knocking her about. She was just another maiden at Westport, but thanks to him she has kept on improving at every start since."

To Brent and his wife Carol, Armalight is more than just a champion filly, of for that matter a ticket to a new house. Brent's affection for the filly has been there since he took possession of her "as a fluffy little thing only that high". Carol's liking for the filly is something that has grown. "Carol was scared of her even when she was only a little thing. Now, she's as proud of her as I am. She treats her like a pet. Carol's had a fair bit to put up with, living in a flat the five years we've been married. We could have been in our own home a while back, but that really took second place to Armalight." Now, thanks to Armalight, Brent and Carol are that much closer to having their home, plus the land Brent wants to keep Armalight and her foals on when he starts breeding from her. And how far away is that day? "I'll race her as a 4-year-old, provided she comes up well, then she'll go to stud. She is too valuable to risk over-racing her," Brent said.

Brent is not worried at the prospect of Armalight ending the season with an open company assessment if she happened to win her three remining engagements this season. "No, I'm not worried about that if it happens. I can't really see her winning all three races, but even if she did, she would only be aimed at 4-year-old events like the Messenger next season." At the time of this interview, Armalight's own personal 'triple crown' was the NZ Oaks, the Great Northern Oaks, and the final of the DB Flying Fillies' Stakes. "I would like her to win the Oaks. Her dam did, but the DB Flying Fillies' would also be a nice one to win. She's won three of the heats and to win the final would really be good."

Armalight proved unbeatable in each of the three DB heats she contested, winning the first at Addington comfortably in 2:03.4, the second at Timaru in 2:02, then becoming the first filly to pace the mile in under 2:00 when she won her Auckland heat by eight lengths in a brilliant 1:59.1 without being pushed. But even these brilliant efforts don't rate with Brent as her best. He names the Celebrity Stakes at Addington between her first two DB heats as her best effort. That night, Armalight outclassed a strong field of colts and geldings over a mile in 2:00.5.

Because of her ability on the racetrack, even Brent has to forgive her little foilbles at home. Her favourite trick, until they fashioned a special frame to stop her was to turn on the tap over the water trough. "Tom Ryder kept blaming me for leaving the tap on, until we found out it was her," Brent said. "Even after we put the frame round the tap, it only took her a month to figure out how to get round that, so we had to put a bar across the top. That stopped her, but now I can hardly get my hand in to turn the tap on." Armalight also has a habit of rubbing her mane against the fence rails, and not even sacks round the rails stops her. "This makes her mane ragged and annoys Carol, who likes to have her looking her best," Brent said.

But believe it or not, It's one of Armalight's little tricks that helps Brent know when she's fit. "If I tickle her under the tummy and she tries to kick the daylights out of me, then she's fit. If she doesn't kick, then it's time to start worrying."


Credit: Tony Williams writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 29Apr80

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