Day At The Track

Armalight was one of NZ's best ever mares

03:07 AM 24 Nov 2008 NZDT
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The legendary Armalight
The legendary Armalight

Armalight became big news as a three-year-old in 1979/80 when her 12 wins (including two under 2:00) and three seconds from 15 starts made her top earner of her age with $73,365. Her victories included three heats and the $21,250 final of the DB Flying Fillies' Stakes, the New Zealand Champion Stakes and the New Zealand and North Island Oaks.

The Timely Knight mare began her career on Boxing Day of that season and compiled this record within five months, becoming only the third of her sex to reach open company and the first to enter the 2.00 list at so tender an age.

Preparing for her four-year-old campaign with a New Zealand Cup tile on the Cards, Armalight took fright and bolted while jogging on a windy September 1980 day injuring her near hind-leg so badly that she was unable to race that season. Re-commissioned for 1981/82, she returned to racing with a solid fourth in the Ashburton Flying Stakes on 3 October 1981, just over 16 months after her final three-year-old win in the North Island Oaks on 24 May 1980.

In the second outing of her five-year-old campaign late in October at Addington, Armalight was an unimpressive eighth, but she improved to finish third to Hands Down and Glen Moria in the Kaikoura Cup after setting a hot pace. She was not, however, considered amongst the top candidates for the 1981 New Zealand Cup, her first attempt at 3200 metres.

After driver Bob negue had driven her without cover outside pacemaker Watbro for the first 2500 metres, Armalight left her rivals struggling as she stormed to the post seven lengths clear in 4:08.7, a track record for a mare. She was the first of her sew to win the event since Loyal Nurse scored in 4:12 1/5 in 1949, although Stella Frost, first past the Post in 1959, was disqualified.

Next came an even greater highlight to the remarkable Armalight story. Taking her straight to the front from 6 behind the gate in the New Zealand Free-for-all, Negus guided her over the first 800 metres in 55.6 seconds, the first 1600 metres in 1:54.2 and to the post in 2:23.5 for the 2000-metre mobile; an unbelievable 1:55.4 mile rate. At the end she had three lengths to spare from Bonnie's Chance, who shaded Superior Chance. Seven lengths back, Gammalite headed the others.

Drawing 1 in the 2600-metre Matson Stakes, Armalight cut out the first 1600 metres in 2:01. She was joined after 800 metres by Gammalite who pressed her from there until wearing her down within 200 metres of the finish. Just when it appeared Gammalite was 2½ lengths clear of Armalight, who just shaded Hands Down.

Just over a month later owner Brent Smith announced that Armalight was definitely retired. Easted after her three outings at the Cup carnival she had pulled up distressed in a trial on 29 December. She would go to stud, said Smith.

At this point Armalight's record was 21 starts for 14 wins, three seconds, two thirds and one fourth for $153,115.

Again Armalight showed remarkable recuperative powersm and by July 1982 she was again being jogged with a view to racing her in 1982/83.

Ar Miss, the dam of Armaligh, was an excellent performer for Howie Smith, a prominent Canterbury trainer of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s whose best horses also included Perpetua (New Zealand Oaks and Sapling Stakes), Navigate, Sea Born (Auckland Cup) and top trotter Barrier Reef. Ar Miss won the Sapling Stakes and New Zealand Oaks, and Howie Smith, who died in 1974, openly declared her his best horse. She raced for Howie's son Vic.

Ar Miss's Dam Trixie Milne was raced by Howie's brother Ossie. Tained first by Howie and then by Stan Edwards, she won seven races and took a track-record 4:14 at Forbury Park in 1953. Having been given Ar Miss by his uncle Ossie, Vic Smith Decided it would be fair to let his brother Brent, an abattoir worker, have the first filly he bred from her.

Ar Miss went first to Nevele Romeo, but she filly foal died and it was on a free service to the Nevele R. stallion Timely Knight that she produced Armalight.

A son of the Hal Dale horse Good Time and the Axworthy-line mare Sweet Dream, Timely Knight was imported as a 12-year-old in 1973 with a record of 53 wins and $448,669 (1:58 1/5. He won the Canadian Pacing Derby and was voted top Canadian aged paced as a four-, five- and seven-year-old.

Timely Knight's other good performers include Timely Robin and the Australian classic winner Timely Hostess. His two-minute siring credits to mid-1982(with seven crops racing) numbered seven.

Armbro Del, the sire of Ar Miss, was imported to New Zealand as Seven-year-old in 1967 by Graham and Mrs M.E. Holmes. By Tar Heel from the Adios mare Adios Helen, he was lightly raced and a non-winner, but proved a success from the outset of his stud career. To time of writing his individual winner totalled nearly 200. His other top sons and daughters included Hands Down, Armbro Song, Belmer's Image, Motu Prince, Craig Del, Sun Seeker and the Crack Australian pacer Milson Edition. To mid-1982 his two-minute siring credits totalled 19, headed by Craig Del (p, 1:55 3/5).

Trixie Mile was by Gratten Loyal from Lady Milne, by Mano' War from Lady Antrim, by John Dillon (a well-performed son of Harold Dillon) from a mare by Wildwood. Apart from Ar Miss, Trixie Milne left other useful winners in Admiral, Bosun and Jack Tar. Lady Milne beside Trixie Milne left good performers in Black Douglas and Bobby Brigade. Lady Antrim left the 1948 New Zealand Derby Winner Croughton.

Brent Smith, 29 years old when Armalight won him the New Zealand Cup, had her broken in by Ron Carter then trained her himself with Advice and assistance from Negus and Jack Carmichael. They and Peter Wolfenden were her pilots in her three-year-old campaign, while Negus drove her in six races at five.

Ironically, Negus was not considered a top-flight race-driver and over they years had usually employed Maurice Holmes, Doug Watts and Doody Townley for important races for members of his own team.

Ron BISMAN

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