Day At The Track

High standard of racing heralds early 1980s

09:07 PM 28 Oct 2008 NZDT
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The Ashburton Racetrack in 1980
The Ashburton Racetrack in 1980

An exceptionally high standard of racing prevailed in the first two seasons of the 1980s, highlighted by several world-class performances by three great mares - Armalight, Delightful Lady and Bonnie's Chance.

Delightful Lady, the darling of the fans in the late 1970s, continued in fine form and after being narrowly beaten in an epic finish to the 1980 New Zealand Cup scored her second straight Auckland Cup win the following February. She produced staying times that nudged even the stallions and geldings off the record roster.

In 1981/82 Armalight, the crack three-year-old filly of two seasons earlier, bounded back from injury to score a resounding New Zealand Cup - Free-for-all double, her 2:23.5 win in the latter event making her New Zealand's fastest by far at 2000 meters mobile.

Bonnie's Chance, a bridesmaid in the big Cup events, became Australasia's fastest miler of her sex with her 1:54.7 New Brighton Pan Am win in February 1982; then, a week later, she reduced that to 1:56.2 winning at Washdyke.

Also flying the flag high for her sex was Hilarious Guest, winner of the 1981 Sapling stakes and Juvenile Championship and the Oarks double and the New Zealand Derby the following season.

Crack Australian pacer Gammalite showed New Zealanders his worth in taking the 1982 Auckland Cup, the first Success in that race by an Australian-bred since Blue Mountain King in 1923.

Of the top trotters Scotch Tar in 1980 joined the list of dual winners of the Dominion Handicap, whiles the 1980 winner Stormy Morn, with ultra-consistent form on both sides of the Tasman, and became the first of his gait in Australasia to top $200,000 in earnings.

Northern horsemen Roy and Barry Purdon (among the trainers) and Peter Wolfenden (among the reinsmen) continued their extended reigns on the premierships, although nearing the end of 1981/92 Wolfenden was so badly injured in a race spill that it seemed inevitable that his winning streak would be interrupted at least for one season. This looked like giving his runner-up for several recent seasons, Mid-Canterbury horseman Robert Cameron, his chance to assume the top spot.

In the 1982 New Year Honours list Wolfenden was awarded an MBEfor his services to trotting.

More New Zealand trotting clubs switched from grass to all-weather tracks at the start of the 1980s; Stratford and Oamaru early in 1981 and Ashburton in mid-1981.

Ron BISMAN

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