In 1976 the Club abandoned its traditional race book cover depicting an aerial racecourse portrait, in favour of a smaller more modest document depicting Mid Canterbury horseman G.A (Graham) Laing and his two win trotting mare Alvean. Closely related to the champion trotter of his time Dictation, Alvean was by Johnny Globe from Anitra. Still boasting a glossy cover, the publication’s purchase price was unchanged at 30 cents per copy.
Stake money attributed to the big race remained at $3,100.00 and attracted another large field, including some high profile trotting talent. In addition to the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup again donated by Mr E. J. (Jim) Donnithorne, incoming President Mr Les Woods also provided a trophy for winning connections. A mile rate incentive was still available but proving elusive to attain over the longer distance, particularly on rain impacted going.
Alias Armbro was widely expected to commence his five year old campaign with distinction after performing positively at several trials throughout spring. The entire had concluded his 4yo season with a convincing Addington victory over 3200 metres at Easter. Not always reliable when asked to step, his chances of securing a clean getaway probably improved when he received barrier six at the roomy 2800 metre starting point. A former Trotting Stakes winner, he had been handled exclusively on race day by his Burnham trainer B.R. (Brian) Gliddon.
Armbro Lady drew attention to her winning prospects when presented in magnificent order at Tuesday’s Ashburton trials. After conceding starts of up to 100 metres, driver Bob Cameron ensured the mare settled, before reeling off some impressive sectionals when beating twenty rivals. Her time, inside the existing track record, evidenced that she was well primed to improve upon last year’s third placing behind Waipounamu. She had already demonstrated her fitness in September with a narrow last start second behind Nigel Craig at Forbury Park.
Less than 24 hours after Armbro Lady’s hit out, Mike de Filippi partnered Mighty Lee to a convincing Addington trial win, accounting for race rival Another Day by three lengths. The Colin Berkett trained 6yo completed his task with something in reserve on a cool windy day. He went a great race first up in the Ordeal Cup, finishing second behind Nigel Craig after being forced to sit parked for 1200 metres. His trial indicated that he had progressed beautifully, suggesting the former southerner possessed a bright future, even in select company. Closely related to Local Light gelding Partisan, Mighty Lee was from the Goodland mare Annabelle Lee, who scored a maiden victory here at Motukarara for trainer Jack Litten in 1967.
There were a number of capable candidates featuring prominently in consideration from their front line draws. Rodney Dale driven by Jack Smolenski, Lord Rodney, Southern Comfort in the gold with cerise sleeves and Now Charles were all usually reliable, without necessarily being brilliant. By Court Martial, full brothers Lessaday and 7yo Another Day represented the useful Springbok broodmare Kaville. Last start winner, Another Day trained at Rolleston by Ray Morris, looked a likely chance from his handy draw. Veteran Lessaday, who thrilled Colin de Filippi when he beat Now Charles first up at Addington, started alongside Armbro Lady on 10 metres.
Unpredictable Good Time Eden stallion Dupreez was drawn outside Mighty Lee on the 15 metre mark. The winner of thirteen races, Dupreez had previously performed with distinction when produced in a fresh condition.
Waipounamu had again proven to be a model of consistency, finishing four times placed from five starts in the current season. Jack Carmichael retained the drive, with stablemate Waitaki Gamble partnered by trainer Stewie Sutherland. Last year’s narrow winner Waipounamu, was joined on the 20 metre back mark by rising superstar Nigel Craig. A 7yo gelded son by Protector from Pipetre, Nigel Craig went into this year’s event an impressive last start winner of the Ordeal Trotting Cup. It is therefore surprising that after three wins and a second from five starts, punters overlooked his form, relegating him to the fifth line of favouritism. Clearly, investors were placing more emphasis on trial performances rather than racetrack endeavours.
Race day provided fine weather with proceedings conducted on an easy track. Mac’s Law, Lord Rodney, Waitaki Gamble together with Peter Gerald all galloped upon barrier rise and were effectively out of contention. The aptly named Duvet after beginning well for trainer R.A. (Russell) Williams also broke up and drifted out of contention. Duvet was from the unraced Highland Kilt mare Quilt. Nevele Gourmet mare Rodney Dale stepped best before trailing another Leeston trained rival Now Charles after 300 metres; initially leaving Another Day posted without cover. Well supported Mighty Lee moved up, assumed control after 800 metres and maintained his position passing the stands with a round to go. Alias Armbro was initially slow, but then improved three wide leaving the straight to take over 1,400 metres from home, leaving Armbro Lady without a trail again this year. Brian Gliddon’s charge was kept honest by Armbro Lady, who sat almost on terms as they negotiated the back straight.
With just over 800 metres remaining, B.L (Bevan) Heron let Nigel Craig loose from near last; in a flash he stormed round them and into the lead. Turning for home Nigel Craig and Alias Armbro drew clear settling down fight it out, as Armbro Lady along with the well supported Mighty Lee both faded away. Benefiting from superior race fitness along with a less demanding passage, Nigel Craig proved too strong in the concluding stages and fully deserved his one length winning advantage. Heron confirmed, “I didn’t want to go that early, but he was pulling so hard I didn’t have any choice.” Not surprisingly Alias Armbro’s run peaked 50 metres out, but still delighted Brian Gliddon who indicated that travelling to Greymouth could possibly be on the agenda, before completing a busy month in Auckland.
Dupreez, handled by probationary reinsman P.N. (Peter) Jones in his first Banks Peninsula Cup drive, improved from the rear turning for home to finish third, albeit six lengths adrift. Given a splendid run on Armbro Lady’s back, Southern Comfort shaded Waipounamu to claim fourth money, clear of Now Charles who was driven by I.R. (Ian) Cameron, another encountering his initial cup experience at Motukarara. Cameron, who was employed by Bill Doyle, had only last year emerged into open driving ranks. Tuft gelding Mighty Lee the surprise favourite was a major disappointment after receiving an economical trip. He was under pressure a long way from home, beaten at the 800 metres and unable to finish better than mid field. Driver Mike de Filippi offered no excuses but considered his charge to be a better horse on all weather tracks. In fact only one of Mighty Lee’s previous ten victories had occurred on grass. In contrast, de Filippi experienced better luck that night at Forbury Park, guiding home three winners.
It was worth noting that both Nigel Craig and Alias Armbro gained their respective tickets when only separated by a nose in an Ashburton qualifying trial during October 1974. That transpired to be an appetiser for many thrilling contests between the two trotting superstars, with each gaining individual accolades on their day.Nigel Craig went on to complete twelve fantastic months, breaking several national records including a mile time trial at Addington when recording 1.58.8.
Trained at Rangiora by part owner W.L. (Lance) Heron, the gelding recorded ten wins together with eight second placings; amassing over $45,000.00 in stake earnings. At season’s conclusion those performances culminated in a deserved Trotter of the Year title. As previously mentioned, Nigel Craig was by the Light Brigade stallion Protector, with his dam’s pedigree providing some added interest. Nigel Craig’s grand dam Land Girl was herself a half sister to Light Brigade’s most potent sire of trotters Court Martial, who produced 1970 Banks Peninsula Cup winner Merrin.