where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2021-05-07 14:29:43  

On Sunday at Hollywoodbets Greyville the Nathan Kotzen-trained Walton Hall's victory in the ninth race did not cause much of a stir, being in a MR 78 Handicap and following hard on the heels of big race wins by Rainbow Bridge, Captain's Ransom and Linebacker, but it was a significant moment for the Armstrong family, who have raced in KZN for three generations. 
Former Gold Circle director Bruce Armstrong led in the Wylie Hall gelding with Muzi Yeni aboard and Yeni was wearing the same colours the legendary Lester Piggott wore 50 years ago when Bruce's grandmother Vi led in a Syd Laird-trained colt called Hang Fire at Scottsville on 20 November 1971.
The colours, black, white stars, red sleeves and cap, were first registered by Bruce's uncle Graeme Armstrong 58 years ago in May 1963. 
Graeme's close relatives became joint holders of the colours at various stages in ensuing years including Bruce's father Robert and his grandparents Ross and Vi. 
Graeme eventually relinquished the colours and they were in fact held for two months from December 2000 by PJ "Blackie" Swart.
However, Bruce's eagle-eyed uncle, the well known owner and racing administrator Bill Lambert, spotted the colours with dismay in the parade ring one day and asked Blackie if he could bring them back into his family. Bruce seems to recall Bill presenting Blackie with a case of whisky after the kind relinquishment!
Bill's son Iain then became the registered colour holder.
Bruce took over the colours in April 2004 and they have been seen in the winner's enclosure many times since.
Walton Hall has an interesting pedigree which can be loosely tied to Hang Fire and to the history of the Armstrong family.
Walton Hall's dam Magical Cove is closely related to the great Mike Azzie-trained sprinter National Currency, as she was by the same sire, National Assembly, and their respective dams were half-sisters. 
Their respective grand-dam was the top Varsfontein Stud broodmare Enchanting, who was out of Lucky Libra, a mare bought by Varsfontein Stud founder Tony Kalmanson in the UK in the early 1970s. 
Lucky Libra was remembered by Tony's daughter Susan Rowett, who is the current Varsfontein owner, as being extremely tall and leggy and her three victories included a hurdles race over two-and-a-half miles. 
Tony also liked the 3x4 in-breeding to Fair Trial (Fairway) that Lucky Libra brought as he believed Fair Trial made for a good cross with Varsfontein's first stallion Mexico II.
Therefore, it is interesting to note that by coincidence Hang Fire was also in-bred 3x4 to Fair Trial. 
Another interesting tie is that Walton Hall fended off Midnight Badger with Warren Kennedy aboard on Sunday and among the vanquished jockeys in Hang Fire's win with Piggott up was Warren's father Terrance.  
Piggott's win on Hang Fire happened on possibly the greatest day in Scottsville history. 
In the very next race, The Bull Brand International over 1600m, the great David Payne-trained In Full Flight, with Chilean-born jockey Fernando Toro aboard, put in one of his career best performances, destroying subsequent three-times Summer Cup winner Elevation, with Michael Roberts up, by 5,5 lengths in course record time. 
In Full Flight's arch rival Sentinel, ridden by the father of Frankie Dettori, Gianfranco Dettori, was beaten eight lengths into third.
Piggot was at the time, incidentally, married to an Armstrong, Susan, although she is not related to the Durban Armstrongs.
In Full Flight, Elevation and Sentinel were all just young three-year-olds in that race and In Full Flight went on to win the Holiday Inns, Cape Guineas, Queen's Plate, Concord Stakes, Newbury Stakes, Durban July and Woolavington Cup that same season over distances raging from 1000m to 2200m, truly one of the greatest thoroughbreds in SA history.
The Kalmanson connection to Walton Hall also ties in well with the story.  
Tony Kalmanson was living in KZN at the time of that famous 1971 day and might well have done business with the sugar farming Armstrongs being a member of a packaging-business family who provided bags for the sugar industry.
His older brother John went to Michaelhouse in the 1940s as did Bruce's father Robert.
Walton Hall was bought by Andy Williams of World Wide Bloodstock at the BSA National Two-year-old Sale of 2018 for R30,000. 
Williams was initially a partner in Walton Hall with Bruce Armstrong and Thomy du Charmoy. The trio were members of a crowd who used to gather regularly at the Hollywoodbets Greyville-based Totalisator/Bookmaker facility popularly know as "Club Tab" and are all passionate about the Sport Of Kings. However, Kotzen has latterly taken over Williams' and Du Charmoy's shares.
Walton Hall has now had eleven runs for two wins and four places for earnings of R139,750.
Nathan Kotzen is known for bringing horses on slowly but surely and Walton Hall impressed on Sunday. 
Yeni tucked the handsome bay in from a wide draw of eleven out 12 and after turning for home nearer the back than the front he ran on through the centre of the field to win by 1.05 lengths. The handicappers have raised his merit rating five points to 70, but he looks capable of winning more races. 
Kotzen said Walton Hall was over the one or two small hiccups he suffered after winning his maiden second time out and believes "there is more in the tank."
It is a pity Walton Hall is not a filly as he is closely related to the Mike Azzie-trained Wylie Wench, who recently smashed the Vaal Classic track course record when winning the Grade 3 Acacia Handicap over 1600m, and that would have given her some value in the breeding shed. 
However, for Bruce and family and friends racing has always been chiefly about fun as anybody who has attended Hollywoodbets Greyville box 19 will attest to. 
It is fitting the picture of grandmother Vi and Lester Piggott hangs in that box and Walton Hall's lead in 50 years on might soon join it. 
Picture: Vi Armstrong leads in the Hang Fire (Lester Piggott up)
Gold Circle 


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