By Garrick Knight
She might not have been the punters’ friend at Motukarara on Sunday, but nothing was going to wipe the smile off Anj Mugford’s face.
The Leeston horsewoman pulled off a rare three-figure upset when training and driving Night Lights to win a girls’ maiden race, her first victory in both fields.
Night Lights was the despised outsider at $113.60 and probably with justification having been unplaced in 23 prior runs.
The horse was drawn badly and had no real form to get excited about, but Mugford was still optimistic.
“I did think I’d be in the money but I didn’t expect to win because the draw was no help,” she told HRNZ.
And Night Lights had to be the best horse in the race to win, too.
She was three-wide, then parked and simply out-toughed her opponents in a slogging finish.
Mugford was stung with a three-day suspension for going one strike over the whip maximum, but it wasn’t going to take the gloss off the day.
“It does feel like it was a long time coming.
“It’s hard to explain how I felt when I crossed the line. I didn’t really believe it.
“I was waiting for them to get past me all the way down the straight and it never happened.”
Mugford has done things a little differently to most in that she had her trainers’ licence for two seasons before taking out a junior drivers’ licence to match it.
She has been plugging away with horses that carry limited ability the last few years and it’s no surprise that Night Lights came from another stable.
“I can’t afford to go out and buy nice ones from the sales; I have to get other people’s cast offs.
“With Night Lights, I had put something up on Facebook saying I was looking for a horse to race over the summer.
“Carla Robertson-Holmes messaged me and said they had her there and they think she’s got ability so was probably worth a go.
“So, it’s thanks to Carla that I got the horse, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened.”
Mugford started working for the late Bryce Buchanan during her high school years before joining his son-in-law, Terry Chmiel’s stable “for eight or nine years”.
“Then I took a break and did vet nursing for a year.
“I went back and worked for Bruce Hutton and then I was not actually involved with horses when Bruce rung and said I’ve got one here that you should have a go at training yourself.”
Before too long she had her licence and a couple of horses around her, including the now-retired but ability-laden trotter, Razor.
Now she’s got her drivers’ licence “just so I can drive my own ones, really” and helps out neighbour Kevin Fairbairn, whose track she uses to train her team.
Along with Night Lights, Mugford trains the 57-start maiden mare Don’t Tell Ange, who she is determined to win a race with.
She’s come close four times, including a second placing at Addington.
“She goes alright and I’d like to think she can get a win somewhere along the line.”
But if it doesn’t happen, she’s ok with it.
“I got in to horse racing for the horses, not for the racing. And that’s still what it’s all about for me.”