Argus-bred Empire City becomes Volstead’s second NZ winner  

By Duane Ranger  


Volstead’s second New Zealand winner is so strong she could win a plough-pulling competition. 

 Those were the satirical words from Oamaru trainer, Phil Williamson as he spoke to Empire City’s (Volstead-Liberty City) Waiuku breeders and owners, Peter and Janet Argus.

Janet & Peter Argus with Empire City

“Phil doesn’t give much away, but when he does speak it’s well worth listening to. He actually thinks more of the horse than what we originally did… and that’s saying a lot because Phil is one of the humblest, and less boastful person you could ever meet. He doesn’t let too much out,” Argus (Peter) said. 

The Williamson trained and Ricky May driven Empire City proved too strong, winning her debut IRT Maiden Trot (race one) from gate nine by two lengths at Addington Raceway on Friday (June 30). 

“I was surprised by the win, but Phil wasn’t, which is encouraging. Before Ricky pulled the plugs I thought the filly might run third, but then she ran past them. I thought that was pretty impressive for a 2-year-old up against the older horses,” Argus said. 

The Mark and Nathan Purdon trained We Can Have It All was also impressive at Alexandra Park on May 19. That was the night that filly became Volstead’s first New Zealand winner. 

“I really like what Volstead has left. I think he has left a couple of more winners in Australia, and a few in Canada and the United States – all fillies I believe.  

“We went to him because we had heard good things about him as a racehorse and as a young North American sire.  This girl seems quite professional, and I think she’s being kept cold at the moment, so there’s more in the tank. 

“I’m pleased we did because this filly of ours has impressed Phil, and when you impress one of New Zealand’s best trainers of trotters, then that’s saying something,” Argus said. 

He said Empire City ended up at Williamson’s Oamaru stable thanks to Debbie Smith of Shard Farm Standardbreds in Invercargill. 

“I’ve been involved in trotting for 40 years and this is quite exciting, but would never have come about had it not been for Debbie Smith (Shard Farm). 

“The horse was at Shards Farm and was all set to go through the Sale, and when Cam Bray inspected her he noticed she had a slight curve in her hock, and she was quite over-grown. 

“We took her out of the Sale and Debbie suggested we keep her and race her ourselves. She then said she found a trainer for  us, and being so far away we though ‘Oh no, I wonder if we have heard of them?’ 

“Then Debbie asks us if we would be keen to leave her with Phil. I nearly dropped the phone. Not only did Debbie find us a trainer, but she also found us one of the best trotting trainers going around,” Argus said. 

Then 25-plus-year veteran at the Glenbrook Steel Mill paid a tribute to another horsewoman – this time Cambridge trainer and driver, Arna Donnelly. 

“If it wasn’t for Arna Empire City would never have been born. Arna was going to the South Island, and I asked her to look at three fillies for me at a South Island Yearling Sale in Christchurch. 

“We had a $20,000 budget and wanted to look for something we could race and then ultimately breed from. Option one never worked out, but option two was a big yearling filly and really struck Arna’s eye, so she bought her,” said Argus. 

That purchase was Empire City’s dam – the 2014 The Pres – Glenferrie Slipper (Quite Easy) unraced mare, Liberty City, who was bred by L A and B D O’Connell. 

“We put her to Muscle Mass in late 2017 and the following November she left a nice bay filly, and since then has left three more foals. 

“She isn’t in foal this time after she failed with Six Pack (by Muscle Mass). The mare has been booked into King Of The North next breeding season,” Argus said. 

That 2018 Muscle Mass filly named American Muscle, has so far won four of her 38 starts and placed 13 times ($73,625) for the Argus’s and Waiuku trainers, Bernie Hackett and Michelle Wallis. 

After missing to Muscle Mass in 2019, Argus had Liberty City served by Volstead and on October 30, 2020, Empire City was foaled – two months and nine days after the Purdon trained We Can Have It All was born. 

“The mare has also left us a full Volstead yearling sister to Empire City named Atlantic City. She is being beautifully prepared by Shards Farm down south, who graze them, and then prepare them for the Sales or the racetrack. 

“Matty Williamson broke in Empire City and Atlantic City before handing them on to his Dad. He did a fantastic job and said he liked Empire City from an early age.  

“Shards Farm and the Williamsons do a brilliant job; I’m told Atlantic City will be our next racehorse. By all accounts she is progressing along very nicely,” Argus said. 

He said Liberty City had also left a What The Hill weanling colt who was born on December 9. His name is Kings Choice. 

“According to Brent McIntyre (Macca Lodge) the colt was a stunner from day one,” Argus said. 

The Argus’s also bred from the Australian-bred 2015 Majestic Son – Kandon’s Gift un-raced mare, Majestic Gift. He said she had left the following three foals: 

A Pastor Stephen weanling colt named Majestic Ruler; a Volstead yearling filly named Prohibition; and a 3-year-old former Hackett and Wallis trained Peak 3-year-old filly, who was retired in April after placing in one of her six starts. 

So, who is the best racehorse that Argus has bred

“I’s say at this stage, with lots still to happen, it would be Empire City. I’m not one to get too carried away, but that was a brilliant first-up win, and she can only get better.” 

Argus and fellow breeder, Bruce Robertson, have also bred more than 100 pacing winners from the progeny of their 17-year-old Falcon Seelster – Fleet’s Pocket (In The Pocket) brown mare, Falcon’s Flybye. 

 “We started breeding from her in 2010 and her first foal Fleeting Grin (Grinfromeartoear gelding) won 10 races and $111,792. We’ve bred 10 foals from her, including an Always B Miki weanling colt, a yearling filly named La Familia, and a 2yo colt named Always Flyin,” Argus said.  

 He added that the mare’s second and third foals,  Alotbettor (2011 Bettor’s Delight gelding – 1:49.6) and He Can Fly (2012 Bettor’s Delight gelding) won  three and one races in New Zealand before going on to win 40 races each in the USA.   

“Alotbettor has won over $600,000 and He Can Fly  more than $300,000,” Argus said. 

Argus, who these days is the groundsman for New Zealand Bloodstock at Karaka, has been married to Janet for 25 years, who shares her husband’s passion for harness racing.