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"Armbro" leader Charlie Armstrong dies

September 07, 2017

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H. Charles "Charlie" Armstrong, who carried on his family's breeding farm and added to the Armstrong Bros. legacy in harness racing, passed away Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the age of 96.

Mr. Armstrong, and his family's Armstrong Bros. Farm, was an icon in harness racing for more than 60 years. Throughout this time, Mr. Armstrong was integral in the shaping of Ontario's horse racing industry as a board member of the Ontario Jockey Club, and also served as a member of The Hambletonian Society from 1986-2001. In 2015, he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Armstrong Bros. farm was founded in the 1940s by Charlie's father, Elgin, and uncle Ted, who were construction magnates in Canada. After Elgin's death, Charlie, along with his wife Lenore, kept the Armstrong horse business strong.

Charlie's love affair with horses began when he received his first pony Playboy from his uncle Ted in 1930 at the age of 11. The pony had been obtained as payment for a debt and according to Mr. Armstrong's biography for the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, the pony was literally loaded into the back seat of the family car and taken to Brampton, Ont.

Charlie continued his family's association with great horses, building on the success of his father, who won the 1953 Hambletonian with the filly Helicopter. During Charlie's time at the helm of Armstrong Bros., the farm became the second largest Standardbred breeding operation in North America and produced and campaigned many of harness racing's stars. The list of the "Armbro" named stars is lengthy, among Armbro Flight, Armbro Goal, Armbro Omaha, Armbro Ranger, Armbro Fling, Armbro Blush, Armbro Feather, Armbro Fern, Armbro Emerson and Armbro Operative.

Armstrong Bros. was also a major market breeder and became a shareholder in the old Kentucky Standardbred Sales Company, selling many yearlings annually in Lexington, Ky., in the fall.

Armstrong Bros. produced 14 Breeders Crown champions and at one time as owners, Armstrong ranked second as leading owners in the Crown series.

The Armstrong family company which operated the breeding farm was dispersed in 2005, but Charlie continued to enjoy international success, raising and racing Standardbreds with his daughters under the name of Village Acres Farms and Talk Of The Town Stable in Brampton, Ont. Over the years they won major stakes with two-time Breeders Crown champion Village Jiffy, million-dollar winner Village Connection, Village Jig, Village Jolt and Village Jove.

Among the trainers who handled the "Armbro" horses was John Kopas, who posted on his Facebook page, "Charlie was one of nicest men I ever had the privilege of knowing. My family and I were associated with he and Armbro for over 30 years, a relationship that I will always treasure."

Mr. Armstrong was honored in 1996 with the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society's Achievement Award; in 1998 he was an honoree of the Little Brown Jug Wall of Fame; in 2003 he received the Van Bussell Award; in 2005 he was presented Standardbred Canada's prestigious Cam Fella Award; and in 2011 he was the inaugural recipient of the Ontario Equestrian Federation's Industry Icon.

Mr. Armstrong is survived by his wife, Lenore, and daughters, Jennifer, Caroline and Nancy.

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