The Armitage Impact

Beach Beauty and Sean Cormack

Beach Beauty and Sean Cormack are poetry in motion

The Armitage name was very much in the headlines this Cape Summer Season. The Trevor Armitage bred champion Beach Beauty won two of the Cape’s top events in scintillating style (Gr1 Maine Chance Farms Paddock Stakes, Gr1 Klawervlei Majorca Stakes), another Armitage (James) bred colt, Blaze Of Noon, who won the Gr3 Julius Baer Politician Stakes, while Gr2 Sceptre Stakes heroine, Reflective Image, is out of a mare by Sandown Stud’s resident sire, Goldkeeper.

The Klawervlei Majorca Stakes, in particular, proved a benefit for the Armitages – with Trevor breeding the winner, Beach Beauty, and James the third placed finisher, Priceless Jewel. The Armitage family have been involved in horseracing since the British born Jim Armitage arrived in South Africa in the mid 20th century. Jim, who was based out at Standerton, made an indelible mark on the South African stud book, breeding two exceptional champions, Home Guard and Gatecrasher with many other top division horses.

Home Guard set the South Africa record for most consecutive wins – reeling 11 in a row, nine of which were features. The son of Pent House II’s victories included the SA Nursery Plate (by 7.5 lengths), Benoni Guineas (by 5 lengths) and the SA Derby. Home Guard’s winning streak ended when he was beaten, as hot favourite, in the 1969 Rothmans July, but the colt went on to add wins in the Hawaii Stakes, Johannesburg Summer Handicap and Woolavington Stakes to his already impressive resume.

Gatecrasher, a son of Kirsch Flambee, was unbeaten on left handed courses – winning the Cape Guineas, J&B Met, and the Clairwood Challenge. He also finished first in the 1975 Rothmans July, but was disqualified and placed third.

Jim’s son, Geoff, moved to Zimbabwe in 1964 and started breeding in his own right. He became a leading breeder in Zimbabwe- where he led the breeders list for 22 out of 23 years. This remarkable achievement was made more so, when one realises that Geoff started out with just four mares. Geoff’s son James joined his father in his own capacity in 1992 after his studies and world travels. James, who could read form from a very young age, had been assisting his father, now retired, before taking over Sandown.

The Armitages were also involved in tobacco, maize and cattle farming up in Zimbabwe, where they were based on three separate farms. Geoff and Ann, who currently resides in Plettenberg Bay, stood the successful sires Quintipor (by Kalydon), Nissr (Nijinsky II) and Goldkeeper (Mr Prospector), but later moved Goldkeeper down to Ceres, where he stood for a few seasons at the Cheveley Stud. Latterly James and 3 other syndicate members imported KItalpha (by Mr Prospector), who was a half-brother to Judpot.

Geoff’s son James, and wife, Joy, are currently based at Sandown Stud, nearly Paarl. The farm is home to 60 mares (with just the odd boarder) as well as the stallions, Ashaawes and Goldkeeper.

James and Joy had an usual courtship – which ended in a hasty marriage, as Joy was all but asked to leave Zimbabwe (with a week’s notice) when her work permit ended. Joy got anxious as James seemed to dither on asking, however her fiancée to be had a trick up his sleeve.

James (who had recently acquired his pilot licence), proposed in a romantic way – flying an unsuspecting Joy low over his farm – where he arranged, in lime, the question Will You Marry Me in huge letters.

The pair, who have three daughters, were married in 2000, and, after losing the farms in Zimbabwe, moved to South Africa in 2006.

After spending three years in Ceres, James found Sandown Stud, which is situated just off the N1 – and the farm has quickly established itself a leading Cape thoroughbred nursery.

Amongst the top horses that James has bred are the top sprinters Cerise Cherry (still going strong in Hong Kong at the age of 8), Tribal Dance, Secret Life, Royal Exit, Royal Extravagance and Golden Ivory.

The latest smart horse bred by the Armitages is the filly, Priceless Jewel, who ran third in the Gr1 Klawervlei Majorca Stakes on 2014 J&B Met day. Third in last year’s Betting World Oaks, Priceless Jewel looks sure to pick up a decent prize this season.

Plenty of the stud’s success has been thanks to their outstanding sire, Goldkeeper. A beautifully bred horse (by Mr Prospector from the family of Storm Cat), Goldkeeper has done exceptionally well at stud – despite suffering from well documented fertility problems.

An increasingly successful broodmare sire (for example All Is Secret, Blaze Of Noon, Reflective Image), Goldkeeper looks in great shape, belies his 24 years and is enjoying his retirement. The Armitages continue to honour this wonderful sire’s contribution to their ongoing success.

His stable mate is another blue blooded sire, Ashaawes. Ashaawes (a sire who really stamps his stock) is another horse with a good temperament. The sire of recent Dubai winner and Dubai World Cup nominee Sanshaawes, Ashaawes got off to a tremendous start with his first crop of runners. The son of Kingmambo had a first crop of just 27 runners – but nonetheless managed to produce five stakes horses – including the Gr1 performers Sanshaawes and Priceless Jewel, stakes winners Way Clear and Scented Ash, and the classic placed Yasi. Ashaawes is currently one of South Africa’s leading sires by AEPR (Average Earnings Per Runner) – despite the earnings failing to reflect Davyana’s third place finish in the R2 000 000 Lanzerac Ready To Run Stakes.

Sandown is also home to Sun Coast – dam of the great Beach Beauty. However, the daughter of Capture Him has, sadly, failed to get in foal over the past few years.

Sun Coast, who won three races up to 1400m, is like her famous daughter in that both mares are small, and both have great temperament, although Sun Coast has been described as “nothing to look at”.

Sandown has not been slow in using some of the country’s more fashionable sires – with James, who places great important in a mare’s pedigree, having supported the likes of Dynasty, Philanthropist, Trippi, Twice Over and Pathfork in recent times.

James, who believes strongly in the importance of space, maintains large paddocks with the maximum of nine horses per paddock. The horses are fed twice a day, and only come in for sales prep.

The farm has an impressive horse-walker, which was designed by Joy’s father, who is an engineer, and it has a diameter of 51 metres and a circumference of 156m. After 6 laps, the horses have covered one kilometre.

James, who enjoys studying pedigrees, is an avid user of both the Tesio programme, and the G1 Goldmine programme, preferring the latter to the former in general.

The Armitages have also started a flower business, where they grow seasonal flowers and import cut flowers from up North, which supplies many local wholesalers. James, who understandably is expecting good business in Valentines week, feels that the same farming principles he picked up when tobacco farming in Zimbabwe apply to the flower business. Sandown is a truly picturesque stud – and one which looks sure to stay in the headlines for years to come, thanks to the Armitages’ tenacity, hard-work and ideals.

– Sarah Whitelaw

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