Trevor and Minou Armitage / Beach Beauty
(Image : Sporting Post / Gold Circle)
“WE LOST A SOLDIER LAST WEEK.”
Summerhill CEOWe lost a soldier last week. Trevor Armitage hails from a deep-rooted thoroughbred breeding family, reaching back to the days of his father, Jim, who founded his Rathvale Stud on the outskirts of Standerton in the Eastern Transvaal. Like those of us who breed horses in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Transvaal had to overcome a misdirected belief that it was not good horse country, something the runners from Rathvale proceeded to dispel once and for all.
Another myth which Jim Armitage was quick to put the lid on, was a notion that was gathering traction quite quickly at the time, that to breed good racehorses for the modern era, you had to do so with sprinter/milers. He employed the services of two stoutly-bred stallions in succession, with startling results. The first of these being the eventual champion sire, Penthouse II, a son of the out-and-out staying influence Worden II, while the second, Kirsch Flambee, was a son of the Epsom Derby winner, Crepello, whose legacy in the breeding shed was also strongly inclined towards stamina and later-maturing horses. You only have to look at a few examples of how class prevails whatever the aptitudes, to know that these prejudices, whilst well-intentioned and sometimes supported by circumstances, can be completely misleading. In this country alone, I’m reminded that the two mile Durban Gold Cup ace, Salmon (whose 1945 Gold Cup is a focal point of our Hall of Fame these days), and Wilwyn, winner of the Washington D.C. International over 2400 metres (and whose pedigree was replete with heavy German stamina influences), were both champion two-year-old sires, which tells us that nothing in this game is entirely predictable, and the ability to stay does not preclude the sheer quality of the horse to shine through in his second career. In modern-day Europe, Sadler’s Wells and Galileo (whose progeny’s average winning distance is well beyond 2000 metres) have both demonstrated an ability to get top class two-year-olds in recent times.
Most racegoers of the 60s and 70s will recall with fondness the remarkable racehorses, Home Guard and Gatecrasher, whose racecourse feats were of such a magnitude, they tended to make us forget that the Armitage heritage includes the Derby victors, Bridesman and Skyline, the Summer Handicap winner, Appointment, the outstanding racehorses Storm Signal, Nile Guard and Wavecrest, the S.A.Guineas conqueror and Champion Zimbabwean sire, Sun Tonic, and the “speed merchant”, Shelter. Penthouse himself had an affinity for Davy Gordon mares (not to be confused with the eminent legal counsel of the same name,) much as Masham clicked with the daughters of Sybil’s Nephew here at Hartford, so Jim Armitage had the advantage of a natural “nick” to set him on his way, and Kirsch Flambee’s endowment was built on the daughters of Penthouse.
In a far more competitive era, Trevor continued his father’s sterling work with the quality gallopers Fairy Ring, Gold Tax, Summer Line (a daughter of Hobnob, and another example of the benefits of loading stamina on stamina) and then, his crowning achievement, Beach Beauty.
Most of us in the horse breeding world would want to go out at the height of our powers, and if Trevor Armitage was ever looking for something to remind us all of the stockman he was, it rests with Beach Beauty, surely one of the most remarkable fillies of the modern era. The daughter of Dynasty is just a midget of a mare, but my goodness, does she pack a punch, and she does so in the colours of the Shanks Syndicate, a group of friends who got together after the tragic passing of Trevor’s son, nicknamed “Shanks”, after the toilet and bathware manufacturers, “Armitage Shanks”. What a way to go.
In an earlier era, and as a much younger man, Trevor was a regular visitor at Summerhill. He had an eye for a bargain, and I was always grateful for his observations on the value of imported fillies as a means of invigorating your stud with fresh blood, and that they could often be bought locally for less than the cost of their transportation to South Africa. It is a tribute to his love of the game that he founded his own stud with Miss World (wouldn’t we all like to do so?!), whom he bought with a loan from his wife, Minou (wouldn’t we all like a wife like her?). Of some sentimental value to us, Henry Eatwell, the man that trained many of the Armitage stars including the great Home Guard, was a one-time manager (before his training career) of my grandfather’s stud, The Springs, near Cedarville in East Griqualand.
Trevor had suffered with leukaemia for some time, but he seemed to have beaten it a while back after successive treatments with chemotherapy. However, he suffered a relapse recently, and while he still talked of the many things he wanted to do with his life, it eventually got him. The consummate stockman, he also bred cattle on his farm near Volksrust. At 69, he was the much younger brother (by 14 years) of the many-times champion breeder of Zimbabwe, Geoff Armitage, whose son James now operates the highly productive Sandown Stud in the Western Cape, where he stands the much-underrated Kingmambo horse, Ashaawes.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember old Trevor.