Beach Beauty / Shanks Syndicate (p)

Beach Beauty / Shanks Syndicate (p)

Dynasty - Sun Coast

This weekend marks the last of the great racing festivals of the current season, but it serves as the farewell to a diminutive conveyance who could literally catch pigeons. Summerhill has been associated with some wonderful fillies over the decades, but even Igugu could not evoke the sentiment Beach Beauty conjured in the hearts of the racing public.

Whether it was her size, her panache, or her rags-to-riches story, more likely the sum of the lot, she has struck a chord with even the hardiest punters, and Saturday marks her farewell.

Apart from those most intimately connected with her, her breeders, her owners, her trainer and her jockey, the only ones who have a real understanding of this story are those who attended our Winter Workshop, where the Beach Beauty team was a feature presentation. Warren Kidd told the story:

Winter Workshop 2014

Warren Kidd

“Good afternoon. Thank-you Heather for inviting me, and the Shanks Syndicate to tell our story. We feel privileged to be here. In fact, Cheryl has always been a huge supporter of Beach Beauty and we loved getting her SMS after each win, so it is a pleasure to tell our story here.

The Beach Beauty Story

Our lives changed forever on the 26th of October 2009. Mark Armitage died tragically on their family farm Blair Atholl. One day he was alive the next he was dead. He left behind his wife Ruth, three beautiful daughters, Kate, Hannah and Juliet, his parents Trevor and Minou his siblings Patrick and Sylvie and us, his friends.

The Beach Beauty story is a story of dreams and passion, of sadness and triumph, of history and nostalgia, of commitment and excellence, of happiness and camaraderie, of friendship and trust, but most importantly it is a story of Love. It is a story of a horse that began a healing process for all of us through her kind nature, her love for our children and above all her will to win.

I suppose the tale begins in various places around South Africa, involving completely unrelated people and spanning a period of some 70 years. In all these chapters of the story there is one over-riding common thread - a thread that would bring us all together to form our tragic, compelling yet amazing story - and that thread is the passion for horse racing.

Her Breeding

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 first half of the 20th Century. The Armitage’s were to make their mark on South African racing history by breeding horses of quality, the very best in fact. The list is long, Bridesmaid, Skyline, Appointment, Storm Signal, Nile Guard, Wavecrest and of course the greats Home Guard and Gatecrasher.

Trevor was passionate about breeding and soon decided to venture out on his own. Unlike common practice at the time, Trevor was convinced that it was critically important to bring in fresh blood. He therefore purchased Miss World (by Preamble II) for R750 thanks to a loan from his wife Minou. At the time, Trevor averaged an income of around R275 per month, so spending R750 on a mare was certainly brave.

You might wonder why such a purchase is significant in this story. Who would guess that the vision to bring in new blood way back then, would eventually lead to our champion race mare: Beach Beauty. You see Miss World is the 4th Dam of Suncoast who produced Beach Beauty in 2007.

Suncoast, out of the Graham Beck owned stallion Capture Him, won three races before being sold by Trevor after her racing career to a colleague in the industry (a Mr. Botha) who was desperate to get the bloodline. Unfortunately an untimely heart attack led to a dispersal sale and Suncoast was one of the mares on the Sale.

James Armitage, (Trevor’s nephew) happened to attend the sale and immediately phoned Trevor who had no hesitation in buying back one of his own! Suncoast, of course was in foal to Dynasty. The rest is history: Beach Beauty was foaled in Volksrust on the family farm in 2007.

When I sit back and ponder all the events that make up this story, I often wonder if it was fate or luck or interference from some higher power, or his vision, that afforded Trevor the opportunity to buy back one of his own mares, already in foal. And I think the answer is all of them, it was Trevor’s commitment to his belief in fresh blood, it was his loyalty to a blood line that had been successful for him, it was his vision, his unrelenting passion for breeding, but above all, I believe that with the tragedy that was to unfold in the lives of the Armitage family, it was Beach Beauty who found Trevor.

Mark (Shanks) Armitage
Trevor and Minou’s eldest son

I first met Mark at the University of Natal in 1986 through common friends. Mark went to school at St Johns in Johannesburg where he was an exceptionally talented sportsman. We became very good friends and I first visited Glen Athol farm in 1987, some 27 years ago.

Driving up to the farmhouse for the first time was an experience I will never forget and confirmed my admiration for the art, no maybe the act of breeding horses. Trevor Armitage, a balding giant of a man, was standing behind a tethered mare, who was wedged between a contraption of poles, waiting her fete. Thermometer in hand, Trevor greeted us with a wonderful smile and asked us to step aside whilst Capture Him, a magnificent looking stallion did his job. Is it coincidence that Capture Him would sire Suncoast many years later?

What an introduction for me, a town boy to Marks family and the environment in which he grew up. Mark studied Agricultural Economics at University, and although he loved every aspect of the African farm on which he grew up, especially the horses, it was the economics of the breeding operation that concerned him. So many mares, weanlings, yearlings, in fact horses all over the place, but not the matching cash inflow. Mark and Trevor would debate at length about the economics of the farm, about downsizing about not attending the sales, about selling some of the mares, but somehow, Trevor would always win.

Mark and I had always dreamt about putting one of the farm-bred horses into training, but Mark was afraid that it would offer too much encouragement to his father Trevor, and so it never happened.


I grew up in Natal, and my passion for horse racing goes back to the early years of my life. My mother only came to South Africa when she was 13. Her parents, brought to South Africa to work in a wood mill, could not speak English. They could read numbers however, and soon they became proficient at reading form! I remember visiting them on Saturday afternoons, and being fascinated by their addiction to the radio every time a race was run.

Later, as a 6 or 7 year old I remember frequently visiting the TAB outlet in Umhlali with my uncle on race days during the holidays. I was the only white boy in the tote, and boy was I made to feel special. Soon I was reading the form and predicting winners to the local clientele. More often wrong than right, both the local punters and I loved those days, and my love for horse racing had begun. In fact, I remember very clearly telling my uncle on one of those perfect days sitting at the tote that all I wanted in life was to be able to go into the parade ring, to watch my horse walk around the ring, to listen to the trainer instruct the jockey, and to have one winner. That is all I wanted, one horse and one winner, nothing more.

My wife Laura grew up in family that was well known in horse racing circles. Royce Horner was a steward at Pietermaritzburg Turf Club for many years. Laura fondly remembers her Grand Father, Ernest Young (who also owned horses) sitting in his favourite chair, wearing a hat, vest and long pants, listening to the early races on a Saturday, while waiting for his wife to get ready, before donning his shirt and rushing down to Greyville.

My early equine heroes were Yataghan, Sledge Hammer and Gate Crasher. Can you imagine my excitement, when sitting on the farm verandah with Trevor one afternoon; I discovered that he and his Dad Jim, had bred Gate Crasher! I knew then that I was sitting in the presence of greatness!!

John, Janet and Danielle

John Bescoby as you all know is very well known in racing circles. Before coming to South Africa in 1970, John lived in Doncastor, England, above the racecourse. As a youngster he would go to the evening race meetings and soon was hooked on the sport. His uncle was a stud manager in Canada and so racing has been in his blood since his early years. He remembers quite clearly telling Janet his girlfriend at the time, that if the relationship was to work, she had to realize one thing - “I am going to own a racehorse one day”. Well Janet obviously had no problem with the concept, as they are still married today.

Danielle their daughter grew up in this racing home and was one of the first children ever in South Africa to attend a race meeting once the age limit for minors was changed when Danielle was 9. The gazette was published on the Monday and on the Wednesday Danielle was on hand to lead in her first winner, Winter Fashion, ridden by Geoff Lloyd and trained by James Goodman. At the time John was in a train on the way to Brighton England and listened to the race on his phone.

John ran his travel business in Johannesburg for many years before relocating to Natal. One of his employees at the time was one Ruth Gilbert. On one particular day John had spare tickets for the races and invited Ruth along. Once again this is a significant moment in our story because at the race meeting John introduced Ruth to a young man named Mark Armitage. The happy couple were soon married and set up their home on the farm outside Volksrust.

Anthony Erswell and his wife Barbara both had parents who owned racehorses. Both families had stables at home and Anthony fondly remembers two of their more successful runners in Little Cabin and Carrack.


The morning we heard of Mark’s tragic death was the saddest day I can remember. We had lost a really close friend, a fantastic father to his children, a loving husband to his wife Ruth, and a loyal son to his parents. He was a quiet yet astute man who would give advice if asked, gently guide when required. He was a talented sportsman and had a love for birding and the outdoors.

Over the years of my friendship with Mark, I had grown really close to Trevor. We would sit on the Verandah of the farm and discuss the horses, a little bit of sport and then the horses again. He loved to show me the mares and their yearlings and would often get out his file to show me the breeding.

Some time after Mark’s death I found it very difficult to phone Trevor, there was just nothing to say and I felt us all drifting apart. Tragedy can do that, it is very difficult to move on with ones life and Laura and I knew that Trevor, Minou and Ruth and the girls were really battling on the farm.

We needed something to talk about, something to get excited about, and something that would help start the healing. That something was Beach Beauty.

After discussing my plan with Laura I phoned Trevor with our idea. “Let’s start a syndicate in Mark’s Honor,” I told him. The aim of the syndicate would be to celebrate Mark’s life in a positive way, to always raise a toast to him, to think of him every time we got together for a race. We thought it would very important for Mark’s children to have a positive memory of their father. We could visit the farm and look at the horses and have something to look forward to.

Trevor was immediately excited and jumped at the idea. Minou was really struggling at he time and Trevor hoped the formation of the syndicate would allow them to concentrate on something else other than Mark. He phoned me the very next day and told me he had thought of a name for the Syndicate. At university Mark was known as Shanks, named after the make of urinal in the digs in which he resided. And so the ride had begun.

Now the syndicate needed a horse. Trevor had been watching the progress of a little filly that could run like the wind. She was out of Suncoast and Kate, Mark’s eldest daughter named her Beach Beauty.

We needed colors for the syndicate. Mark was a very keen birder, having travelled all over South Africa trying to add to his considerable list. I remember his excitement at seeing a rare and shy forest bird called a Narina Trogon, at a small tract of bush in Glenwood where we live called Pigeon Valley. I googled the bird, pulled up a photograph, and designed the colours. Who would have thought that Beach Beauty would win 17 times in these colours, a remarkable achievement by such a small horse?

We now had a horse, a syndicate, and colours. We now needed members to pay the bills. I called Ruth and asked her if there was anyone of her friends that would like to be involved in the Syndicate. Without hesitation she mentioned John and Janet Bescoby. John was so excited at the prospect of racing in Marks honor that he very politely enquired if it was possible to have two shares - the second share for his daughter Danielle who had got to know Mark and Ruth very well over the years. We now had 5 shares in the syndicate sorted, them being myself and Laura, John Janet and Danielle 2 shares, Ruth and the girls’ one share and Trevor and Minou one share. Dennis Drier is not the cheapest trainer around and after running through some costs (I had heard of horror stories involving Vet bills) we decided that one more member was required. Anthony Erswell, a colleague and friend of mine, who had met Mark on various occasions readily agreed to the invitation (in fact it was Barbara his wife who had no hesitation) and the Syndicate was now complete.

Beach Beauty started her conditioning with Jane Trotter at Ambleway as a three-year-old, where she learnt how to be a racehorse. Trevor was very much against running horses as two-year-olds, and because he liked the way Dennis treated his horses, Trevor decided the Dennis Drier yard would take charge of Beach Beauty. It is a pity he could not make it today, but what a fantastic job he has done with Beach’s career.

In conclusion there are a few thoughts that come to mind:

Isn’t it significant that when we started the syndicate it was not to make money? It was not funnily enough to win races. This was one syndicate that was started with a completely different aim. The aim was to start a healing process, and boy did it work!

Is it not remarkable that the tiny horse Trevor bred would complete the task with such distinction? Beach Beauty rose to the occasion each and every time she was asked. She never ever panicked, or played up behind the stalls or got sick, or got injured, in fact, she knew she had a job to do for some very special people. She loved the children and would nuzzle and nibble their hair at every opportunity, and loved it when they entered her box and played between her legs.

How many racing syndicates have had 25 winners in 5 years, with 5 horses?

Together with all our children included we are 20 very different people, and in each case Beach Beauty has had a life changing effect on every one of us. We lost Trevor last year in August and I know he and Mark would have loved Beach’s last three Grade 1 victories, watching together up there, Trevor sipping a double cane and coke, and Mark with his left hand wrapped around a Hansa.

Isn’t it fitting that because Beach Beauty had had such an amazing season last year we decided to have a celebratory lunch for all her connections? 10 days later Trevor died. I have no doubt in my mind that because of Beach Beauty we were all able to see Trevor for the last time - a fitting good-bye.

Our story is nearly over. Beach Beauty goes to Drakenstein Stud in a few weeks, and I know she will make a fantastic brood mare. She has every quality required; she is kind, gentle, exceptionally talented, intelligent and full of love.

So many people have had a very positive impact on this story, and to all of them we are very grateful. Sean Cormack and Dennis Drier have been absolutely brilliant in planning and executing her career, so to them we would all like to say “Thank You”.

And finally what more can we say about our champion Beach Beauty, except perhaps “Thank You” our darling! Have a super rest - we will miss you.”