When Beauty gallops, they remember Mark
IF BEACH Beauty wins the J&B Met in a fortnight's time, the cheers might well be accompanied by tears.
It would be a moment of contrasting emotions because the mare is a galloping memorial to a loved one.
Beach Beauty's owners are members of the Shanks Syndicate, formed to honour the memory of Mark "Shanks" Armitage, who died four years ago. Actually, Mark might attain more fame in death than he did in life, as Beach Beauty has an excellent chance of landing Cape Town's famous horse race.
She's currently the fourth favourite for the R2.5-million contest, her odds having been slashed from 20/1 to 7/1 following a facile victory in last weekend's Paddock Stakes at Kenilworth. Variety Club got a lot more attention in winning the Queen's Plate on the day, but it might be argued that Beach Beauty's performance was at least as meritorious.
If ownership of the five-year-old is all about heart, they couldn't have chosen better.
She's the most whole-hearted horse in the country. Small in size, but all guts and determination, she simply never runs a poor race.
She's won 10 of her 19 starts. Missing out on prize money just twice, her worst placing was ninth in last year's Durban July when she finished less than five lengths behind the winner. These are phenomenal stats.
Mark Armitage was a son of thoroughbred breeder Trevor Armitage.
While at Maritzburg varsity in the 1980s, Mark picked up a close friend in Warren Kidd - along with the nickname "Shanks" from the porcelain brand Armitage Shanks. The two young men were racing fanatics and often talked of owning horses in partnership.
Through racing, Mark met his wife, Ruth, and the couple had three daughters. Mark later ran a successful wood treatment business from his father's stud farm near Volksrust.
When Mark died prematurely, Warren organised friends and family into a syndicate to celebrate his part in their lives. The Shanks Syndicate comprises Warren, father Trevor, Ruth and friends Anthony Erswell and John Bescoby - the latter a well-known owner and administrator.
Dad Trevor chose the farm's most promising youngster, a tiny filly with a lovely action, by July winner Dynasty out of broodmare Sun Coast. Mark's eldest daughter, Kate, came up with the name Beach Beauty.
Pondering colours for the syndicate, Warren remembered Mark was a keen birder and the occasion when his mate first spotted the rare, elusive, narina trogon.
"I'd never seen anyone so excited about anything, let alone a bird," says Warren. "I looked it up and the plumage - red body, green crest, grey and black wing tips - made a perfect set of racing colours."
There's another hero - trainer Dennis Drier, who has guided Beach Beauty's career masterfully. He has now chosen to pitch her into the Met, against top colts, over the easier option of the fillies-only Majorca Stakes on the same day. It's a brave move. But she's the bravest of horses and will give Mark's people a run for their money.
TURFFONTEIN, TOMORROW: PA - 6,9,16 x 1 x 2 x 4,9 x 2,6 x 4,8 x 11,12,14 (R72)