A third generation of Armytages puts down a marker
A little piece of racing history continued on New Year's Day at Larkhill, as 16 year old Molly Armytage lined up in front of the starter in the otherwise unremarkable 2.25 Conditions Race for Novice Riders. Molly is the daughter of Grand National winning rider Marcus, now racing correspondent for the Telegraph.
This is a family steeped in racing. Marcus and sister Gee, both highly capable amateur riders, competed against the best in the 1990s, but it began a generation earlier. Father Roddy trained racehorses for over 30 years in East Ilsley, before moving to Crudwell, a Wiltshire village redolent of that famous chaser of the '50s and '60s, winner of a record 50 races, placed in a further 32 of his 108 starts, including the 1956 Welsh National, when ridden by Dick Francis.
Armytage Senior was no slouch either. Learning his trade first with Neville Crump then Frank Cundell - neither one to suffer fools gladly - he embarked on a training career of his own in 1962. His first winner was a horse called Fire Raiser in August '62, ridden by one Terry Biddlecombe.
Over the subsequent 32 years,a string of good horses followed, including Barona's back to back successes in the Scottish Grand National of 1975 and '76. He met Aintree glory with Aerial III in 1964 in the Foxhunter, and also enjoyed Graded race success with Two Swallows in the Feltham Chase in 1975. In an era where medium-sized stables were more prominent than now, his best ever seasonal tally was 37 winners in the '71-'72 season.
Growing up in a racing yard is conducive to a marmite attitude to racing. Fortunately, Marcus and sister Gee both came to love, not hate the sport, and met with considerable success themselves as amateurs.
Gee rode 34 winners under Rules in the late '80s and '90s, meeting great success in riding for East Anglian owner Geoff Hubbard. On a memorable two days in March 1987, she recorded a remarkable 528/1 double when riding The Ellier to victory in the Kim Muir Chase and Gee - A a day later in the Mildmay of Flete Handicap, a race that made way for the Ryanair in 2005. Gee - A was successful again for the partnership in a valuable 2m4f chase at Aintree three weeks later.
Gee's exploits were remarkable insofar as girls riding were still few and far between even in the enlightened '90s. The likes of Charlotte Brew, Lorna Vincent and others had achieved some sort of initial cut-through, but nothing likes today's women have managed. They were pioneers breaking the glass ceiling.
Marcus arguably had the more prominent career as a rider, largely on the back of winning the 1990 Grand National on Mr Frisk for Kim Bailey. The time of 8.47.08 remains to this day the fastest ever National, and is likely to remain so, given the focus on horse welfare nowadays. Mr Frisk contonued his winning ways later that month, when the partnership struck again in the last major handicap of the season, the Whitbread, now bet365 Gold Cup, at Sandown.
Not to be outshone by his younger sister, Marcus also rode a Festival double in 1992, winning the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir on Tug of Gold and National Hunt Chase on Keep Talking, the first for David Nicholson, the second for Tim Thomson Jones. He started writing for the Telegraph in 1993. He retired in 2000 after winning his 100th race under all rules of racing. He is now one of a handful of racing writers with any experience of race riding and an extended tenure in his post.
These are big shoes to fill, and there is no suggestion just yet that Molly is destined to repeat her father and aunt's exploits a generation later. A fourth place finish at Larkhill was a promising start however in a sport where what starts as fun can turn into something altogether more exciting.
Watch this space.