The past season was tinged with sadness due to the passing of the champion stallion Captain Al and less noticed was the passing of another top stallion Goldkeeper, who ironically was at his best when crossed with Captain Al.

Goldkeeper nearly did not make it to Southern Africa at all due to a bolt of lightning, which struck the Mashonaland turf club one Saturday in the mid-1990s.

That would have been a blow as his influence lives on today through broodmares of the like of Secret Of Victoria and he is also one of the stallions who have helped establish the good reputation of South African-bred racehorses abroad.

Bloodstock agent Alistair Brown sourced Goldkeeper from the USA on behalf of the 24-time Zimbabwean Champion Breeder Geoff Armitage of Sandown Stud.

Brown has sourced champion sires Al Mufti and Fort Wood alongside other top stallions like Ideal World, Strike Smartly and Sail From Seattle as well the promising new sire Noble Tune.

Armitage had asked Brown to keep an eye out for a new stallion and the latter had been watching Goldkeeper due to his top class pedigree as well as his ability on the track.

Goldkeeper was by Mr Prospector and his twice Grade 2-winning Northern Dancer mare Chapel Of Dreams was a three-parts sister to none other than the legendary stallion Storm Cat.

Brown immediately contacted Armitage about the potential stallion.

Armitage had to move quickly due to the quality of Goldkeeper’s pedigree. His offer was initially accepted, but on the Thursday of the same week Brown was informed the connections had reneged due to a higher offer.  Brown’s USA-based representative decided to invoke his right to match the higher offer. Brown suggested Armitage should still go forward subject to a vet check and photographs, which would be faxed through. Armitage agreed to phone him from the Mashonaland Turf Club on the Saturday, where he would be racing. Brown had received the photographs, which not of bad quality considering they were on fax paper. However, the phone call from Mashonaland Turf Club was not forthcoming. He eventually decided to fax through the photographs to the turf club as the 1pm deadline for acceptance of the offer was fast approaching. There sitting in the fax machine tray was a piece of paper with huge bold writing stating, “Buy Goldkeeper, Repeat Buy, Goldkeeper.” Brown still has the fax as a momento. The lightning strike meant a frustrated Armitage had been unable to phone and he had faxed the message as a last resort.

Goldkeeper made an immediate impact and among his first crop were the Trevor Armitage-bred Gold Tax, who won two Grade 1s in South Africa; Gold Flame, who won Zimbabwe’s premier race the Castle Tankard, as well as the Zimbabwean Guineas and the Grand Challenge twice; the filly Valdi, who was a Guineas winner. There was also a Listed winner in the crop.

His second crop included Grade 2 Post Merchants winner Gold Merchant and among the third crop was the champion Hide Out as well as other Graded winners Bold Bidder, Jet Blast, Kushka and Listed winner Dash Along.

Goldkeeper headed the sires list in Zimbabwe four times.

Geoff later decided to relocate Goldkeeper to South Africa, first to Wilfred Koster’s Cheveley Stud and then to his son James when the Sandown operation moved to South Africa in 2006.

All in all, Goldkeeper produced four individual Grade 1 winners, who won five Grade 1s between them, although it should be remembered Zimbabwe did not have any Grade 1 races while his progeny raced there.

James Armitage recalled Goldkeeper had not travelled well to South Africa and also, standing at just 15 hands 2 inches, he was dwarfed by some of the top Western Cape stallions.

He consequently did not receive the support he deserved.

Therefore his lifetime record of 79,3% winners to runners is phenomenal.

Furthermore, his 32 individual stakes winners produced from 459 foals gives him a strike rate of close to 7%, a figure which apparently only 1% of stallions achieve.

Goldkeeper’s overseas stars were Tiza, who won three Group 3s in France, and Cerise Cherry, who won a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 in Hong Kong and also finished second in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Sprint as a seven-year-old. As an eight-year-old Cerise Cherry finished third in another Grade 1 Sprint in Hong Kong. Two more of Goldkeeper’s progeny, Brilliant One and Travel Comforts, also won in Hong Kong.

In the same crop as Tiza was Secret Of Victoria, who won a Grade 2, two Grade 3s and a Listed race. She is out of the current Equus Champion Broodmare, Mystic Spring, and has produced two Grade 1 winners by Captain Al, All Is Secret and The Secret Is Out, as well as the like of Secret Command, who won in Hong Kong.

Goldkeeper’s Grade 1-winning daughters Battle Maiden, Give Me Five and Geepee S have produced the Listed placed Lineker (Star Witness), the Grade 2 SA Fillies Nursery runner up Myfunyvalentine (Captain Al) and the Listed placed Gee I Jane (Captain Al) respectively.

The Grade 2 Sceptre Stakes winner Reflective Image is out of a Goldkeeper mare and so is Grade 3 Politician Stakes winner Blaze Of Noon. His daughters have also produced a few other Listed winners.

“He was an amazing stallion and part of the family,” concluded James Armitage about the small, good natured bay, who retired from stud duties at the beginning of this decade and lived happily in his own paddock at Sandown Stud.