Thoroughbred sportscaster Whittaker credits Armond for career
Outstanding Jamaican sportscaster Lance Whittaker

WITHOUT doubt, Chris Armond’s excellence across the horse racing landscape and life in general has left an indelible mark in many places and on many people.

Armond, who succumbed to a short illness last Wednesday at 67 years old, was one who effortlessly endeared people to himself, as his commentary and administrative skills impacted lives in an industry that became synonymous with his name.

Noted sportscaster Lance Whittaker was among those struck by the reach of the inspirational figure, who fate led to manipulate his career path.

By Whittaker’s own admission Armond’s most striking imprint on his life was simply through his distinguished vocal delivery with which he established a new level of excitement and accuracy to race commentary.

“As a teenager I listened to Chris Armond. I was so impressed and attached to his work even though I didn’t, at that time, see myself becoming a sports commentator because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but it was like I was addicted to horse racing because of Chris Armond’s commentary,” Whittaker told the Jamaica Observer.

“I used to record his races on Saturday and then replay them after and tried to impersonate Chris Armond. My mother used to argue with me when I started regurgitate some Chris Armond commentary in the house. To her I was making noise but to me I was just enjoying myself — and Chris Armond was the person that made me do these things.

“There were many times at school at Wolmer’s Boys’ I would draw crowd, and at that time it didn’t feel to me as something I would want to do as a profession, but it was something that I loved,” he added.

Such was his profound admiration for Armond — who was the voice of local racing from 1975 to 1985 — growing up that Whittaker believes the man had few equals.

“I never went to Caymanas Park. Even though I love horse racing, I never physically went to Caymanas Park so my association or interaction with horse racing was pretty much all Chris Armond’s delivery on radio commentary to me — and I’ve never experienced anything like that with respect to how someone electrifies a sporting event by words on radio commentary to bring the excitement to me.

“When I was growing up there was nobody in the world that commentated anything better than Chris Armond did. That was how I felt at the time.

The late Chris Armond

“Maybe it was an emotional bias because I just loved how he commentated, but there was no cricket, football or track and field commentator that did commentary better than Chris Armond did horse racing — and I’m talking globally. That is the impact that Chris Armond had on me as a teenager,” Whittaker declared, the fondness of Armond still evident in his tone.

“Sports depend on broadcasters to help them sell the sport and to me Chris Armond, when he was commentating, there was no better sales pitch that horse racing could have had than the words and excitement that he generated. When Royal Dad won the Triple Crown in 1981, the words that Chris Armond used — whether Triple Crown, Derby or the St Leger —the way he commentate those races you would think he owns the horses.

“People like Toni Cozier and Hugh Crosskill were also good, but no one was as close to Chris Armond to me in terms of what he meant to me as an inspiration. He was just special,” he noted.

Whittaker, now an almost 39-year veteran in broadcasting, recalled fond memories of his first meeting with the man behind the voice which earned the Press Association of Jamaica Golden Microphone award and Caymanas Track Limited Chairman’s Award for his outstanding commentaries in 1984 and 1993, respectively.

“When I started pursuing broadcasting and was doing auditions, I just imagined myself being Chris Armond, and when I look back on those years, I have to say there is nobody in broadcasting that triggered the kind of excitement and inspiration for me that Chris Armond did,” said Whittaker, who currently graces the world with his craft at Sportsmax.

“So when I met him through a friend’s mother I was starstruck, that was the first in my life that I was starstruck. For weeks I felt on top of the world.

“And even when I became an adult and started working at RJR in 1984 and started interacting with him on a different level, because I had to interview him about racing, I still felt starstruck. It was hard for me to separate the love and admiration I had for him,” he explained.

For Whittaker, there is no doubt that destiny was in play given the way he admired Armond’s work and what he meant as an inspiration to his career, and years later they both ended up plying their trade in Barbados at the same time in the early 2000s.

Whittaker had a 15-year stint with the Caribbean News Agency, turned Caribbean Media Corporation, while Armond served as the vice-president of racing in Barbados and also Trinidad and Tobago.

“What Chris meant to me growing up and how he inspired me to become a sports broadcaster, because when I was there recording and impersonating him and so on, at that time I had no inclination that I wanted to do this as a profession. It was just something that I liked.

“And then it so happened that when I was in Barbados working Chris Armond actually came to Barbados for about six years and I would go down to the office and chat with him a few times. I just thought there was something magical about the fact that we ended up being in Barbados the same time,” Whittaker beamed as he reflected.

Whittaker, like many, believes Armond’s life in the “Sport of Kings” was always destined, as his father Joseph — a Hall of Fame inductee — was co-managing director of Caymanas Park Limited. As well, his grandfather Altamont was the founder of the then promoting company Jamaica Turf Club.

WHITTAKER..when I met him (Chris Armond) through a friend’s mother I was starstruck, that was the first in my life that I was starstruck, for weeks I felt on top of the world

Beyond his commentary, Whittaker remembers Armond as the consummate professional whose no-nonsense attitude, steely determination, and commitment to cause were the foundations of the legacy he leaves behind.

In 1993 Armond fathered the implementation of the Claiming System and introduced the now-famous High-five exotic wager which has become one of the favoured local bets.

“I think because he is so deeply entrenched in horse racing from his bloodline, he loved the sport more than anything else,” Whittaker said of the respected administrator and commentator who was inducted in the Hall of Fame of Thoroughbred Racing in June 2017 under the category of Other Racing Personalities.

He continued: “I didn’t hide the fact from Chris that I had admired him as a boy; he knew that I rated him and we always had a good relationship. As an administrator there was nobody like him. He was beyond his time with his innovations and vision for where he wanted to see racing go because of his passion for racing.

“He was very determined to elevate the sport to different levels; even some of the decisions that he made with regards to where racing would go, alot of people didn’t agree with it but he was trying to move racing forward from just a Jamaican or Caribbean level to more match what he had seen globally. When he introduced the Claiming System people were upset but Chris was adamant that this is the route that racing needs to go and he was not afraid of opposition, so he was very powerful as a racing administrator.”

In essence, Whittaker will forever be grateful to Armond, a fine son of the soil whose ability to draw people to him, as well as his knowledge and expertise in horse racing, were second to none.

“When I got the news [of his passing] on Wednesday morning, I was saddened beyond words. It was a jolting feeling for me because this is somebody that I had admired for so long, so the entire day was just solemn,” he ended.

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Sherdon Cowan

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