The potential devastating implications for a trainer of horses being ‘got at’, particularly on the eve of major races, makes it astonishing that apparently so little attention is paid to the securing of stables. Are we sitting on a potential time-bomb?
It often takes a tragedy to get some real action and the Sean Miller incident at Flamingo Park two weeks ago has sadly highlighted this largely unglamorous aspect of horseracing operational management.
It is frankly a dark corner where few venture, but some positivity may yet flow from the awful shocking outcome of what happened on a cold Northern Cape Sunday morning a fortnight ago .
With the majority of South African trainers housing their horses in facilities provided by and owned and managed by the racing operators, the poser of responsibility and legal obligation is an interesting one, and probably not something that I am qualified to debate at too much length.
The trainer is the tenant, the operator the landlord, and the owner’s horses are being housed. The trainer carries the can for horses under his care with the National Horseracing Authority, but the operator have a reasonable duty of care in providing and maintaining effective security. The punter and owner pay for it all. Interwoven is the relationship between the NHA and the operator and the trainer and the owner.
With those grey areas and overlapping functions, let’s hope we can get somebody to take responsibility when things hit the fan!
This follows on the heels of reports from Australia that trainers in Brisbane were told to make sure their stables are secure after someone broke into premises at Eagle Farm and injected a horse. On the eve of Brisbane racing’s biggest day with three group 1 races as well as the group 2 Brisbane Cup being run at Eagle Farm racing officials told stable managers to tighten security and report anything suspicious.
Trainer Barry Baldwin reported a break-in at his stables last Thursday when a three-year-old filly, Saraji, who had been nominated to race this past Monday in Doomben, was given an injection.
Blood samples were subsequently taken from the filly, but because results will not be known for some days stewards remain unsure what substance, if any, was injected. Baldwin said he had found syringe marks on the filly and immediately reported the incident.
Closed-circuit television footage of Baldwin’s stables showed a sedan driving through the on-course stables the night Saraji was injected. ‘’At first it looked like one or two needle mark, but we later found nine marks on one side of her neck and three on the other,’’ Baldwin said.
‘’It’s been distressful for the horse and her owners. If it had been injected properly we’d never have noticed.
‘’She had been nominated to run on Monday but we had to treat her with antibiotics, so she couldn’t run.’Unfortunately there was a bit of a blind spot on the video footage, but the video footage of the other 30-odd stables was fine.’’
Brisbane Racing Club officials have reacted swiftly to the suspected break-in by increasing security in the stable complex ahead of the Super Saturday meeting at Eagle Farm where a number of the country’s most promising horses, including co-Melbourne Cup favourite Mawingo, were appearing.
On the local front and according to unconfirmed reports , Kimberley’s leading training yard had been experiencing ongoing problems with security guards not being at their posts at night. On the fatal night, the 23 year old Sean Miller had allegedly found the guard-posts unmanned and had tracked the guards down to a nearby hut where they were sleeping.
The sequence of events hereafter are not going to be speculated upon in this forum, but Miller died shorty afterwards. He was buried in Kimberley on Tuesday this week.
I approached Phumelela Racing Executive Patrick Davis for comment and he confirmed that the matter is being investigated by SAPS and is therefore sub judice. He added that Phumelela was therefore not at liberty to release any information.
I read an interesting snippet in the New Indian Express recently regarding a story that I have been following about the ongoing impasse between the owners of expensive race horses and syces in India.
The Karnataka Racehorse Workers’ Welfare Association has decided to go on an indefinite strike from June 17, which marks the start of three-days of racing at Bangalore and Mysore.
A syce is a servant employed to look after horses – effectively a groom in our language.
The Association represents nearly 700 syces and farriers working in both the Bangalore and Mysore Turf Clubs. The workers would sport a black arm-band from June 14, before going on strike from June 17.
Terming their working conditions as bonded labour, the KRWWA President S Balan said: “Apart from working almost round the clock, the workers live with the horses in stables, drink the same water given to horses and there is no hygiene. The labour laws of the land do not apply to us.”
According to Balan, the workers are entitled to a salary of Rs 7,000 with extra allowance for maintenance of each extra horse, ex gratia of Rs 23,000 with minimum PF and ESI facilities.
He said the workers are currently paid Rs 63,00 with Rs 100 for every extra horse taken care of.
“We have no PF or ESI facilities. We have laid complaints with the Labour Department, but to no avail. The local High Grounds police functions like a private security agency for the racehorse owners,” he claimed.
He said further said that the Bangalore Turf Club (BTC), which is technically the employer of the syces, is washing its hands of any responsibility. “When we approach the BTC, they say the horse trainers are the employers. Even the horses are better off compared to our situation.”
“Starting June 17, the syces and farriers will not maintain or prepare the horses for the racing. With nearly Rs 5,000 crore at stake, we want to know what the BTC will do for us,” he said.
Sort of puts our own situation into a more positive perspective, does it not?
Rising To The Challenge
Trends can be bucked. Racecourse attendance and hard-copy newspapers are two aspects of 21st century life that have come under fire from technology and lifestyles, but it is possible to row against the tide and buck the norms.
Saturday’s outstanding Clairwood raceday was an example. It was really just only about Variety Club.
We have to take our hat off to Gold Circle and the Rising Sun’s Veejay Maharaj for producing a cracker and getting 15000 people on course!
The Rising Sun always used to sponsor the Easter Handicap and even then attracted a huge crowd.
Gold Circle Chief Operating Officer Graeme Hawkins approached the flamboyant Rising Sun supremo Veejay Maharaj a few years ago to sponsor the Gold Challenge, as it was seen as an infinitely more prestigious race. Maharaj grabbed the offer with both hands.
Last year the racing was washed out and postponed to the Monday but 25000 people still pitched on the Saturday to enjoy the bash! This year 15000 came out and braved the inclement weather.
It is a day that is getting bigger and better every year and the side-shows of Ferrari’s, Bollywood stars, great prizes, a ‘bangla bash’ fashion queen show and the rest gets the local community out in droves.
A recipe that works!