It seems the ‘13’ in 2013 has reared its head again. I was just saying last week that friends and loved ones had had a tough year and it seems that 2013 is not finished with us yet.
On Friday, 15 November 2013, Harold Crawford was at his stables as usual at around 6pm. His daughter and granddaughter had just been for a visit and Harold was getting ready to pay his grooms and finish up for the evening. Two strangers approached the main gate and asked for Harold Crawford’s barn.
Harold says he noticed two strangers wandering around, but deciding they might be grooms from another yard thought little of it. He went into his office when he was suddenly confronted by an armed man. Harold asked “What do you want?” and his assailant answered “I want your money” and pointed a gun straight at him.
In a move best accompanied with the warning “don’t try this at home”, Harold leapt forward and grabbed the gun barrel, a shot rang out, fortunately missing Harold, but neatly splicing the clock hanging above his door.
He then tried to wrestle his attacker out of his office and nearly got him out of the door before the assailant struck him over the head with the gun and he fell to the floor. Harold finally surrendered the cash.
In the lounge across the way, the second armed attacker confronted Harold’s guests, New Turf driver Willie Nieman and owner George Kucera and took their cell phones and a parcel of insulin medication that George was delivering to a client.
The perpetrators then casually made their exit through the bottom end of the stables and out through the main gate. Harold tracked them from a safe distance and then alerted the guard on the gate. The security guard set off in pursuit, but backed off quickly when he was also threatened with a gun and the two men made their getaway in a waiting taxi. Police and paramedics were quickly on the scene, but have not managed to identify the two men as yet.
If that wasn’t enough of a shock, the two men returned at the same time this past Friday (22 November) with two accomplices in tow. It seems they may have gained access this time by scaling a perimeter wall. Realising that Harold wasn’t there, they started trying to kick the office door in, but a quick thinking groom ran to raise the alarm with security.
On their return, the perpetrators were taking out their frustration by attacking the yard goats, but when they saw the security guard, they ran off, made their escape out of the gate to the track and vanished. Fortunately both goats survived.
Operators have conveyed their condolences and support, but not much else. Harold is one of a few remaining trainers who still pays his grooms in cash. The operator informs me that they encourage trainers to pay staff by EFT to avoid this sort of situation, but Harold’s daughter Michelle explains that out of their grooms about 3 have bank accounts and of the ones who don’t, only a handful possess an ID book. Plus, she continues, a lot of grooms dislike being paid by EFT as they then incur bank charges to access their money. A frustrating situation all round.
Back in the days of the old “Stable View”, robberies were fairly common place at Milnerton and a number of the newer stable blocks that face the service road sport security gates as silent witness. Things have quietened down considerably since the informal settlement was relocated to Dunoon, but tack theft is still rife, with several yards having incurred heavy losses in recent months.
A few years back, a group of grooms went on an ill-considered jolly and set a number of horses loose late one night. Fortunately the horses remained in the confines of the centre and were eventually found and returned to their respectful barns the following day.
Just recently a horse made its way onto Koeberg Road where it was very badly injured in the traffic and subsequently had to be destroyed. And let’s not even mention Philippi, as stories from that centre will make your hair stand on end as Stephen Page, Stan Elley and Heather Simpson can unhappily attest.
I have never been in possession of an owner’s sticker, but have little difficulty in getting into and out of the training facility (and that goes for Philippi too), frequently not even being stopped to fill in the visitors log. On visiting Harold this week, I soldiered through the paperwork, only to see scores of grooms simply letting themselves in through the gate while the guard attended to me!
Now it is easy to point fingers and say ‘this just isn’t right’, but well, it isn’t (obviously). When I commiserated with a friend over a recent burglary, I offered the standard platitude “but at least you weren’t hurt”. Their response was inter-esting – “I resent that I should have to feel grateful for my physical safety. In most countries that’s considered a basic right!” I have to say, it was an interesting point. People should not be allowed to simply come and go as they please at our training centres, horses should not be allowed to take their chances out in the traffic and our trainers, their staff and their visitors should be able to conduct business without fearing for their lives.
I acknowledge that crime is a problem in South Africa. But we go around paying millions for horses and exhorting people to ‘buy a lifestyle’. Huh. We occupy a multi-million rand property, housing some of the most expensive horseflesh in the country and as far as Milnerton is concerned, the entire facility is safeguarded by a total of 5 guards (none of whom are armed and only a few of whom even carry a baton).
Of those five, two guards are permanently stationed on the main access gates, leaving 3 gentlemen to patrol the training facility. That’s right. Three. Given that there are something in the region of 900 horses in the facility, that’s 300 horses per guard.
Considering that the average sale price per horse at the recent Ready to Run sale was R100k per horse, that means that each guard is tasked with protecting around 30 million rands worth of horse flesh. And that’s not counting the human lives they’re in charge of. Makes you think, really.
I suppose I worry about things a lot. I worry about our racing folks because I like most of you. I worry about our horses, because I like most of them. And so when things go a little south, I tend to get cross, because this is often how worry expresses itself. So forgive me for being rather cross that someone has managed to gain unauthorised access to our training facility no less than twice in a row and menaced one of our rather special people (and their goats).
Harold has held is professional trainers licence since February 1976, meaning that he’s been in the game a little shy of 40 years. He has been based at Milnerton since 1980 – an investment of nearly 34 years.
Despite the theft, the gun powder on his office wall and the lump on his head, he doesn’t want to make a fuss. He says that the guys at Comwezi Security, and the head of security, Zakika in particular, have been very concerned.
He has received phone calls from senior members of both Kenilworth Racing and Phumelela, checking how he is. And that’s kind of everyone, but in real terms, this doesn’t offer his family much comfort that there won’t be another incident in the not too distant future. And who knows whether Harold, someone’s tack room, or someone’s horse will bear the brunt of it next time round. And whether we’ll get off this lightly again.
Michelle sensibly points out that with all the structural and administrative changes, it’s hard to work out who to appeal to for help. After ringing around a bit, it would seem that the general remit of facilities falls under Dean Diedericks and Patrick Davis. Which is fine, but not terribly helpful in an emergency (I tried ringing and Patrick was in a meeting and Dean wasn’t answering his phone).
The Crawfords have Zakika’s number saved to their phones, but wonder how many other people even know that he’s the contact in case of a security problem. Also, she muses that because things have been quiet for a while, people have perhaps let their guards down a little. I gather there is now talk of re-introducing the system of ID cards for grooms, which is a start.
The vulnerable spot adjacent to the exit gate onto the track will also be addressed this week. Zakika reassures me that they are liaising closely with Mr Crawford and will ensure that they are around next time he pays his staff. They have offered the same service to any other trainers who still pay staff cash and said that if you would like extra security on pay day, please to contact Zakika directly.
Obviously resources are stretched and with talk of Milnerton being sold, it is unlikely that any investment in the current infrastructure will be forthcoming, but surely leaving an asset recently valued at what was it? R240 million ? plus another R300 million in horses alone in the hands of 5 people is a little daft?
When I made it my business to find out how a horse could get from its stable and into the path of an oncoming vehicle I was advised to consider medication as my interest was deemed an unhealthy obsession with other people’s horses. Perhaps my advisor will find concern for a fellow human being and member of the racing community a little more acceptable. You see, every time something becomes “someone else’s horse”, or “someone else’s problem”, that ‘problem’ loses one more lifeline.
If we don’t make a fuss, take a stand, or do something – anything – it’s quite possible that no-one else will bother either. Or in the words of Lily Tomlin – “I said ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized I am somebody.” Despite the fact that we compete against one another to put bread on the table, racing is a small, closely-knit community and we all need one another to survive. Everyone can make a small difference by keeping an eye out and keeping an eye on each other.
We’re heading for Christmas, which in South African terms usually has people worrying less about polishing the family silver for Christmas lunch, than hiding it while they are away. So apart from a reminder that there are only a few shopping days left, please all be careful out there.
– Robyn Louw