The issue of security at the Milnerton training centre reared its ugly head again on Monday morning, 1 April 2019, when staff at the Harold Crawford yard arrived at work to find 10 horses had been let out of their boxes and were running around the yard.
The horses that were set free included some of their top string, which were housed in the stables at the back of the barn. A number of horses were hurt with one filly needing to be euthanized due to the extent of her injuries.
Although the culprits have not been identified, the chosen targets indicate a person (or persons) with inside knowledge of the yard.
Michelle Rix, Harold’s daughter and stable assistant, suspects a number of former grooms currently living on the Milnerton premises. Although accommodation is strictly reserved for grooms in the employ of Milnerton trainers, Michelle says there are a number of people who are not employed by racing, occupying the accommodation. She confirms that the matter was reported to the head of security some months ago, but to date, no action has been taken to remove them.
Aside from the loss of a potentially valuable filly and injuries to a number of the other horses, the damage on a human level is just as damaging. Harold Crawford is a Cape Town institution and one of our precious few remaining ‘old guard’. He lives for his horses and still does things the old fashioned way, by and large, for old fashioned patrons, the type who still breed their own, or buy the odd cheapie for the simple pleasure of being part of the small, friendly, family run business and having an excuse to visit the stables for morning work – or evening drinks – and the occasional privilege of seeing their name in the race card.
Harold is one of the few remaining small trainers who has managed to stay in business against increasingly overwhelming odds. Despite the difficulties, he is living proof that there is still a place for the little guy in our industry, achieving some career best results with stable star Perovskia last season. With it, came renewed hope, renewed interest, and renewed support with a promising string of young horses filling his boxes. He has rewarded patrons for their support, maintaining stellar strike rate at or near the top of the WC log on winners to runners percentages for most of the season.
And today he has to explain to owners, friends and family, that their horses have paid the price for circumstances beyond his control.
Michelle’s husband, Will Rix, is one of the biggest patrons in the yard and a part owner of the filly that suffered the worst injuries and expressed his deep disappointment at the state of affairs. “Owners spend money buying horses in good faith. We then spend more money on training fees. It’s our horses that are out there every day helping the operators earn profits in generating the picture that is sold overseas to generate an income from TV rights. Surely the operators, who own, manage and generate a rental income from the facilities, have a responsibility to keep our horses safe? No wonder people are walking away.”
Patrick Davis, who was probably hoping for a slightly quieter first day back at the office, has promised to investigate the matter and furnish an official response.
However, no matter where the blame eventually comes to rest, the incident raises a number of questions.
Who is responsible for managing the security of our training facilities?
This is not the first incident and it won’t be the last. It is a countrywide issue and affects everyone in the racing community. Why is there still no formal policy for dealing with matters like this? Shouldn’t someone be driving one? And who should that ‘someone’ be?
The other important – and ongoing – question is when are we going to implement a more workable solution for dealing with the industry’s groom work force? This hot potato has been bandied around for some time and is currently left to burn the laps of trainers who employ our grooms directly. However, while we have systems in place to register and manage owners, trainers, jockeys and most other industry professionals, there is no existing infrastructure for registering or accrediting the largest of our number, meaning that when things get a little awkward – and let’s be honest, they always do – there is no formal system for dealing with things directly, which simply leaves everyone vulnerable. After years of dancing around the subject, there is still no single formally recognised grooms association, which means that trying to sort out issues such as these turns into a game of herding cats, no lessons are learnt, no long-term solutions are effected and racing’s crumbling edifice simply continues to deteriorate. Which is something none of us can afford.
Perhaps the most pressing question of all is what will it take to bring change?