Retired racehorses stolen for suspected bush racing

2017-04-19 20:42
Max in his heyday. (Crawford Racing)

Max in his heyday. (Crawford Racing)

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Cape Town - A retired race horse has been euthanised and another is recovering after they were stolen from stables in Philippi, Cape Town, by suspected “bush racers” before being abandoned.

One time winner Maximum Flo, otherwise known as Max, and 2014 Gold Cup winner Wavin' Flag were stolen from a private stable that looks after the thoroughbreds when their careers are over and they are waiting to be re-homed.

Max was waiting to be transported to new owners to spend his retirement at a farm. Wavin' Flag has lived at the stables on the Cape Flats for a while.

Speaking on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, a person in the search party said two men had approached the horse halfway house the Wednesday before Easter, with a request to buy two of the animals.

The stable conducts background checks and signs contracts of care with new owners before allowing the horses to go to their new homes, so the two left empty-handed.

However, later in the day, staff shouted that a fence had been broken down and Max and Flag were gone.

The equine community sprang into action to find them, circulating pictures of the horses.

A search party fanned out to follow up on any reported sightings of the two horses. There was one clue - four men had been spotted riding horses over the sand dunes in the area, but their tracks were lost.

Max's new owner peeled off with a security specialist and they launched a drone, which showed them images of two horses in some bushes.

On Good Friday, to everybody's relief, the horses were found in a green belt in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain.

Severe damages

Both horses were exhausted and showed signs of being pushed hard. This led to speculation that they were used in the shadowy world of “bush racing”.

According to eyewitnesses, the recovery team was surrounded by a fairly hostile crowd of people, leading to further speculation that the racing might be linked to gangs who run the horses for bets, akin to cock fighting and dog fighting rings.

Max was in such bad shape that his groom was reduced to tears when he saw him. The sesamoid bone, at the back of the fetlock joint, was broken and he was unable to stand properly or walk.

Both horses' manes and tails had been cut.

Horseboxes were rushed over and the animals were removed for urgent treatment. They were fed and comforted, X-rayed and examined.

But the damage to Max's leg was so severe, that he was euthanised, to the distress of horse lovers who had been hoping for a better ending.

Difficult to crack bush racing

Equine journalist Robyn Louw explained that bush racing does not have the controls and monitoring that formal horse racing has.

“The equipment might not fit well. They might not use a proper bit, or they might use wire,” she said.

“They treat horses badly and run them, and run them again, without resting them, and whoever is left standing goes through to the next round.”

Some horses raced around a street block on tar, which they are not used to.

In formal racing, there are many checks before and after a race, including the maximum number of times a jockey can whip a horse.

Thoroughbreds have a different physiology. They are considered more “fragile” and are not suited to racing through sand dunes, or on tar.

Cape Town SPCA chief executive Allan Perrins urged anybody with information about the theft of Max and Flag, or about bush racing, to urgently contact them at 021-700-4158/9 (office hours) or 083-326-1604 (after hours).

He said the SPCA has found it particularly difficult to crack bush racing due to the secrecy surrounding it.

“We have never been able to catch people in the act,” he said.

Abandoned horses have been found around Kraaifontein, Atlantis and Mamre, but nobody has been caught yet.

“If anybody has got any solid leads, report them to us and we will investigate. Our response time is very quick.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  animal cruelty

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