Mark van Deventer: When Beshayir Girl rebounded from a lacklustre debut to win a humble Maiden Plate on 2 August 2016 at Durbanville, she launched Philippi-based trainer Brett Crawford’s best-ever season.
With the racing year just done, the hard-working horseman was perched third on the national trainers’ championship log with 112 winners from 747 starters at a winning rate of 14%, with 57% of his entries making it into the places. In total, they raked in around R19-million in stakes.
A month after Beshayir Girl’s success, Edict Of Nantes won a low-grade MR 71 handicap at Durbanville.
Few would have anticipated at that early stage the son of Count Dubois would go on to win the Cape Derby, the Daily News and run an admirable third from a wide draw in the Vodacom Durban July.
But such is Crawford’s style. He is a patient competitor not prone to rushing young horses, but unafraid of campaigning them aggressively when they show they’ve got what it takes.
Such adept horsemanship is characterised by confirmed stable star Captain America proving stronger than ever aged six, as he kick-started his seasonal campaign with an expected win in the Grade 3 Matchem Stakes.
A handsome Black Minnaloushe gelding, Black Cat Back, exited the maidens at that same meeting.
He would use forceful pace-pressing tactics and go on to win five of 11 starts, including a hat-trick just before season closing time.
Crawford unveiled another budding hero in October – Whisky Baron. He beat off three overmatched rivals under retained rider Greg Cheyne to set in motion a perfect five-race sequence culminating in Peninsula Handicap and Grade 1 Met triumphs.
Whisky Baron is currently at Abington Place, Newmarket, in the UK, being readied for big races in the Far East come early 2018.
Search Party is another to do the stable proud. He caused a 25-1 upset in a Pinnacle Stakes with Sihle Cele aboard. An unheralded, yet reliable jockey who usually has the second, sometimes only third, choice of mounts, he remains an integral part of Crawford Racing.
Cele works diligently, provides helpful feedback and takes advantage of rare opportunities that come his way. Crawford says simply: “He’s never let me down.”
Indeed, Search Party, who was mistakenly campaigned over 1600m when younger, has been a revelation since Crawford corrected that initial misdirection.
He would win both Cape and Post Merchants, together with twice running second in Grade 1s to champion speedball Bull Valley.
Search Party was one of the key members of Crawford’s successful travelling group in Durban. Using Summerveld as the base, and with Peter Muscutt’s invaluable assistance, the well-balanced raiders from Cape Town lifted important prizes throughout the winter.
Lady Of The House received a world-class ride from Piere Strydom to prevail in the Grade 1 Woolavington, then Captain America out-galloped Trip To Heaven and Bela-Bela in another Grade 1, the Gold Challenge, with stable-mate Sail South again placing over 1600m at the highest level.
Sail South was to exact revenge in the Champions Cup over 1800m on the last weekend of the racing season, using stalk-and-pounce tactics to garner his first Grade 1 victory, just days short of turning seven.
While struggling trainers complain of a lack of owners and horse shortages, Crawford is inundated with inquiries.
The boxes at Crawford’s barn are all full. It is a performance-driven game and stats don’t lie.
To achieve prominence, Crawford cares for his charges really well and gets them properly fit, plus he is a dab hand at cleverly placing them in suitable races.
Such thoughtful, long-range planning was evident with the juvenile Al Mariarchi. After beating a slew of subsequent winners in an early-March sprint at Kenilworth, Crawford decided on the lucrative KwaZulu-Natal Yearling Sale Million as the right bonanza to gun for. Undeterred by an outside barrier at Greyville, stable jock Corne Orffer, who also savoured a career-best season, gave the speedy son of Great Britain a sterling front-running ride to get the job done.
And they added to that bounty from a more favourable draw in the Umkhomazi Stakes a month later, to cap off a brilliant year.
Crawford’s professionalism and dedication to a demanding craft is paying off.
Since 2010-11, after leaving Sabine Plattner’s employ, when he ended up 57th on the national log, he has finished 21st, 8th, 10th and 12th, culminating in this season’s best return. The number of stable winners has escalated too – climbing each year from a lowly 24 in 2010, to 34, 54, 61 and 81. Now there’s the triple-figure breakthrough: 112 winners.