High-profile racing identity Damion Flower – accused of smuggling more than 50 kilograms of cocaine into Sydney on commercial flights – had been living his dream life.
The son of a racing fanatic, Flower grew up listening to the horses on his dad’s radio – with the early exposure meaning his dream was owning his own race horses.
But before the race track came the ocean, and by 17, Flower, who grew up in Bronte, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, was a talented surfer who’d won several championships and was shooting for a professional career.
However, a car accident changed that – leaving the then-reigning Australian champion with horrific injuries.
Damion Flower (pictured with co-accused To Oto O Junior Mafiti left and NRL legend Phil Gould, right) had always dreamed of owning race horses, but his dreams came crumbling down on Wednesday when he was accused of cocaine importation
Flower, who grew up in Bronte in Sydney’s eastern suburbs was a champion surfer, then a baggage handler. He now has shares in 50 horses and owns stables
Flower, 47, suffered horrific injuries after a car crash when he was 17, ending his surfing career and earning him the nickname ‘Snitzel’, which would go on to bring him great fortune in racing
‘When I was 17, I stepped out across the road and a guy came around a double-parked car and cleaned me up,’ he explained in an interview with Racing NSW.
‘A good friend of mine came in looking for me in the hospital. My face was grazed. He walked in and the nurse said ‘2B’ but he walked back out and said ‘I can’t find him’ before she said, ‘no, that’s him’.
Mr Flower used the money from his share of Clangalang, his first horse, to pay for Snitzel, who went on to win seven of his 15 starts
‘He said no, ‘that can’t be him, he looks like a Snitzel’ and the nickname has stuck ever since.’
Flower was told he might not walk again, and there was no chance he’d be able to surf at the level he had been, so he took up personal training, with most of his clients either women or boxers.
His new nickname would later become synonymous with his accomplishments as a racehorse owner – as he used it to name his Group One-winning stallion Snitzel.
However, before Snitzel, he worked as an airport baggage handler at Sydney Airport. He was far luckier with horses than he was with surfing, investing in a horse called Clangalang in 2003.
The horse won the AJC Derby, and Flower sold his share for $250,000, spending that money on a yearling he would call ‘Snitzel’, at the 2004 Magic Millions Yearling Sales on the Gold Coast.
This is where Flower’s luck really changed. So sure of the horse’s success, Flower claims he won half a million dollars off the bookies by backing his beloved horse at his first race at Warwick Farm, Sydney, which saw him claim the Breeder’s Plate.
In 2005, the New Zealand Herald asked Flower’s former racing partner Gerald Ryan if there was pressure for Snitzel to take out the Golden Slipper that year.
‘Yes,’ Mr Ryan responded. ‘The owner – he’s liable to have $200,000 on him just for fun when he goes to the races.’
Mr Flower’s racing partners include high-profile Australians like Mr Gould (left) and John Singleton (right)
Mr Flower (pictured with prized horse Snitzel) faces six counts of import commercial quantity of border controlled drug
Snitzel didn’t win Austalia’s premier two-year old race, but still went on to become a champion racehorse in his own right, winning more than $1million in prize money.
His real value, however, came when he retired, with the horse fast becoming Australia’s best sire.
The stallion cost $220,000 for each cover – to mate with a mare – and is expected to generate $40million in 2018.
According to Racing NSW, his progeny have earned a record-breaking $26million in prize money in the last nine months.
What’s been good for Sntizel has been good for Flower, who holds a starting slot at the world’s richest turf race, The Everest in Randwick, paying $1.8million to secure the spot for three years.
He also owns prestigious horse training facility, Platinum Park, in the Hawkesbury.
Until this week, you could say Flower had achieved his childhood dream, and then some.
He had shares in more than 50 horses, many owned alongside other successful Sydney figures, such as broadcaster Alan Jones and rugby league coach and administrator Phil Gould.
Pictured: Platinum Park Stables in Hawkesbury, which is owned by Mr Flower
That all changed on Wednesday, when a shocked racing world discovered he’d been charged with importing commercial quantities of cocaine from South Africa with a baggage-handler friend and another man.
Racing has similar no-fault rules to the NRL, meaning anyone who brings the sport into disrepute can be stood down.
His horses will continue to race, but any prize money he wins will be frozen until the charges against him have been ruled on.
Racing NSW have said if Mr Flower is granted bail, he will not be able to participate in racing, or enter any racecourse.
He will also have to forfeit his slot in The Everest, which he paid $2.4 million to hold for four years.
Flower, an avid Rabbitohs fan, and baggage handler To Oto O Junior Mafiti were arrested on Wednesday after authorities uncovered an alleged trafficking ring operating at Sydney Airport.
Mafiti, 50, is accused of using his airside access to collect the cocaine, imported from South Africa, from baggage holds. Flower was one of two men police claim ultimately received the bags.
Both have been charged with six counts of importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug.
His wife Camilla Flower cried in the lobby ahead of his first appearance at Liverpool Local Court on Thursday.
To Oto O Junior Mafiti, 50, was arrested at Sydney Airport on Wednesday. He and Flower own a horse together, along with Phil Gould. Daily Mail Australia does not suggest Mr Gould had any knowledge of their alleged wrongdoing
Camilla Flower (pictured) is reported to have been crying all morning before Mr Flower, 47, made a brief appearance at Liverpool Local Court on Thursday
Court documents allege the offences happened at Mascot between January 22 and May 22.
Flower did not apply for bail during his brief court appearance, and is expected to make a bid for release on May 29.
His lawyer Chris Watson said outside court that his client intended to plead not guilty.
Mafiti also declined to apply for bail in Central Local Court. Both matters have been adjourned to July 17.
During the arrest of Mafiti at Oran Park on Wednesday, police allegedly found him in possession of a bag containing about 28kg of a substance believed to be cocaine.
Flower was later arrested outside his Moorebank home over ‘his alleged role in receiving imports of illegal drugs from the Oran Park man’, authorities said in a joint statement on Thursday.
Police raided six properties in Hoxton Park, Moorebank and Revesby as well as at the Oran Park address where about $8 million in cash was found.
‘This has been a complex, multi-layered investigation driven by the skills and expertise of intelligence analysts able to identify this offending to allow authorities to act,’ AFP Acting Superintendent Brad Edgtton said.
Border Force acting regional commander in NSW, Garry Low, said the men allegedly used their intimate knowledge of the aviation environment to carry out the operation but still weren’t able to avoid detection.
AFP officers allegedly found a black duffel bag containing vacuum-sealed packages wrapped in black and silver paper in his vehicle, believed to be 27kg of cocaine
Pictured is the cash found in a home allegedly linked to the baggage handler, 50
Panthers legend Phil Gould, who owns the horse Jailbreak with both Flower and Mafiti, said he was shocked to hear of the charges.
‘I just can’t believe it. I am hoping it’s not true,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘I’ve been sick all day.’
Alan Jones chose to distance himself from Flower on his 2GB breakfast radio show on Friday morning.
‘I wouldn’t have had two conversations with Damion Flower in my life,’ he said.
‘To be mentioning John Messara and I, and John Singleton in the same context as Damion Flower, is I think, bottom of the bird cage stuff.’
There is no suggestion any Flower’s racing partners were in any way involved with or knew about his alleged criminal activity.
‘This was a complex investigation’: Police statement on the arrests
AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Brad Edgtton, Sydney Organised Crime, said the investigation was an excellent example of intelligence-led policing and the combined efforts of Australian authorities in disrupting criminal networks.
‘This has been a complex, multi-layered investigation, driven by the skills and expertise of intelligence analysts,’ he said.
‘These arrests demonstrate trusted insiders who are allegedly willing to abuse that position of trust are on our radar.’
ABF Acting Regional Commander NSW Garry Low said the operation showed the variety of threats ABF officers faced in their efforts to protect the Australian border.
‘I’m proud of our investigators and intelligence team, who have all worked particularly hard in this joint operation to achieve this result,’ he said.
‘The arrest of these men should act as a warning to anyone considering abusing a privileged position at an Australian airport: just because you hold that position it does not mean the ABF isn’t alert to your activities.’
NSW Police Force’s Director of Crime Operations, Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Fileman, said Strike Force Yahmara is another example of cohesive law enforcement partnerships tackling large-scale drug importation and supply.
‘Our joint investigations have been relentless in their pursuit of dismantling this particular international syndicate – and we’re not done yet,’ he said.
‘The relationship with our partner agencies is stronger than ever, and the seizure of $8 million cash is a testament to the joint operational activity cutting deep into the profits of professional facilitators of crime.’
Investigations remain ongoing and further arrests have not been ruled out.