There is an Afrikaans expression that reads ‘Aanhouer wen’ which roughly translated means that he who perseveres, wins. I don’t know whether there is a Scottish equivalent, but if there is, it was written for Tara Laing.
Friday, 17 March 2017 saw the Avontuur bred Normanz win the EC Sprint Cup at Fairview in the colours of Mayfair Speculators. He also formed part of a trifecta for Mayfair as well as conditioner Tara Laing, who saddled the first three past the post in Normanz, Tar Heel and Sir Duke.
While a win is always a win, some are simply more special than others. Deemed by Tara as a fairy tale story, the son of Var came to the Laing yard with a reputation for being ‘unplayable’. However, he would prove more of a challenge than even she had ever seen before.
The 2014 Gr1 Golden Horse Sprint winner joined the Laing yard in late 2015. His first carded outing for the Laing stable was on 13 November 2015 in a 1000m Pinnacle Stakes at Fairview. “Normanz arrived in my yard with a massive history of being a dill on race day and I knew he’d been scratched from a few races in his career, but in my 28 years in racing I’ve never seen an animal do what he did that day,” says Tara in her trademark Scottish lilt. “He lost his marbles completely, flipping himself over about 6 times and I thought he’s either going to kill me or he’s going to kill himself. I was actually petrified for us both. It took 6 of us to put a saddle on him. He was petrified, absolutely petrified. Anton Marcus was carded to ride him, but once we eventually got him on course, he dislodged Anton and bolted and ran straight through a metal rail, cutting himself quite badly.”
“We got him stapled up and he had to have some rehab time, which gave me time to get into his head. The amount of work myself and my team put into him, you have no idea.”
“I have to say Derek was absolutely fantastic. He trusts me with every single horse, he never questions what I’m doing and just allows me to get on with it. Re-schooling an older horse is some job and for 3 months I took him to the course every day with a companion pony and saddled and unsaddled him 3 – 4 times a day just to win his confidence and get him to trust me. Despite all the time it took, Derek never ever put pressure on me or said ‘it’s been a bit long, what’s going on?’ Every now and then he would ask ‘How’s Normanz’ and I’d just say ‘It’s baby steps. Leave me alone, I’ll tell you when he’s ready.’”
“You’ve got to say well done to Derek and to Markus. There are not many owners left in the game that can afford a horse not to be on the course for months on end. If it was anyone else I’d be getting calls to say ‘Tara, the horse has to earn, why is it not racing?’ They really are great at giving the horses as much time as they need to get them back to where they need to be. I can’t explain just how much that kind of trust and support means and I can’t emphasise enough that I’m very fortunate who I work for.”
Back On Track
Normanz was finally ready to return to the track on 26 February 2016. “After that first time, the next time we took him to the races, I had 20 drops of Rescue Remedy!” laughs Tara. “I went to the Stipes and said, ‘Look, you’ve got to work with me here,’ and they were great. We saddled at the back, away from all the noise and commotion. Normanz gave a couple of rears, but nothing to say ‘I’m worried here’. As long as he had his pony with him, he was OK.”
Normanz repaid their faith and hard work to finish 0.75 lengths second to Harry Lime and hasn’t looked back. From there, Normanz has slowly recovered his confidence as well as his consistency and from 11 starts for Tara, he has only failed to earn a cheque once and has now notched 2 wins on the trot.
“It’s been a really long haul with Normanz,” acknowledges Tara. “I can never give him an inch at the races in case he goes back to how he was, so we keep everything very routine. I also have to thank the Stipes who accommodate me, but hopefully I’ve proved that the extra work is justified in this case. To this day he goes with his buddy pony from my yard to the races, which is quite a long way. Exactly the place where he was rehabbed, that’s where we saddle him. Exactly the spot where we mounted him, that’s where the jockey gets on. And his pony does not leave his side till he’s in those pens and then waits for him at the finish line. And so far so good,” she says with satisfaction.
“Derek sends me a lot of horses that need to be re-schooled or worked on. I often ask him whether he’s got an insurance policy on me,” she laughs. Duly Ordained is another who came to me after doing both tendons. He was off for 3 years, then he arrived with me and I had to get him fit and back into work and he won two weeks ago,” she says proudly. “I’ve now got Tar Heel and am going to try and rejuvenate him and Coltrane is here too, but I like all my old rehab horses. Some come right and some don’t. With the ones that don’t we find them a good retirement home. But with the ones that do, it’s pretty satisfying and really quite emotional.”
“Straight after the race I got a message from Derek saying ‘Great story how you got him to where he is today.’ Pippa Mickleburgh bred Normanz and she was with Derek when he won last Friday and she rang to say ‘you’ve done wonders. He looks happy and confident and you can see he wants to win again.’ I even got a message from Markus Jooste after the race to say well done. That’s when I know I’ve done my job. Please and thank you are not words you hear a lot in this game, so that means a lot to me.” “A lot of people wrote Normanz off, but I didn’t and Derek didn’t,” she says thoughtfully. “Derek just said ‘send it to Tara please.’ I’m really grateful for his trust in me, but most of all, I’m proud of Normanz and how far he’s come.”