A winner on her first day at the races as a fully-fledged trainer!
That was the dream start at Fairview on Monday for Montana ‘Twan’ Turner – who, at the relatively tender age of 22, is South Africa’s newest – and youngest – racehorse trainer.
The beautiful grey Silvano gelding Sark always proved something of an enigma for his previous connections.
Backed a few times, he flattered only to mostly deceive in the Cape and after paltry earnings of R76 000 for placing at nine of his eighteen first starts, he found a new owner in Montana’s professional golfer brother, Justin.
A R1,3 million National Yearling Sale purchase – a looker and a half – a son of a champion sire out of a of Brazilian-bred former SA Horse Of The Year, Ilha Da Vitoria, Sark was simply living proof that there are no guarantees in this game. And buying champions with a big budget is definitely not about impressive catalogue pages and waving buying cards.
“Sark arrived fit and in great condition about two months ago,” says Montana as she related the story of her dream start to a career she wanted for as long as she can remember.
“I thought to myself – wow, either way it works, as you are either a racehorse or a show horse! He is beautiful. We worked him on the polytrack and took our time. When Bernard Fayd’herbe phoned for the ride – our stable jockey Shadlee Fortune was already engaged – I thought, that’s a good sign. The rest is history as they say and what a thrill it was to shout him home! I hope he gains confidence after the win – horses are like people you know, except nicer most of the time. They thrive on love and encouragement.”
The story of how the Pretoria-born horsewoman landed up taking the plunge at the age of 22 into what has become one of the world’s most unforgiving professions, started on 10 January 1997 when Springbok showjumper Michele Myburgh – daughter of fellow Springboks George and Janie Myburgh – celebrated the birth of an energetic baby girl, who would soon develop something of a mind of her own.
“I was born into the saddle. We are a horse crazy family and that’s all we ever spoke about. When I was just a year old, the family relocated to the Cape and at 5 years old I was riding every day. I still have my first ever horse -Ton Of Light, a not too fast racehorse by the Australian-bred stallion Century Stand, who stood in Zimbabwe. We are soulmates!” says Montana.
Montana grew up in the beautiful Boland town of Somerset West in the days before the Mall and property development turned a village into a sprawling hub at the base of the Helderberg Mountains. She attended Somerset West Primary School and Hottentots Holland High – aka, ‘Hotties’ to the locals.
“I loved reading and books but didn’t play a lot of sport or get too involved in school somehow,” she muses as she reflects back on her recent life.
In 2016 the Turner clan bought a farm five minutes from Fairview Racecourse and Montana took the first step in the system – en route to taking out her own licence.
“My folks knew Dorrie and Mark Sham and they gave me my first break by employing me in their yard. I learnt a lot from them in two years but when they relocated I got a job with the Spies family. Both Corne and Tobie Spies are masters of stable management and I picked up a lot from both of them. I was so pleased to see Tobie’s great success at Greyville on July day – he is a master at prepping the 2yo’s.”
She said that PE was close to the leading centre in SA for lady trainers.
“We already have Yvette Bremner, Sharon Kotzen and Tara Laing – the latter being of particular support to me. She is always the first person to encourage and cheer one on. She is like a second Mom to me – I have the utmost respect for her courage and character,” she added.
She is quick to laud the Fairview team for doing a fantastic job with the tracks.
“We are lucky to have the polytrack and the turf. It gives us more options – although I find the poly can be unforgiving and exposes any soundness issues in a horse quickly.”
Montana was keen to go on her own though and after an opportunity presented itself at George Uren, she needed to move quickly. She says that Mr Uren was not keen on a partnership arrangement, so she decided to apply for her own licence.
“The Stipes agreed I could write the examination. But they made it clear that even if I passed with flying colours, it was no guarantee I’d get my licence. So I studied, wrote the test and passed. But then – and I don’t blame them – they were worried that a 22 year old wouldn’t have the acumen to run a business. Knowing horses is one thing – taking responsibility for running a business is another.”
Montana explains that she got a call on Friday a fortnight ago.
“Mr Deanthan Moodley said I had the weekend to come up with my business plan! They wanted it by 08h30 the Monday. A friend of mine jumped in and helped me. It took some serious thought – but not things I had not already spoken to my family about. We submitted it. A few days later I got the call to say my licence was granted. I was thrilled!”
She says that the support of her family was key to the success of it. Her brother Justin owned her first winner Sark.
“I also have Mr Mohamed Moosa who has undertaken to support me. And I’m keen to welcome other owners. I have 26 horses at the moment and have applied for another 20 boxes in the yard next door. The family farm is used to spell horses who need a break – so it’s a nice arrangement.”
She also has a loyal staff who she says will be key to her success – and two stable cats.
“Working in a yard is hard. One has to feel part of the team and valued.”
As to any promising youngsters in her string, she said the public can watch out for a smart filly who should debut soon.
Where does her nickname Twan originate?
“I got it from our housekeeper. She was my second Mom from early on but couldn’t pronounce my name. So Twan stuck – and a lot of people call me that.”
Without a boyrfriend, husband or any kids to keep her busy, Montana says she is ‘married to her yard’.
“I have my two stable cats Maurice (from Beauty and the Beast) and Rigby (the Regular Show) and don’t do any socialising. I may sound boring to the average twenty-something, but this is a 24/7 profession and I’d rather make the most of it.”
Things have moved so fast in the past few weeks for her.
She says that she hasn’t had a chance yet to set up a Facebook page. She has an opinion on social media- suggesting it shouldn’t replace the phone call to the owner.
“Social media is a must have for any business. But I like to do spontaneous things too – like take a pic of the horse working or in his box and send it via whatsapp to the owner. I think that just getting a bill every month is a good reason owners get sour. If their horses aren’t immediately running or winning, at least the owner is getting some fun return out of the experience.”
Montana can be contacted via email at [email protected]