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Tara Laing

In a week where South Africa celebrates women, we talk to our leading lady trainer about her personal challenges

Tara= serious sometimes!

Tara-serious sometimes!

PE trainer Tara Laing is the epitome of the modern successful businesswoman. Ambitious, driven and destined for the top, she sends out the winners for South Africa’s most powerful owner and loves every moment of it.

She speaks candidly about what makes her tick, how difficult it really was working for Justin Snaith, her frustration with the industry awards and a lovely anectdote about Martin Locke being smacked with a handbag.

What is your name and dare we ask your age?

I’ve been called many names. But Tara-Jane Laing will do. I’m 41 -but think I’m still 21!

Where did you grow up and please tell us about your educational achievements?

I was born and bred in the Highlands of Scotland, attended Kilmonivaig Primary School then Lochaber High. In South Africa I went to boarding school in the Eastern Transvaal and Natal.

I excelled in English, Biology, music and sport

How did you break into horseracing?

Sean Cormack, Anthony Delpech, Justin Henson and Stuart Randolph were still appies watching me compete in the A grade show- jumping champs at Shongweni. They twisted my arm to watch them ‘riding’ a racehorse.

It didn’t take long to realize I quite enjoyed the adrenalin rush, so I approached the late Maureen and her husband Cecil Baitz and asked if I could help them out at their Summercliff pre- training centre. It was all systems go from there on.

Young Tara - and the pony club scene

Young Tara – and the pony club scene

Your Facebook page speaks of horses, dogs and more horses and dogs. Is there a family there somewhere?

Horses and dogs -what’s life without them? I love all animals and owned my first pony when I was 2yrs old. I started competing at the age of 4, representing Scotland at Scone Palace when I was 6, competing Nationally and Internationally in all disciplines, until I hung my boots up for the racing game. I have 4 dogs which all sleep on my bed- Gavin sleeps on the couch!

Why do you have a Facebook page for Tara Laing Racing when you are a closed shop one-owner trainer?

Yes, Tara Laing Racing is on FB. It is important for me to keep my friends,enemies and family up to date with how I’m doing in racing.

Mr & Mrs Jooste and Derek Bugman put their faith and trust in me to train for them and to be a part of their team, so my FB page shows everyone that I love and appreciate every minute of what I am doing- and that yes, hard work, loyalty and dedication certainly do pay off.

Are you a women’s libber?

Of course I am. What a stupid question! I certainly stand my ground to combat sexual discrimination and to gain full legal economic, vocational, educational, and social rights and opportunities for women. If someone doesn’t hear me the first time I will just shout louder!

You are perceived as something of a straight shooter and a person who calls a spade a spade. That often doesn’t work well in horseracing -has it ever gotten you into trouble?

I certainly do shoot from the hip. No airs and graces with me. In life, some people want to hear the truth, others are scared to hear the truth. But I will just tell you how it is.

Have my opinions got me into trouble? Yes of course, on many an occasion. After all it is MY opinion at the end of the day, and if you don’t want to hear it, then don’t bloody ask!

You are private trainer to Markus and Ingrid Jooste. How many horses do you train for them?

36 boxes, 36 horses, with horses waiting very patiently at the farm to come into my yard

What are the frustrations of training in PE?

No question – PE is a great place to train.

However, I am quite disgruntled at the way the allocation of boxes has been handled. The bigger yards seem to be getting more and the smaller guys are not getting the opportunity to improve their business or grow their string. It is like we have been handed the STUNTED GROWTH medication.

Yes I have a yard of 36 horses, but not all 36 horses are eligible to race, due to injuries, rest, eliminations at scratchings etc. Some meetings I have been reduced to 5/6 runners compared to some of my fellow trainers that have near to 15/20 runners a meeting.

Despite that, I had a good season. I didn’t hit my 50 winners mark like I did previously but from 391 runners I came away with 45 winners (11% win). In the mean time I shall just carry on filling out the application form for more boxes until my ink dries up!

Are you your own boss?

I am very lucky that I do have free rein with the horses I have in training. As long as my horses are performing and earning their keep I’m pretty much left to my own devices. I do speak to Derek on a daily basis though. I like to keep him in the loop with the goings on in the yard. Derek is on speed dial (laugh).

He runs a tight ship, but when I have a good day the congrats are there from him and Mr Jooste.

Are there politics in PE racing?

Over the years PE has become very competitive with new trainers and several satellite yards. It is tough out there, but we try and stay clear of politics

Training for a major international owner must have its pros and cons. Are you prepared to frankly admit to one of each, at least?

I think training for anyone has it’s pros and cons.

I can honestly say since I’ve landed this job the pros far outweigh the cons. I’m fortunate that I only have to converse with Derek, and we have a great work ethic- it’s called TRUST.

If I need to make a decision on anything I first explain myself, and the reason as to why I have made that decision. But I have also had to explain myself when things have gone belly up!

No stereotype blonde!

No stereotype blonde!

Would you ever consider going into the open market and increasing your customer base?

God forbid it never happens, but if things had to suddenly come to an end for me with Mr.Jooste, I would have no option than to train openly for the public. I do believe over the years I have met some wonderful owners , so hopefully if I was in dire straights someone could entrust me with a few horses to train for them.

But, like I said previously, I’m in a happy place, enjoying every minute of being associated with the Joostes and Derek, and I pray it continues for many more years.

PE is often seen as a minor centre. Have you ever considered the bright city lights of Cape Town, Durban or Joburg with bigger stakes and better facilities?

I’ve been very fortunate to work in every province except Cape Town. However, after spending a few mornings at Milnerton with my great pal Adele Alsop and Mr Marshall, Cape Town crawled under my skin. I liked everything about Milnerton. It was so horse friendly. So who knows? Maybe one day I will jump from the small pond to the bigger one.

You are being spoken about in racing circles as the new generation Jean Heming. Your reaction please.

You can’t be serious! Shew I’m all embarrassed now…

My fond memory of Mrs Heming was when she hit Martin Locke with her handbag during an interview because he had wished her ‘good luck’ before a big race – is that not maybe why the sudden comparison?

Mrs Heming was a legend in my eyes -she won 4 national trainers titles and 12 successive provincial championships. She was a superb horsewoman with rare talents, with a fan club and a hate club.

So let me put it to you this way- if I can achieve half of what this woman did in her career, then my life is complete.

You managed the Snaith PE satellite yard. How did that experience shape your current approach to training?

Without blowing Justin’s trumpet, working for the Snaiths has probably made me who I am today.

I was there for 10 years. Everyone knows that Jono is the bank manager -he taught me ‘value for money’ and ‘money for value’.

Justin reckons anyone can train a horse, but it takes a horseman to make them win. Look at the horse, he would say, then you will see the results – and be hands on, don’t dictate, do it!

And Dad Chris. Well Chris is great, and he taught me a thing or two. But his best was when he used to say –‘DONT FORGET TO BREATHE!’

Hard at work

Hard at work

So were Justin and Jono difficult guys to work for?

Did Justin ask you to ask me this question by any chance?

Justin yes – Jono and Chris no!

Justin is a perfectionist, and doesn’t take defeat very easily. Out of 8 runners you could have 7 winners – Justin always wanted to know why the other one didn’t win! He is very hands on, so you either keep up with him or you bugger off! He strives to be the best, break all records and be the best the land has to offer. These ethics in practice are the reason he is the Champion Trainer that he deserves to be.

Tell us about your recent Gold Cup raid with Crown Of Gold?

The Gold Cup, was an eye- opener for me. I will always be thankful to Mr Marshall for always accommodating myself and my horses, and to Derek for allowing me the opportunities to travel with my horses. Obviously things didn’t pan out how they were planned, so I have just put it all down to experience.

Do you share the broader sentiment that the Greyville track was in a poor condition on Super Saturday?

The Greyville grass track is in need of some serious rehabilitation and this Spring treatment couldn’t of come quick enough.

What is your opinion of the Fairview polytrack?

The polytrack had me scratching my head many a morning, as I had to deal with some indifferent performances. It was like venturing into ‘foreign territory’ for the first few meetings.

The clear advantage is that the polytrack can handle heavy rain, so we won’t lose essential training days, race meetings or betting turnover due to bad weather. However , the maintenance is top priority. But if the procedures are adhered to then it can only be onwards and upwards from here.

Tara and Stingray Danielson, the man she rates just behind Anton Marcus and Piere Strydom

Tara and Stingray Danielson, the man she rates just behind Anton Marcus and Piere Strydom

Rate your top three jockeys in SA.

Anton Marcus, Pierre Strydom and Raymond Danielson -otherwise I will get a bollocking!

Do the Provincial Awards criteria make sense to you? Take a top sprinter like your man Vauclair having to take a backseat to Copper Parade who had to go to Joburg to win a Gr1!

They don’t make sense anymore. They should be rewarding owners, trainers, horses and jockeys that have achieved excellence through their contribution in their Province-why do we have to fall in line with the National Policy when considering nominees? Is that not why we have the Equus Awards? So basically your horse can win every feature in your home province and not get any recognition at all!

There just aren’t enough women at all levels of horseracing in SA.True or false?

True – but on the other hand it’s certainly not a game for sissies! There are a lot of good but too few talented women in this game that are either hiding or being hidden behind closed doors, for whatever reason -I’m not sure!

But I know of women that work behind the scenes that should get more recognition for what they are doing. But sadly in the training ranks there aren’t many of us left. It is very difficult to balance family and a career in racing -especially if you have children.

I just feel that the racing game would benefit in certain respects if more women got involved. And yes it’s tough – but so is life. C’mon girls, lets equal the playing fields!

Tell us something we still don’t know about Tara Laing?

I can write and read music and I play the clarinet

One short sms from Tara Laing to SA Horseracing?

Improve your marketing campaigns please!

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