Turvey Heading For The Top

10 July 2009

To those who saw Nathan Turvey dominate as a junior footballer in Western Australia, it would be no surprise that he’s making an impression on the Australian sporting landscape.

He made such an impression with South Fremantle as a youngster that Hawthorn used its first selection on him in the 1996 AFL National Draft.
He was taken with pick No 29, giving him a home ahead of subsequent stars including dual premiership forward Cameron Mooney, Norm Smith medallist Byron Pickett, Demon high-flyer Russell Robertson, Eagles 200-gamer Michael Braun and former All-Australian defender Jonathan Hay.
But it isn’t on the footy field that Turvey is making his sporting mark.
His AFL dream ended when the Hawks delisted him after 10 games in three seasons, but the 31-year-old is now one of the rising stars of Western Australia’s driving ranks.
“Being part of the AFL was certainly enjoyable while I was over there (in Melbourne), but as a country boy from WA I probably didn’t believe in myself enough to make it,” he said.
“It was still a great experience, but it didn’t work out, and harness racing has always been my number one passion, so it was good to get back into it.
“I don’t really see it as work, so to have it as my main level of employment, I’m pretty lucky.”
And that is reflected in Turvey’s performances. In early July he sat equal seventh on the WA Drivers’ Premiership table with 54 winners to his name.
That might not sound all that impressive compared to the likes of regular centurions Chris Lewis and Gary Hall Jnr, but Turvey doesn’t get anywhere near the drives that Perth’s top two reinsman get.
And his career didn’t really kick off until he was 27. He drove three winners in 2002/03 and two more the following season, but his career started to take shape when he drove a dozen winners in 2004/05.
The next year he partnered 10 winners, a tally he doubled in 2006/07. Last season produced 35 victories, while he cracked the 50-win barrier for the first time with the third of four winners at York on June 12 this year.
It’s progression that Turvey is more than satisfied with.
“I suppose some people are lucky in that they come from a family with a with a big stable and they can slip straight into it and get lots of drives, but I’ve taken a while to get to where I am and have had to work pretty hard,” he said.
“So I’ve taken my time to get where I’ve got to, but I still think I can get better. Year by year we’ve had a little bit more success and hopefully that continues.”
It has justified Turvey’s decision to pursue a career in harness racing once he hung up the footy boots.
His father Neville always pottered around with a couple at the family property in Narrogin, two hours south of Perth, and Turvey enjoyed helping out as a teenager, but his involvement ceased with he moved to the big smoke to play with South Fremantle as a 16-year-old.
“Dad trained horses while I was growing up, he was a small-time trainer in the country, so I grew up with them, but when I concentrated on footy it took a back seat,” he said.
“I did pony trots as a kid and I went for my (driver’s) licence when I was 16, but just prior to getting it I shifted to Perth to play footy and never really worried about it after that.
“When I lived in Melbourne I used to go to the trots quite regularly, but didn’t have any hands-on involvement. It’s good to be back in it.”
That’s why being delisted by the Hawks at the end of the 1999 season might have been a blessing in disguise for someone who seems much more comfortable on a racetrack than football field.
He didn’t get straight back into harness, however. He made his way back to Perth via South Australia, where he spent a season playing for South Adelaide, before returning to play a further two seasons with South Freo.
It was after that that he hung up the boots for good and moved back to Narrogin.
He spent three years combining his interest in harness racing with a full time job at pastoral company Elders, before taking up a full time position at the stables of trainer Grant Williams.
His biggest success to date, however, came for rival trainer James Draper.
Turvey teamed with Jack Cantell to win the 2006 State Sires Series 2YO Colts and Geldings Final at Gloucester Park in July 2006, making him possibly the only man to have played in the AFL and driven a Group 1 winner.
“I think that was actually my first city winner and it’s the only Group 1 I’ve ever driven, so you’d have to say that was the most satisfying,” Turvey said.
He’d love to one day also be training Group 1 winners, but for the time being is happy to concentrate on driving and leave the training side of things to partner Natalie Hall.
“I had one in work when I started with Grant, but the hours there don’t really give me time to have one of my own,” he said.
“I really enjoy the training side of things but the biggest thing is I’m doing something I love and I don’t really have the stress of having to pay bills and stuff like that while I’m working for Grant.
“Natalie is into the horses and we have a couple of horses together, but she looks after them. Training is something I’d like to do, but at the moment I’m happy doing what I’m doing.”