“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Thus the immortal Charles Dickens began his classic novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. In the spring of hope that was 1942, a 41-year-old Italian immigrant turned horse trainer, named Fillipo Allotta knew what the irrepressible Boz meant when he penned those lines in 1859. For a young man on the threshold of life as a professional horse-trainer to have within his stables the odds-on favourite in Australia’s richest classic, affords both the prospect of triumph and disaster – those twin imposters as Kipling once described them. If events proceed as expected and the horse wins, then a successful career is virtually assured; on the other hand, if the venture ends badly, a promising professional life might be snuffed out before it has barely begun. And this was precisely the circumstance in which Allotta found himself in that dark war-ravaged spring of 1942. Would it be a season of light or a season of darkness? Born in November 1900 in a small village just outside of Naples, Allotta had come to Australia with his family at the age of seven, the youngest of eleven children. Although the Allotta family settled first in the Camden district, it wasn’t long before they moved to Annandale, an inner suburb of Sydney, where all bar Fil eked out a living from the family fruit and vegetable business. The youngest child always was different, and after running away from home at the age of thirteen and working with a milkman for two years, Fil eventually became apprenticed to leading trainer Frank Marsden.
The lot of an apprentice wasn’t necessarily a happy one in those days, but in Marsden, Allotta had chosen his master well. The star of the stable was the golden filly, Furious, whom Allotta strapped and even managed to partner to victory in a mile race at Rosehill. It wasn’t cause for celebration though, for Furious wasn’t meant to win that day and got under the stable guard at 10/1. Allotta, although only a little man, enjoyed few successes in the saddle and soon got too heavy for a jockey; he then set about learning as much as he could from Marsden on the art of training racehorses, remaining with the great man for some years even after his apprenticeship ended. In 1925 it was Allotta’s good fortune to strap Valiard, a smart son of Valais who won the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap that year out of Marsden’s yard. The victory was to have a profound significance for the future course of the young Allotta’s professional life that could only have been dreamed of at the time. Let me mention here that one of Valiard’s owners was a man named Peter Tait.
It was just a few years later at the age of twenty-eight that Fil Allotta decided to strike out on his own as a public trainer. The young man endured an extended period working the country racing regions, with occasional profitable forays into the city such as the plunge landed on his own horse, Cordova, at Moorefield in May 1934. The Marsden family were also prepared to back Allotta’s ability and in March 1935 Roy Marsden, a son of the late Frank Marsden, saw his colours carried to victory at Canterbury by Black Fern, prepared by Allotta. The money won on Cordova and Black Fern and the growing confidence in his own horsemanship and judgement, saw Allotta make his first application to the A.J.C. to be licensed under their regime in June 1935, renting eight boxes at 168 Doncaster Avenue, Randwick – a property owned by the pony trainer Harry McKeon, which was located immediately behind the famous racecourse. Slowly, Allotta built up a client base, and in due course, the successful trainer was eventually able to buy the Doncaster Avenue stables outright. Of course, in those early days, he wasn’t permitted to train his horses at Randwick, and recourse had to be made to the nearby tracks of Kensington and Victoria Park.
The racehorse that promised Fil Allotta a mortgage on the 1942 A.J.C. Derby, Hall Stand, was a dapper chestnut son of the former champion racehorse, Hall Mark. Bred by Herbert Thompson at his Tarwyn Park Stud, the colt had been catalogued in the William Inglis Easter Sales, and although Allotta bid up to 550 guineas for him, it fell well short of the 1000 guineas reserve that Thompson had nominated.
The studmaster decided for the time being to retain the colt to race in his own colours. Hall Stand was given to Bayly Payten to prepare for the Breeders’ Plate, although Thompson let it be known that the horse remained available for sale, and Allotta determinedly continued to negotiate. Despite having a Melbourne Cup winner as his sire, it was speed that predominated in Hall Stand’s pedigree, his maternal granddam being Rosina, a brilliant juvenile and the winner in her first season of the V.A.T.C. Federal Stakes, V.A.T.C. Alma Stakes, V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes and A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. While Trasina, the dam of Hall Stand, had only won a maiden at Menangle, she had already demonstrated the genes retained their value by foaling Goldsmith, a place-getter in a V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate. Hence it came as no surprise when her latest charge began to display precocity in early morning gallops.
A few days before the Breeders’ Plate, Allotta’s client finally acquiesced to Thompson’s asking price and Hall Stand was sold for a thousand guineas; but the transfer of ownership was delayed until after the race. Accordingly, it was in the familiar colours of the Tarwyn Park studmaster that a well-supported Hall Stand went under narrowly to the 33/1 Bangster, in that most sensational finish to the first juvenile race of the season. Hall Stand was ridden by the demon Darby and rarely had the great jockey chosen to exercise his demons in a more nefarious fashion as Bangster headed Hall Stand near the shadows of the post. As the young apprentice Delaney, recalled to stewards after the race: “Something hooked into my trousers as I went past Hall Stand. I suppose it was Munro’s spurs.” Delaney well knew it wasn’t Darby’s spurs but rather his fingers. If it wasn’t for the elastic in the breeches giving out, Delaney and Bangster might have been denied the prize. Still, you have to admire Darby’s chutzpah, for – having once committed the indiscretion – he then fired in an unsuccessful protest against Delaney. In those days before patrol cameras, there was no end to the shenanigans of jockeys, and Hall Stand’s debut merely highlighted yet one more trick in the box.
Immediately after the race delivery was taken of Hall Stand by the well-known Sydney businessman, John Despard Hemphill, the managing director of a large firm of flour exporters established by his family, and one that had pioneered the flour trade in the Far East. Moreover, he was also a director of Lustre Hosiery, Sellers Fabrics, and the N.S.W. Stevedoring Company. The new owner chose to disguise his identity under the nom de course of ‘John Despard’ but he already raced a few horses through Allotta’s stable, including the promising White Feather, and it was as a result of a good wager on that horse that Hemphill decided to try his luck with Hall Stand. The son of Hall Mark was a lazy colt with a healthy appetite, and in his first start for Allotta in November he won a juvenile stakes race; he was then started twice in December in both the Kirkham and December Stakes at Randwick but was beaten each time by Riverton, a promising Midstream colt trained by George Price. Allotta then eased Hall Stand in his work and awaited the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting.
As the long, languid summer days of 1941-42 sharpened into autumn, Australia’s world assumed a menacing aspect. After the raid on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Australia stood largely alone in the face of the coming Japanese onslaught. It was our darkest hour. In February Singapore fell, and the Japanese soon threatened Port Moresby and flew bombing raids on Darwin and Broome. In March, Douglas MacArthur quit the siege of Corregidor and made his famous escape to Australia in order to assume the supreme command in the Pacific and begin the Allies long fight back. These were weeks of uncertainty that saw many drastic changes in Australian racing as the Curtin Government marshalled the nation’s resources for a total war effort. In January it had been announced that henceforth race meetings were to be held only on Saturdays and public holidays, but by March even the public holidays had gone. This meant the traditional A.J.C. autumn fixture was reduced to just two successive Saturdays. Interstate race broadcasts were banned in an effort to curtail S.P. betting while racing binoculars were impounded for use by the R.A.A.F. Not even this last measure could extinguish the mordant humour of one unhappy punter, who, when asked by a Commonwealth officer if he had registered his race glasses; replied: “No, but you take them, Colonel. And if you see as many dead ‘uns through them as I have, the war’s as good as over.”
Then the cruellest cut of all. A fortnight before Doncaster Day, Randwick racecourse was taken over by military authorities, and the A.J.C. hurriedly announced that their truncated autumn meeting was being transferred to Rosehill. Given the reduced capacity of the suburban course and its inability to accommodate the large crowds associated with Randwick, prize money for the meeting was drastically curtailed. It was a po-faced Fil Allotta who learned that the value of the Sires’ Produce Stakes had been slashed from £2,500 to £750. Still, what had been cut from the prize could be made up in the ring, for Allotta, who had been riding Hall Stand in his work, was convinced the chestnut would win. The trainer favourably compared the colt’s speed with that of the brilliant Valiard, who he had strapped for Frank Marsden all those years before. The speedy Hesione, a daughter of Brueghel and a half-sister to Ajax trained by Bayly Payten, was looked upon as a certainty, after having won both the Gimcrack Stakes and Maribyrnong Plate brilliantly in the spring and the Ascot Vale Stakes earlier in the autumn. Yet while she conveniently trailed the free-going Hall Stand to the home turn, surprisingly the colt came away down the straight in the hands of Bill Cook to win by three lengths in front of the largest crowd seen at Rosehill up to that time. Considering the reduced prize money on offer, Hall Stand was penalised 7lb rather than the customary 10lb for the Champagne Stakes a week later and went out a 4/9 favourite, but after losing ground at the start was never likely in the race won by the tearaway Bangster. It ended Hall Stand’s first season on the Turf: his six starts had yielded two wins and three seconds and the promise of more to come.
Thanks largely to Hall Stand’s juvenile performances, Fil Allotta received his promotion to a No. 1 ticket holder when the A.J.C. reviewed their licensing arrangements prior to the start of the 1942-43 season, although Hall Stand continued to do much of his work at Victoria Park. Not a robust character, Hall Stand came to hand very easily in the last weeks of winter, and Fil Allotta’s Derby preparation consisted of just two races supplemented by track gallops. Sadly, for Allotta, when Hall Stand was ready to resume racing, the man who owned the colt was no longer alive. John Hemphill, at the age of 58, had died suddenly at his Wahroonga home just nine days before his putative champion returned to racing in the Hobartville Stakes at Randwick in late August. Thus, it was for the beneficiaries of the estate – his wife and five children – that the colt began the new season, leading all the way and running his rivals ragged in the Hobartville Stakes with five lengths to spare. It was a similar tale in the Rosehill Guineas three weeks later when he again set his own pace to beat General Smuts by six lengths, with Baroda a bad third. Having been Derby favourite throughout the winter, Hall Stand’s price firmed even further on this latest evidence. The conventional wisdom among sportsmen was that nothing that finished behind the chestnut at Rosehill would reverse the order in the classic, while the key to the race would lie in the pace. Those pundits who had confidently declared that Hall Stand was unbeatable and yet were aware of the colt’s sprinting pedigree on the distaff side might have had reason to revise their opinion had they known that, with the exception of Phar Lap in 1929, the Derby would be the fastest ever run at Randwick in eighty years.
In mid-September, the Prime Minister, John Curtin, called a conference in Canberra with representatives of racing clubs from New South Wales and most of the other States. It took place against the depressing backdrop of the stalemate in Stalingrad and Japanese landings on Guadalcanal. Given the deteriorating outlook, the outcome was a belated ban on racing on the first Saturday of each month, beginning in October, in the hope that money otherwise gambled on those days might be channelled into the Government’s ‘Austerity’ Loan instead. Moreover, it was stipulated that race meetings could commence no earlier than 1.45 pm and finish no later than 5.15 pm. It was on September 22nd that the A.J.C. committee announced the Derby, due to be run just eleven days later, would now be deferred by a week with the Randwick Spring Meeting to begin on October 10th rather than October 3rd; the A.J.C. Metropolitan, in turn, being put back a week as well. The club had again been forced to slash prizemoney with the Epsom and Metropolitan reduced from £8,000 to £5,500, although the Derby remained untouched. The hardships imposed by Australia’s war effort showed up in other ways on Derby Day itself, which attracted a crowd of 74,800 people. Melbourne pressmen were absent for the first time since the Great War because of the Federal Government’s austerity decrees preventing interstate betting; and there was a ban on women drinking at racecourse bars, although it was neatly avoided by having them stand a few feet back behind the line as men passed drinks over. War or not, thousands of bottles of beer – almost unattainable at hotel bottle departments – were sold. Racecourse trams were gridlocked in traffic all the way back to Taylor Square.
Twelve horses stood between Fil Allotta and the Derby laurels, and the best backed to beat the 4/7 favourite, Hall Stand, was Main Topic trained at Randwick by the former leading rider at Victorian pony tracks, Tom McGrath. Unlike Hall Stand, Main Topic had undergone a gruelling preparation, the Derby being his sixth race of the new season. Main Topic had first attracted attention when he finished second, albeit five lengths away, to Hall Stand in the Hobartville Stakes, and had then followed up with a fine third in the Chelmsford Stakes behind the older horses, Rimveil and Dewar, when no more than a long neck covered the three place-getters. On the day Hall Stand humbled the Rosehill Guineas field, Main Topic ran a nice fourth in the weight-for-age Hill Stakes won by Yaralla. Grand Prodige and Streamford shared the next line of Derby betting. A son of Beau Pere, Grand Prodige was owned by the Mace family, famous Queensland pastoralists, and trained by the leading Queensland trainer, George Anderson. The colt had won the Q.T.C. Hopeful Stakes at two and had been brought over to Sydney for the Sires’ in the autumn but had contracted laryngitis and returned north without appearing in public. The colt had burst into Derby contention just a fortnight before by leading all the way to win a three-year-old handicap at Rosehill by eight lengths in a time only a quarter-second outside of High Caste’s track record. Streamford, carrying the soon-to-be-famous colours of Adolph Basser, was a stylish son of Midstream that had won the Fernhill Handicap. None of the other runners appeared to have much chance including both Panbranch and Kareset trained by Dan Lewis at Randwick.
Upon the barrier lifting, it flicked Panbranch under the jaw thereby causing the colt to throw up his head and lose ground and squeezing out Baroda. Hall Stand reared out of the barrier in his normal fashion but after that raced kindly for Bill Cook behind the torrid pace set by Grand Prodige. At the mile, the son of Beau Pere had cleared out to lead by six lengths from San Sebastian, Main Topic and Hall Stand, with the balance of the field already off the steel. San Sebastian was the first of the leading quartet to feel the pinch shortly after that and Fred Shean swept Grand Prodige around the home turn full of running with both Main Topic and Hall Stand giving chase, although even then the odds-on favourite was giving out distress signals. When Grand Prodige compounded near the Leger, Main Topic strode away to a most emphatic victory, having five lengths to spare over the favourite Hall Stand, who finished a half-length in front of the tearaway pacemaker. Just how well Grand Prodige had done his work was revealed by the clock: the twelve furlongs had taken 2 minutes 31 ½ seconds, a mere quarter-second outside of Phar Lap’s race record. When unsaddling Main Topic, Munro claimed to the awaiting pressmen that had he pushed the colt in the last half-furlong the record would have been broken.
An early September foal, Main Topic had been bred by Alan Cooper at his Segenhoe Stud and was from the first draft of the Magpie horse, Talking, himself the winner of the 1936 A.J.C. Derby. The dam, Germain, by the Irish horse Corban and a son of The Tetrach, was a granddaughter of that famous American importation, My Lady Frances, whom D. M. Barrie in ‘The Australian Bloodhorse’ names as having made such a significant contribution to Australian bloodstock. Germain had already thrown Roi Sion, a winner of handicaps at Victoria Park, Warwick Farm and Newcastle, while Lady Pop, the dam of Germain, had won at A.R.C. courses. Cooper had offered the colt at the William Inglis Sales in April 1941 but set a reserve of 250 guineas. Tom McGrath had got in the last nod at 240 guineas when the bidding stopped but afterwards was able to negotiate a lease with Cooper, with an option to purchase for 500 guineas at any time during the currency of the lease. Alas for McGrath, the trainer had been so strapped for cash prior to the classic that he hadn’t been able to exercise the option, which saw a third of the Derby prize fall into the hands of Cooper as the lessor. The option was exercised, however, a few days later.
“If I had to be beaten then I was delighted that it was Tom McGrath who did it,” a philosophical Allotta remarked to pressmen before the Derby presentation. It was a sentiment endorsed by many of his fellow professionals a few minutes earlier when the trainers’ stand had resounded to the cheers of ‘come on, Tom”, as Munro dashed his colt to an incontestable lead inside the last furlong. As a horseman, the 55-year-old offered an interesting contrast with Allotta, fourteen years his junior. Each man was struggling to establish himself as a professional horse trainer after a life as a jockey, albeit a remarkably successful life in the case of McGrath, although rather less so for Allotta. Whereas Allotta had battled to ride a winner, the heavyweight McGrath had been the king of the Victorian pony tracks in the years before retiring in 1920. McGrath had been the first jockey to ride a thousand winners including an Ascot Thousand, a race in which his saddle snapped, and yet he had managed to retain his balance and weigh-in correctly. McGrath’s transition to training had, however, been marked with continuing success at the 14.2 pony courses with good ‘uns like Valoria rather than any conspicuous achievement at the more important racecourses. During his early years with the stopwatch, McGrath was licensed with the Associated Racing Clubs, but as the winds of change began to blow across Kensington, he voluntarily stood down from the A.R.C. for the requisite period to become a fully-fledged A.J.C. No. 2 trainer. Consequently, with the amalgamation of the A.J.C. and A.R.C., McGrath was one of the first of the pony brigade to be elevated to No. 1 status, along with the likes of Bill McGee and ‘Quack’ Ryan, and the fact that he boasted an influential client such as Sir Hugh Denison no doubt helped his cause.
Main Topic had contested seven races as a two-year-old, winning just one of them – a juvenile stakes race at Rosehill in the hands of O’Donnell, the stable apprentice. However, McGrath had thought highly enough of the son of Talking to give him his chance in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Fernhill Handicap, races in which he finished just behind the place-getters. As a battling trainer, Tom McGrath was unlucky in getting the horse of his life in a year when the interstate transport embargo stopped him from contesting the Victoria Derby – a race that he would almost certainly have won. Instead, McGrath was forced to go for The Metropolitan the following Saturday, a race in which Main Topic ran as the 5/1 favourite in the hands of Jimmy Duncan, but was spread-eagled in the straight and finished down the course behind the winner, Grand Fils. A week later McGrath saddled him up again against the older horses when he was beaten a neck in the City Tattersall’s Cup. Those three hard runs in successive weeks bottomed the colt and left him vulnerable to a throat virus that caused his St Leger/ Sydney Cup programme the following autumn to be aborted. Main Topic was never really the same horse again. Although he did win The Metropolitan as a four-year-old with Ted Bartle in the saddle carrying 8 st. 13lb, it was his only victory in seventeen starts that season. Leg troubles then began to plague the stallion, and he was retired in September 1944 after a brief campaign as a spring five-year-old.
So much for Main Topic’s career on the racecourse, but at least he did win a valuable race after his Derby triumph, which is more than can be said for his putative rival, Hall Stand, or any of the other colts that finished behind him at Randwick for that matter. The son of Hall Mark only started twice more for the executors of John Hemphill, running third in the A.J.C. Craven Plate and unplaced in the City Tattersall’s Cup in successive weeks, before being submitted for auction through the William Inglis yard in January 1943. Racehorse owners are an optimistic lot, and despite his revealed limitations, Hall Stand was knocked down to Mr T. H. Dennis, a Queensland timber contractor for 3500 guineas – the highest price paid for a horse in Sydney since the outbreak of the war. Actually, there was quite a keen contest for the colt including interest from the bookmaker Joe Matthews and the brother of Hall Stand’s former owner; and when the final bid came, the crowd of about three thousand roundly cheered Mr Dennis, a client of the former Brisbane trainer, Charlie McLoughlin, who had settled in Sydney about fifteen months before. Like George Anderson, McLoughlin came to Sydney when the grass tracks in Brisbane were closed for the duration of the war. Fil Allotta approached the new owner expressing the opinion that “although Hall Stand had brought above his value, he was a strong, healthy three-year-old, who would win lots of races.”
At least the first part of Allotta’s opinion was spot on even if the rest wasn’t. Hall Stand raced under the nom de course of ‘T. L. Timbers’, proved inordinately expensive to both owner and public alike. Although he did eventually win a series of flying handicaps on courses such as Newcastle, Ascot and Rosebery, the son of Hall Mark never remotely looked like repaying his purchase price. Perhaps the horse’s best performance under new colours came when he ran second in that infamous Cameron Handicap at Newcastle that effectively ended Andy Knox’s career – and again it was a horse trained by Tom McGrath, this time Abbeville, that denied Hall Stand victory. The person who made the most money out of Hall Stand was the auctioneer, Reg Inglis. It was Inglis who had brokered the original sale for 1000 guineas to Hemphill and who also acted as auctioneer when the horse was resold and realised 3500 guineas.
And it was Reg Inglis who was called upon to effect a sale when his Queensland owner tired of the horse’s lacklustre performances, realising a rather surprisingly good price again, of 2200 guineas in January 1946. Hall Stand’s failure to win a principal race after that 1942 Derby was something he shared in common with all of the other starters, except for Main Topic; and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, despite the time and the winner, 1942 was a far from vintage Derby year. Hall Stand did manage to beat Main Topic in one field of endeavour. While neither of the stallions was successful at stud, Hall Stand at least had the distinction of getting one winner of a principal race, Blond Val, the horse that R. J. Harris trained to win the 1954 S.T.C. Festival Handicap at Rosehill.
The post-Derby training careers of Tom McGrath and Fil Allotta offer a more interesting contrast. A Derby winner can often give the necessary impetus to a battling trainer and promote him to the higher ranks, but in the case of the 55-year-old McGrath, Main Topic perhaps came along too late to make any real difference. The former champion jockey was fortunate in one respect, however. Just as Main Topic broke down in the spring of his five-year-old season and had to be retired, another top-class racehorse emerged from the stable in the shape of Abbeville, a gelding by the 1935 Caulfield Cup winner Palfresco. McGrath trained him for the leading bookmaker, Bill McDonald, who had also shared in the ownership of the great Winooka. Abbeville won the 1945 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap and then ran second in the same race to Blue Legend the following year while winning the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap in between. Alas, for McGrath the pickings were slim once Abbeville departed the scene and he was to endure a long period of indeterminate blight on metropolitan racecourses until Lord Stefan, again carrying the colours of Bill McDonald, won a graduation stakes in January 1953. In September 1954 it was McGrath who gave a youthful Les Bridge his first metropolitan winner as an apprentice jockey. McGrath continued to potter about with a few horses with indifferent success until he surrendered his training licence in the 1956-57 racing season, remaining one of the most popular men at Randwick to the very end.
Fil Allotta’s career might not have prospered as it did, had Hall Stand distinguished himself in Charlie McLoughlin’s hands. But Hall Stand’s remorseless catalogue of failures led sportsmen to question how Allotta ever managed to win any race with the son of Hall Mark, let alone see him go the post at 4/7 in a Derby. In time, many distinguished clients were to beat a path to Allotta’s door. One of the first was the leading bookmaker, Ken Ranger, who entrusted him with Cragsman. Bad legs prevented this son of Felcrag from realising his full potential, and his best performance came when runner-up behind Bernborough in the 1946 T.M. Ahern Quality Handicap. The winners continued to roll, and Allotta was to enjoy his most successful season to date in 1952-53 when he won the V.R.C. Newmarket with Cultured; and the Victoria Derby with Advocate. This success brought him the Western Australia galloper, Raconteur, whom he trained to win the 1953 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes. By now, Allotta’s clients included the likes of Denis Allen, Justice Dovey, Fred Batchelor and A.J.C. committeeman, Pat Osborne.
Allotta was in the full flush of success on that fateful day in April 1955 when he attended the William Inglis Yearling Sales at Newmarket. In the late afternoon sunshine, proceedings had almost drawn to a close when Allotta, acting on behalf of Pat Osborne, put in a bid of 1200-guineas for Lot No. 714, a chestnut filly by Star Kingdom out of Red Lace offered on account of K. Quinn. The youngster was from the second crop of the new wonder stallion, and, registered as Dark Jewel, she managed to win three races in Sydney in her first two seasons, along with six placings and £2,318 in stakes. Despite this satisfactory return, for reasons of his own, the ageing Osborne decided in May 1957 that Dark Jewel had fulfilled her racecourse potential and he had no wish to hold on to her as a broodmare. Allotta had always fancied the chestnut, and when she went through the auction ring a second time that month, the trainer bought her for 550 guineas, intending to breed her in partnership with one of his stable clients. The client that Allotta had in mind was none other than P. G. ‘Griff’ Tait and his wife, Daisy, long-time patrons who already had a rising two-year-old, In Love, showing distinct promise in Allotta’s yard. Griff Tait was the son of Peter Tait, for whom a youthful Fil Allotta had strapped Valiard all those years before in Frank Marsden’s stables.
The Tait family were graziers with an extensive property ‘Gobarralong’, near Jugiong, New South Wales and had long enjoyed an association with the Turf; their registered colours of ‘red jacket, white cap’ were already recognisable on Sydney racecourses. Griff Tait, however, despite his warm regard for Fil Allotta, wasn’t keen on a breeding partnership, but such was the trainer’s faith in the broodmare potential of this daughter of Star Kingdom that he persuaded Tait to buy her outright, with him getting the progeny to train. It was a faith that was to be amply justified in the years ahead. To a degree that would not be fully appreciated for the best part of fifteen years and more, Allotta and Tait had succeeded in trapping quicksilver; for Dark Jewel was to be the dam of eleven foals, ten of which raced, and nine were to win races.
The Taits sold the first two of Dark Jewel’s progeny, Gingerbread and Powella, but not before Allotta had won races with them; then came Heirloom, the first of Dark Jewel’s high-class progeny. Trained by Allotta, she shared a V.A.T.C. One Thousand Guineas and won a V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate among other races. In three successive years came Betelgeuse, Cabochon and Birthright – all by different stallions but all winners of principal races. Dark Jewel then missed one year and got the moderate Lucie Manette in the next, before dropping her finest to Rego the following year in Baguette, the first two-year-old to win Sydney’s triple crown of juvenile races, the S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes, AJC Sires Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes.
In the twilight of his training career, Fil Allotta, with his small but select team of racehorses, became almost a private trainer to the Tait family and the progeny of Dark Jewel. It was a tribute to Allotta’s patience and kindness with fillies that many of those that passed through his hands went on to become valuable matrons. Dark Jewel is but one example; Cultured was another. Fil Allotta trained Cultured – a speedy daughter of Newtown Wonder – for Lindsay Bell to win the 1951 Gimcrack Stakes at Randwick and two years later the mare won the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. At stud, she produced the smart juvenile Courteous, whom Allotta also trained for Bell, and she emulated her mother by winning the 1960 Gimcrack Stakes, as well as the V.A.T.C. Debutante Stakes in the same season.
Nor was Allotta’s kindness and professionalism restricted to bloodstock. Down the years he schooled a number of successful apprentices including John Lee, who won an Epsom Handicap on Hans, as well as Rex Bowdler and Kevin Gover; but Allotta’s most successful student was Stan Cassidy, who enjoyed great success in the saddle before his tragic death in a track fall at Randwick in July 1974. Allotta took Cassidy’s death badly, and it presaged a sad end to Allotta’s own life on the Turf as well. Just two years later at the Randwick Bank Holiday Meeting, he suffered a stroke that restricted him to a wheelchair for the last ten years of his life – a time that was rendered even emptier by the death of his beloved wife. Allotta surrendered his trainer’s licence in June 1976, although he continued to be a conspicuous presence at important Randwick meetings in later years. As Allotta looked back and reflected on the aggregate of rich and prestigious races won for his stable’s clients, he knew that he had enjoyed a far, far better life than he would have ever known had he remained working in the family’s fruit and vegetable business. It was a very sad day for the Australian Turf when this extraordinarily kind and compassionate soul finally slipped the bridle in October 1986; his famous stables, from which he had sent forth so many great racehorses down the years, were taken over by Tommy Smith soon after his death, only to be demolished to make way for ‘Bounding Away’ Lodge.