This is a photo supplied by long-standing Armidale resident Naomi Wood of her late father, a then apprentice jockey, Jack Baker, winning a race on 27/4/1929 in Sydney. It was the horse's first race win. Racing as Phar Lap he went on to become a legend in Australian thoroughbred racing. Somewhat amazingly, upon his retirement, a jockey that had won on him, Jim Munro, didn't name Phar Lap as the best horse he ever rode. So what horse did he rate better than Phar Lap? The answer is in the associated text.
Today would seem like a good time to go back and have a look at the life and times of some trainers, jockeys and horses that helped shape the racing industry in Australia in a bygone era, so here are a few interesting stories - all rolled into one - that I came up with.
Fil Allotta retired as a trainer in 1975 aged 74 after he suffered a stroke.
In his earlier life Fil Allotta was a jockey, apprenticed to leading Randwick trainer Frank Marsden. In his riding career, the best horse Allotta rode was the top mare Furious and she won at Rosehill in March 1923 carrying 10 stone 1 pound (64kgs).
Riding at Grafton one Carnival time and being outed for a month, Allotta, sick of living on the breadline, decided to become a trainer.
Along the way Fil Allotta had met a produce merchant named Jim Reed and Reed finished up buying horses and entrusting them to Allotta who hit the headlines in 1942 when he trained Hall Stand, a son of 1933 Melbourne Cup winner Hall Mark, to win the Sires’ Produce first-up from a spell. Hall Stand also won the Hobartville Stakes at Rosehill by five lengths and the Rosehill Guineas by six lengths, before the colt got beaten by five lengths at 7/4 on into second place in the AJC Derby when ridden by Billy Cook. Main Topic, a 4/1 chance ridden by Darby Munro beat the odds-on favourite pointlessly.
In later life Fil Allotta trained many top gallopers the likes of Baguette (Breeders’ Plate, Silver Slipper, Champagne Stakes, Sires’ Produce Stakes, Golden Slipper, Maribyrnong Plate, George Main Stakes, Doomben 10,000, Booroolong Handicap, Canterbury Stakes, Hill Stakes and Newmarket Handicap), Cabochon (Epsom, Stradbroke, Theo Marks Quality, Canterbury Stakes, Booroolong Handicap and J.T. Delaney Quality Handicap), Heirloom (Maryibyrnong Plate, Widden Stakes, Mimosa Stakes, Reginald Allen Quality and One Thousand Guineas), Birthright (Maribyrnong Plate), Courteous (Gimcrack Stakes and Debutante Stakes), Cultured (Gimcrack Stakes and Newmarket Handicap) and In Love (Doomben 10,000 and Theo Marks Quality Handicap).
In late 1984, jockey Mick Dittman, who to that point had ridden Red Anchor for five wins from five starts, was asked to compare the 3YO colt with other top class 3YO’s that he’d ridden of the ilk of Grosvenor, Sovereign Red, Scomeld, Analie, Deck The Halls and Denise’s Joy. Dittman replied, “Red Anchor is as good as any horse I have ever ridden and he’s certainly the best 3YO I have ever ridden. Red Anchor is the perfect racehorse. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He has the ideal temperament. I thought Grosvenor was the best tempered horse I’d ever ridden, but Red Anchor is even quieter. Nothing upsets him. In a race he can stop-and-start without pulling. The Cox Plate was the only time I had to give him a few around the tail as the speed was on from the middle stages. He won by three-quarters of a length. There was no point in pushing him out and yet he still won in record time”.
In his racing career Red Anchor won nine of his 14 starts, including four Group 1’s, namely the Champagne Stakes at Randwick in Sydney and the Caulfield Guineas, Victoria Derby and Cox Plate in Melbourne - and he was retired to stud after he’d won six of six starts as a 3YO.
Originally going to stud at high profile Baramul Stud in the Widden Valley in New South Wales for a “service fee on application”, Red Anchor finished up seeing out his days at Raheen Stud at Warwick for a paltry $1,500 service fee.
The champion on the racetrack, like so many before and after him, failed to produce any horse with near his ability. In fact the only Group 1 performer he ever produced was Navy Seal, which won just one Group 1 race, the 1994 Epsom Handicap. Red Anchor finished up producing about 65% winners-to-runners and had a stakeswinners-to-runners ratio of about 2%. In the end, in the breeding barn, his grandmother Red Robe probably came back to haunt him, as in the 10 foals she produced, not one won a black type race. And Red Anchor’s mother, Decoy Girl, didn’t help his cause either, as whilst she had 11 to race for nine individual winners, which was certainly creditworthy, only Red Anchor and Red Anchor’s full brother Rough Seas (won the Listed Bagot Handicap in Melbourne) were capable of winning a black type race.
As a 17YO apprentice jockey, Jim Munro, won the 1922 Sydney Cup on a horse called Prince Charles. In that same season he ran second in the overall Sydney jockey premiership with 51 wins. Imagine given the number of race meetings we have today how many “city winners” Jim Munro could have ridden whilst he was an apprentice?
Jim Munro was believed by many to be a superior jockey to David Hugh Munro (call me Darby) who was eight years younger.
Jim Munro was apprenticed to his trainer father Hugh, who trained the champion mare Wakeful, as well as 1901 Melbourne Cup winner Revenue.
In the 1920’s when he was aged between 17 and 25, Jim Munro rode such champions as Amounis, Chatham and Phar Lap.
Jim Munro’s brother, Darby, rode his first winner in May of 1927, two months after his fourteenth birthday. In his lifetime, Darby Munro was associated with such racetrack stars as Peter Pan, Hydrogen, Shannon, Beau Vite, Russia, Tranquil Star, Gallant Archer, San Domenico and Lough Neagh.
Apart from riding in Australia, Jim Munro at various times also rode in Germany and India and unfortunately had constant weight problems throughout his career as a jockey.
Jim Munro set up his own stables as a trainer at age 32.
During their riding combined careers the Munro brothers won 250 feature races of the Australian turf, with Jim winning 67 and Darby 183 in his much longer career in the saddle.
In a statement that surely would have shocked many Australians at the time, upon his retirement, Jim Munro named the German galloper Alba, which he was unbeaten on in six rides - and not Phar Lap - as the best galloper that he ever rode. Alba’s wins for Munro included the German Derby at Hamburg and the Grand Prix at Baden Baden, this latter race being the same race that was won by globe-trotting Aussie champ Strawberry Road in 1984.
Darby Munro died aged 54 in April 1966. Jim Munro died of a heart attack in July 1974 aged 69.