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It can be a hard road following in the footsteps of a famous father but champion jockey George Moore told his son Gary he was proud of his achievements as a Gr-1 winning jockey and a trainer in Europe and Asia. Now settled in Sydney, Gary trained his first local Gr.1 winner when Takedown won the Winterbottom Stakes in Perth last November.
FOR half-a-century Gary Moore has been putting together an exceptional record as a jockey and a trainer. Ironically, for someone born and bred in Sydney into one of Australia’s most famous racing families, his major achievements until recently have been offshore.
His CV on the international stage includes seven Hong Kong Jockeys’ Championships, a French Jockeys’ Championship and eight Macau Training Premierships. He has also been aboard a winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the world’s premier horse race, and of numerous other Gr.1 events in France and a winner of an English classic as well as riding the winners of most of Hong Kong’s important races.
But Gary was 64 before he registered his initial Gr.1 success in his home country with Takedown in the WATC Winterbottom Stakes at Ascot on November 26 of last year. After spending most of the time since 1967 abroad he finally settled back in Sydney two-and-a-half years ago when the Australian Turf Club allocated him boxes at Rosehill.
In direct contrast to a stint in the late 1990s, when his first runner finished last, this time around his first runner, the Choisir filly Shengli, was a winner at Scone in August 2014. Not long afterwards Gary’s unbridled energy and enthusiasm was rewarded when Takedown began to fulfil the trainer’s aim of having a Group race-winning stable. He had been entered by Widden Stud for the 2014 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale but was withdrawn because he was so big, he now stands 17 hands and weighs 620kg, before Gary entered the picture.
“I bumped into Antony Thompson one day and reminded him that our families went way, way back,” he said. “I asked him whether he would give me a horse to train and he said he had a horse at Scone by Stratum but that he was tall and angular. I said ‘it doesn’t matter I’ll take anything’ and that’s how I got Takedown.”
Despite his size he quickly became a Group winner, taking the Canberra RC Black Opal Stakes-Gr.3 and ATC Baillieu Handicap-Gr.3 at two and the Gold Coast Guineas-Gr.3 the following season. As a spring four year-old Takedown captured the ATC The Shorts-Gr.2 and Premier Stakes-Gr.2 on his way to his win in the Winterbottom, where he was greeted by a dancing, running, arm-waving trainer as he returned to scale.
“I’ve had a lot of thrills in racing but that is one of the best I’ve ever had,” he said later. “My first Gr.1 in Australia with Tim Clarke riding Takedown like George Moore. It was fantastic.”
After a close-up sixth in the Hong Kong Sprint in December other overseas races could possibly beckon for Takedown. Before that the gelding will probably tackle the T.J. Smith Stakes-Gr.1 at the Randwick autumn carnival. Fittingly, that event honours the legendary mentor who had the most successful trainer-jockey association in the nation’s racing history with Gary’s father George.
After that could come the Chairman’s Sprint Trophy-HKGr.1 at Sha Tin on May 7 and then, if the owners agree and everything falls into place, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes-Gr.1 at Royal Ascot.
While the lure of international events remains an attractive proposition, Gary fully appreciates the strength of Australia’s racing industry.
“Although I had been overseas most of my life I had been planning to come back to Sydney for a while before I returned because the prize money is so good. I was a little worried because the first starter I had in Sydney as a trainer about 20 years ago ran last and my first runner in Macau failed to complete the course. But this time we had the start I had been hoping for and I believe it is going to be a matter of onwards and upwards from here on.”
The foundations for the exalted status Gary has attained were laid down as a five year-old when he began riding under his father’s supervision at Yarraman Park at Scone in the Hunter Valley.
“Dad owned the stud and bought us a couple of ponies and my elder brother John and I would ride them. We went to pony clubs and we’d chase cattle but Dad didn’t like us racing the ponies because he felt that was bad for them. In those early days we’d also go to the races with him.”
By the time he was in his early teens Gary’s career in racing was beginning to take shape. While a student at Cranbrook School, at Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, he began riding track work at Randwick on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. His father said later that he was a “bit disappointed Gary wanted to be a jockey because he had a good education and could have been anything.”
George remembered because of that he wouldn’t take his son to the track. “Gary didn’t care if we didn’t wake him,” George said. “He’d wake himself and by the time he was 13 he was taking a taxi to Randwick.” While George was lukewarm about his son’s career choice he agreed to trainer Harold Wilson using Gary on his topflight stayer General Command, who won the 1968 AJC Sydney Cup carrying 58.5kg. “They wanted to lighten the weight General Command carried in his track work so he used me the mornings I was there,” he said.
During his years at Cranbrook Gary showed promise as a swimmer and was coached by Olympic Gold Medallist John Konrads but turned his back on the sport when told it would make him too big to be a jockey. As the years went by his father relented and through his connections with the Head family Gary began his apprenticeship with revered trainer Alec Head at Chantilly in 1967.
“At that stage Dad was riding for Sir Noel Murless in England so he sent me over to France,” he said. It was not a particularly auspicious start, as from 25 rides he landed only two winners.
At the end of 1967 Gary returned to Australia and was indentured to Tommy Hill at Randwick.
He remained there until 1970 when Melbourne Cup winning jockey Ernie Fellows opened the way for Gary to become No.2 rider to Australian Bill Pyers in the stable of Maurice Zilber, who trained Dahlia to win many prestigious races including the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes twice.
“It was the first contract I had signed,” Gary said. “I was given $US5000 a year, plus a house and a car, which was marvellous.”
Not long afterwards his father ended his time as private trainer at Chantilly for Nelson Bunker Hunt and on the suggestion of John, who had been riding in the colony as an amateur, he moved to Hong Kong where racing had become professional in 1971.
John, who since receiving his licence in 1985 has been seven times Hong Kong champion trainer, became his father’s assistant trainer. With Gary joining them soon after, the Moore family had instant success.
In his initial season in 1972-73 Gary finished second with 26 winners to T.C. Cheng’s 31, even though an engagement to ride In France meant he missed the last five weeks of the racing year.
He won the first of his seven Hong Kong Jockeys’ Premierships the following season. Another milestone was notched up at Happy Valley on November 1, 1975 when Gary combined with his father to win five of the nine races, but remembers he “still received a blast” from George.
The next year he scored his first Gr.1 win in France when he landed Gravelines, by Cadman, for trainer Angel Penna in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville. The winning ways flowed along in Hong Kong too, with feature race victories including The Derby on Excalibur for his father in 1980 and on Flash of Gold the following year. Gary also won a host of races on horses such as Super Win, Silver Lining and Gilgit.
Along the way the association with the Head family continued, which resulted in a series of brilliant wins. Foremost of these, and rated “Number One” in his sparkling riding career, was capturing the 1981 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the Riverman four year-old Gold River. It was a race his father had won 22 years before for Alec Head on Prince Aly Khan’s Aureole horse Saint Crespin when he lodged a successful objection after dead heating with Midnight Sun.
Fortune favoured Gary even going into the Arc when Freddie Head was committed to the Swettenham Stud Syndicate’s Detroit before the decision was taken to run Gold River.
“Alec Head rang me and asked whether I would go over from Hong Kong to ride Gold River and naturally I said sure, even though she was a 99/1 chance. She drew gate 22 so I decided to jump slowly and went across the back of the field and found the fence.
“Once we settled I started getting right up along the inside. I pulled her out from behind the leaders coming into the straight and she just outstayed them. It was a fantastic thrill . . . the greatest I’ve had and there have been plenty of them.”
During his visits to France he also united with John Fellowes, the son of Ernie. They partnered in wins at the elite level with Escaline, by Arctic Tern, in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) at Chantilly in 1983 and with Seven Springs, by Irish River, in the Prix Robert Papin at Maissons-Laffitte in 1984. In 1986 he entered into a contract with Alec’s daughter Criquette Head, following her brother’s transfer to Francois Boutin’s stable.
“Boutin’s principal owner Stavros Niarchos made Freddie an offer he couldn’t refuse. Criquette understood her brother’s decision and with our families having a long connection she approached me with a retainer and I accepted her offer.”
That led to him riding for nine months of the year in Hong Kong and the other three months in France, which resulted in a series of important victories. These featured the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) on the outstanding Arctic Tern three year-old Bering in 1986. Among the others were an English 1000 Guineas and Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 1000 Guineas) in 1988 on Criquette’s Mr. Prospector filly Ravinella.
“I rate Bering as the best colt I rode and Ravinella as the best filly,” says Gary, who in 1987 became the one and only Australian jockey to win a French Jockeys’ Championship. “Although I was beaten on Bering one of my most treasured memories is to have ridden in, what I think, is the greatest Arc ever in 1986. That year the superior Lyphard horse Dancing Brave, ridden by Pat Eddery, won with me second and Triptych third.”
As the 1980s were ending Gary was found guilty of an infringement of the rules of racing, which led to him incurring a four-year disqualification. For more than a year he worked on nominations for Johnny Jones’s Walmac Stud in Kentucky during the era when the champion stallion Nureyev was holding court at the stud. He then did office work for the remainder of his time on the sidelines. Once his disqualification was completed he again joined his father who had moved to the then Portuguese enclave of Macau after being leading trainer in Hong Kong 11 times between 1973 and 1985.
“I rode for Dad for about a year-and-a-half in Macau,” he said. “Our best win together was in the Derby in 1996 with a horse called Winning Touch. Dad retired from training in 1997 and that’s when I decided to stop riding.
“It was when I first came back to Sydney and trained at Randwick. I recall Dad saying ‘they will eat you alive’, which they did because I couldn’t train. Fortunately I learned quickly but my heart was still in Asia, so after spending nearly three years in Sydney I decided to return to Macau to train.”
He arrived back in Macau for the 2001-02 season and in 2004-05 won the first of his eight Macau training championships. During 2004 he ventured to Dubai with the prolific winner Happy Pearl, an Australian-bred by Sri Pekan (USA), to win the Shahrazade Stakes at Nad Al Sheba. Another of his brightest memories came in 2010 when he trained the 100/l shot Viva Pronto, owned by Dr Stanley Ho, for an all-the-way win in the Hong Kong Macau Trophy at Sha Tin.
“That was my only winner as a trainer in Hong Kong and it was a great result for the Macau Jockey Club,” he said. “I’d won some of the biggest races in the world as a rider but that win was special for me. Beating my brother John into second place made it even more special. My brother had said prior to the race that Viva Pronto would lead only to fall in a hole with 100m to go, but he just kept going.”
It was a further testimony to his ability as a trainer, which his father had acknowledged in the weeks before he died, at 84, in January of 2008. “Dad said I had reached an echelon that I should be very proud of,” Gary said. “He told me I was as good a trainer as he had been and that meant everything to me.”
Gary is now confident the family’s legacy in Macau will continue through James, who is the third eldest of his six boys. James, who took over the Moore stables at Taipa racecourse, burst into the winners list in Macau in September 2014. His number of winners has been growing markedly ever since. Fittingly, he won the Autumn Trophy-MRCGr.2 in Macau on Winterbottom Stakes day.
Gary’s eldest son David accompanied Takedown to Hong Kong and looks after the stable’s horses when they are in Queensland while Nicholas is now pursuing other interests after being assistant trainer to his father in Macau. His fourth son Christopher is not showing much interest in racing at this stage while John, eight, and Charles, four, are both enrolled at The King’s School in Parramatta, but are too young to have their direction in life taking shape.
“I would like to think they will be interested in racing but only time will tell,” he said. “It would be great if they are.”
In the meantime everything is coming along quite nicely. With his stable limited to 30 boxes Gary does not have the numbers of the Weirs and Wallers of the training world but already his statistics are proving to be more than satisfactory as he has a winners-to-runners ratio of more than 16%.