Allan's giants of the turf

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 1995, 12:00am

IT was 1954. Never Say Die had just won a long, lean, ultra-competitive and hugely talented young English jockey his first Derby.

By his own admission another long, lean, lanky individual was dreaming of becoming a jockey and winning Derbys of his own though he was only 13.

No prizes for guessing that one was the legendary Lester Piggott and the other Ivan Allan who was to become the most famous racing personality that Asia has produced.

Allan, the schoolboy, soon had to recognise that he was going to be too heavy to ride.

But his training record doesn't read too badly. A Hong Kong championship in his second season following seven MRA championships, 10 Singapore Derbys, nine Singapore Gold Cups and 63 MRA Classics. He also won the 1989 Hong Kong Invitation Cup with Colonial Chief.

Yet it is his record as a buyer and owner that has established his worldwide reputation, even if he prefers the buzz of training a quality winner to owning one.

'I'm a trainer at heart over and above an owner,' he says.

Most notably, he snapped up New Zealand Derby and Guineas winner, Jolly Jake for a mere NZ$6,500 as a yearling and his English St Leger and triple Group One winner, Commanche Run, was a 9,000 guineas yearling bargain who was later syndicated for a cool GBP4 million.

'I caught the last bus,' says Allan, who syndicated Commanche Run just before the bloodstock market crash.

He has also bought and owned as yearlings the winners of the Group One VRC Oaks (My Tristram Belle) and his Group Three winner, Citidancer, was the top first-season sire in New Zealand.

His latest success story is Classic Cliche, the Salse colt who took this year's English St Leger having been bought by Allan for 80,000 Irish punts as a yearling and sold on to Sheik Mohammed.

But despite all this, Allan will always defer to one man. 'The Iceman' as he calls him and that man is Lester Piggott.

'I tell you this,' says Allan. 'That man really does have ice in his veins. In all the time I've known him, in all the big races he's won for me as a trainer or an owner, I will tell you one thing and one thing only.

'I have never, never ever seen him flustered. Never. And whenever he's ridden my horses I've never had a moment's anxiety.' Allan then thumps the table to illustrate his point. 'Not whatsoever!' Allan and Piggott were first introduced in 1972 when accomplished amateur rider, Don Donaldson, fixed up Piggott to ride Jumbo Jet for Allan in the inaugural running of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Singapore.

Her Majesty was there to present the prize. The best horse Allan has trained until Mr Vitality came along duly obliged under a consummate Piggott ride and a lifelong friendship was forged.

Allan credits Piggott with 'making' his St Leger winner, Commanche Run.

'But for Lester, Commanche wouldn't have won the Leger,' recalls Allan, who jocked off Darrell McHargue in favour of Piggott on the eve of the race.

'McHargue didn't want to ride Commanche the way he needed to be ridden to get the best out of him.' Piggott knew the horse well and not only won the St Leger but was on board for all his three Group One wins. He beat the fillies' Triple Crown winner Oh So Sharp in the Benson and Hedges at York and then whizzed home in the Phoenix Park Champion Stakes.

It was through Piggott that Allan met another racing legend and personal hero, the Irishman Vincent O'Brien who Allan agrees could lay claim to being the greatest.

'He was a total and utter perfectionist. To me, as a trainer Vincent was the ultimate and it was a great joy when he trained me a winner [Galana].

'I particularly remember going round his yard and Lester one day pointing out a two-year-old to me and saying 'look, that's the one Vincent and I are going to win all the Group One races with next year.' They did. He was The Minstrel.

'And despite all his success in every aspect of horse racing, Vincent was never flamboyant. He remained and always will be in my eyes, the perfect role model.

'He was the greatest quiet achiever - just like Lester.' Allan is fiercely loyal to Singapore where he trained from October 1964 until the early 90s. And he makes no bones of the fact that he has complete respect for the former Prime Minister and now Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who is another hero.

On the equine front, Allan is especially fond of two horses. One he trained himself and one, not surprisingly, represented O'Brien and Piggott.

Rampage was the turning point of Allan's training career. In an over-enthusiastic start to training, he had fired all his bullets. His equine ammunition had been rendered obsolete by the attention of the handicapper.

He hadn't trained a winner of any substance for some seven or eight months and was even contemplating a return to the legal profession (he had graduated in law from Singapore University).

He was rescued by Rampage who had needed his first run and then caught the eye flashing home the second time under his apprentice rider, who had his feet in the dashboards, and with 'a slipped saddle'.

Allan then set Rampage for a race in Penang. In the mid-sixties it was a day's drive from Singapore to Penang, particularly if you had to stop at Johore, Seremban and Kuala Lumpar on the way to cajole some rich and loyal friends to place their absolute maximum wager on your behalf on Rampage.

Allan's word is his bond. He admitted that if Rampage was beaten he would need a little time to pay them back but pay he would.

Then came the sting. The horses work at Penang from 5 am. At that time there were no lights, so early-comers gallop in the pitch-black dark.

That's why Allan gave his riding boy a black jacket to wear. Smart thinking. But Allan's even smarter than that. He also gave him a white one to wear underneath. When the gallop was over the instruction was to whip off the black jacket and come back wearing the white one.

It went a treat. Rampage worked for three days prior to the race and no one saw him. At least they thought they hadn't. The race itself was relatively simple. Allan told his apprentice to lead and don't look back. 'I'll tell you how far you've won,' he insisted.

Eye-witnesses say that Rampage scored by no less than 100 metres but for good measure the apprentice knocked down half the field coming out of the gates.

At the subsequent inquiry, he received a month's suspension but the presiding stipendiary steward deemed it 'quite unnecessary' to disqualify the horse. Legend has it that he was smiling almost as broadly as Allan, having also witnessed the saddle that slipped - or had it? 'They were hungry days,' laughs Allan.

O'Brien's Triple Crown winner Nijinsky so inspired Allan that he went to watch him run in the Arc only for Nijinsky's temperament as well as Sassafras to get the better of him.

'It was a dream shattered but if there was one horse in my lifetime who has really roused my imagination, it is Nijinsky and it is fitting that Vincent and Lester were connected with him,' Allan concludes.