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George Hanlon

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Joined: 19 Feb 2007
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    Posted: 21 Oct 2014 at 6:07pm
The mention of Correct in another thread got me googling which led to this great article on a wonderful trainer Smile. Appropriate at this time of the year too Wink

George Hanlon went from delivering bread by horse cart in the Depression, to one of Australia's top trainers, writes Trevor Grant

  • Trevor Grant
  • Herald Sun
  • January 28, 2010 4:53PM

IN 2001, award-winning reporter Trevor Grant interviewed the then 84-year-old George Hanlon. This is his story.

GEORGE Hanlon was always brimming with the best intentions each morning when he clicked up the dozy old cart horse pulling his bread van and set off around the beachside streets of Glenelg in Adelaide.

As a young man still wearing the psychological imprint of a childhood lived through a depression, he was grateful to have a job, any job. Being the delivery man for the local bakery wasn't going to make him rich and famous, but, coming from a family of nine children, he accepted that there's a pecking order in life and everyone has got to start somewhere. Well, almost.

The problem was that the young Hanlon couldn't get a certain craving out of his system. He wanted to be a horse trainer. Desperately. Hanlon had grown up on a dairy farm near Willunga, 60km south of Adelaide. It taught him two things. To fend for himself and to hate milking cows. ``I often think how bad it might have been if I was still stuck on the farm with all those cows. It wasn't for me. I don't even have milk in my coffee,'' he says today.

It meant that Hanlon, who had fallen in love with horses when he would ride his pony to the store to fetch the groceries for his mother, would never be content on his bread van. The urge to pursue his innermost desires took him on the circuitous route around Glenelg, where he usually ended up at the stables of the master trainer of the day, Jim Cummings.

He'd leave his horse and cart in the street, knock on the door, and be shown through to the back, where he'd wait patiently for his daily audience with the man who trained, among others, Comic Court to victory in a host of Group 1 races, including the 1948 Victoria Derby and the 1950 Melbourne Cup.

Jim's son, Bart, was just a boy at the time, learning the ropes himself as a strapper. ``George would come in and talk to Dad for about an hour a day. I'd be sitting in the corner and listening. There would be a lot of people waiting for their bread for quite a while around Glenelg at the time,'' said the man who picked up enough knowledge along the way to go on to win 11 Melbourne Cups.

From his very early days, Hanlon saw that there was only way to reach his goal. He hadn't had the traditional upbringing of an aspiring trainer. He hadn't been an apprentice jockey who became too heavy. His sport of choice as a kid was boxing. Indeed, the first time he got his name in the newspaper was for winning a bantamweight contest, sponsored by the Adelaide News. ``I used to go all right,'' said Hanlon, who remains an avid follower of the sweet science.

He boxed ears for a shilling or two in the tents at local shows, his father milked cows and his brother, Fred, bet on the horses, later becoming a bookie and owner. But there was no family background in horsemanship to set him on his way.

Thus, he had to teach himself. And the only way to do that was to look, listen and learn from the best. He began by helping out around the stables of a few trainers. And he hung around the likes of Dan Moriarty, the legendary South Australian footballer who won three successive Magarey Medals in 1919-20-21 for best and fairest in the Adelaide league before going on to work with horses.

"He trialled horses at Morphettville. He was a great friend of Jim Cummings and he always took a great interest in us kids,'' Hanlon recalled this week. "I used to walk the track with him on race mornings. People think it's a pretty modern development, but I was walking tracks before it was ever thought of here.''

As he progressed ever so gradually, coming to Melbourne in the late 1940s and setting up a small stable at Mordialloc, near the Epsom track, his most valuable asset, in the absence of any stable stars, was his inquiring mind.
"He'd always be asking questions,'' recalled Jim Moloney, who trained alongside Hanlon for almost 30 years. ``He had a very good horse called Correct. But it had crook legs. George called everyone `Boy'. He would call you over and say, 'Boy, come and have a look at this horse. Look at that leg. It's a worry. What do you think?' ''

In those days long gone, when there was only one meeting a week to attend, Hanlon would keep up his education by heading off to point-to-point meetings and watching the horses. ``Everywhere he went he was learning all the time. He'd never miss a beat,'' said another Epsom veteran.

* * * *

HANLON, 84, is bobbing around in his four-wheel drive, providing a scenic tour of his expansive property at Leopold. A small, compact man, he sits as high as he can, craning his neck over the steering wheel. He is watching his Melbourne Cup hopes, Rain Gauge, Mr Prudent and Touch The Groom, like a hawk watches a hare.

On this 220-hectare stretch of land which has fences only on its boundaries, he drives a suitable distance behind the horses as they go through their paces. ``If the speedo is up to 40km/h, they are going at 15 (seconds) to the furlong. When it hits 60km/h, it's 12 to the furlong,'' he explains.

His eyes never stop darting from under his old cloth cap. Suddenly he hits the brakes and he pulls up to shout some advice to his two permanent track riders, Simone Zanoni and Rod Moore.

"I keep my mind on the horses all the time,'' Hanlon says. ``At the track all the trainers sit in the same little area drinking coffee. They are a long way from the action. They have to rely all the time on what the riders tell them. It's not my way. I'm hands-on.''

As well, he believes there are all kinds of other benefits to help their development as racing animals. ``Going up and down and around here, they learn to change legs. If you go the one way all the time on a track, the horse can't learn to change stride,'' he says.

As the horses bowl around this very different training academy, cantering across the hills and valleys, you are taken by the serenity of the place. There is nothing that can't be done in good time. Hanlon works them at a civilised hour, about 8am. If it's raining heavily, he'll send them out in the afternoon. There's always time to pick up the cat and pose for a picture, time to walk into the stables and look over the shoulder of the blacksmith, making sure he's doing things as precisely he wants. And time for a yarn.

Hanlon is proud of his property and his unorthodox training methods; proud that he took the bold step in the mid-1980s to shift from Epsom, where he had produced so many winners of big races, including three Melbourne Cups with Piping Lane (1972), Arwon (1978) and Black Knight (1984).

As Rain Gauge, winner of the Moonee Valley Gold Cup and now one of the more-fancied Melbourne Cup runners, completes his slow pace work, Hanlon points to him, noting his almost languid disposition. "It's better walking off the track here than having horses barging up behind you. You'd hardly know he's in work. He's not on his nerve at all. Get them off the nerve. Keep 'em happy. That's the key,'' says Hanlon, who appears pretty calm himself, given that Rain Gauge this week was at the centre of a very public family dispute, with son Gary, who once trained the horse, threatening to sue his father over the horse's transfer to the Leopold stables.

"This is sour grapes. He's dirty on the world,'' George says later.

* * * *

THE Leopold adventure began on the morning of the Cox Plate in 1977. Hanlon, who said he'd been thinking for some years about moving out of Epsom, had heard from a friend about the property being available at the right price because of a forced sale.

He looked at it and decided it was what he wanted. He arranged a mortgage with the bank, went to the auction at 11am on the following Saturday, made the successful bid, and went off to Moonee Valley rather pleased with himself.
Things just got better. His horse, Family of Man, won the Cox Plate, allowing Hanlon to call the bank on Monday to make some rather favorable adjustments to the mortgage. "The luck was with me,'' Hanlon said.

Luck has indeed, been with him many times, but there wasn't much of it around when he first came to Melbourne. It was 1947, he lived at a boarding house close to the Caulfield track, got around on a bike, and had one horse, a restricted galloper called Lourdes. The story goes that Hanlon had pulled off a bit of a coup with the horse in a race at Oakbank which gave him the confidence to move east. ``They say that after they collected they were pushing the money down into a gladstone bag with their feet,'' said one old friend.

Soon after, though, his fortunes dipped savagely at Ballarat. After another well-executed betting coup, the horse duly won. However, Hanlon inadvertently left a lead bag off when saddling-up. The horse weighed in light and was disqualified. "They had backed it for a stack. He was at his lowest point about then,'' said a fellow trainer.

The recovery was slow as he built up his stable with the help of his brother, who became one of his best clients. Fred was a bookmaker and punter who raced thoroughbreds and pacers. One of his most successful was Avian Derby, which won the 1952 Inter Dominion. ``Fred was in the top rank of fellas who knew how to get a quid,'' said veteran jumps trainer, Jim Houlahan, who has known Hanlon for the best part of half a century.

Fred was also a generous man, as Jim Moloney explained: ``Fred had just had a rotten day at the Warrnambool carnival. He ran into my dad, Gerry, and told him he'd done 12 grand. Dad had a horse running in the hurdle the next day and told Fred it had a good chance. It won, Fred backed it for a stack and gave my Dad a thousand pounds. He told him: `Gerry, you deserve it. You got me out.' ''

It took George a decade or more to train his way into the big money. It came when Correct won successive Newmarket Handicaps, in 1960-61. And as with so many of his horses, it was a mighty training feat. Correct had dodgy legs and won only a handful of races. Importantly, though, they were all top races varying from the Newmarket to the Victoria Handicap (1960) and a Werribee Cup (1961).

There are plenty of other examples of his ability to manage a horse's physical problems. He got Gnapur home to win an Adelaide Cup in 1969, and he kept Royal Snack going for a Sandown Cup win (1996), four successive Moe Cup victories (1993-96), and two placings in Hong Kong.

"He's a horseman. He reads horses so well. He knows what it wants when he sees it,'' Houlahan said.

Those who've worked for him over the years quickly realise there's only one way to do things around a Hanlon stable. "He wouldn't let a blacksmith put a nail in without him watching. He had some good blacksmiths, but George would show and teach them his way. It had to be done his way,'' said one former stablehand. ``On race mornings he'd have the horses done late. He'd make the float wait. The horses came first. If a horse was eating its tucker and a vet or blacksmith tried to attend to the horse, he'd say: `Don't you go in there while that horse has its head in the manger.' If the sun came out, he'd get the staff to get all the rugs off. He'd always say the best vitamins for horses was sunshine.

"It was a sin to do a horse up when there were droppings in the yard. You'd get your throat cut. Droppings had to be picked up straight away, and you never threw it out the back or side of the yard. It would create flies in the summer and that was a no-no around the horses' tucker.

"We'd have to go out at night in the freezing cold and and change the rugs. When horses were spelling he'd go over in the car and feed them oats and have their feet done. He'd always say: `When horses are on holiday they want to be looked after just as much.' Everything was for the horse. Every day.''

His speciality for a long time has been training stayers, one of which, the lightweight Rain Gauge, might just give him a fourth Melbourne Cup. And there's few who would be less surprised than the acknowledged master, Bart Cummings, and the three-times Cup-winning trainer, Lee Freedman.

"It's a bit of a knack and George has got it. He's always pretty accurate in getting them there as fit as they should be,'' Cummings said.

According to Freedman, Hanlon has another equally-precious ability. "Ever since I can remember, George has always placed his horses terrifically en route to the big ones. They always seem to end up in the right races with no weight on their backs. He's very astute,'' he said.

* * * *

AS MUCH as the horses benefit from the Hanlon methods, it's clearly kept him just as sprightly and content. Spend a day with him and you'll soon discover he's 84 going on 50.

As soon as he's done at the stables, it's off to the local swimming pool for his daily regimen of 10 laps. A young man of about 60 who's there most mornings, is clearly in awe of him. "George always says the secret to a long life is a few laps during the day and two stubbies and a glass of wine at night. It seems to work, doesn't it?''

When Hanlon crashed to the ground and cut his forehead before last year's Caulfield Cup people worried it was the sort of fall that might cause serious complications for such an elderly man. Hanlon's response, to the disapproval of medical staff, was to spring off the sick bay bed and hightail it to the mounting yard in time to watch his horse Diatribe win the cup.

"He's a tough old buzzard, don't worry,'' said fellow trainer Rick Hore-Lacy, one of many who can understand why retirement is not a word Hanlon understands.

"What else should he do? Go to sleep in a hammock each morning reading a book, or try to keep his mind exercised doing something he loves. I hope I'm still training in 20 years, like him.''

Hanlon is clearly not ready for the hammock, and may never be. ``I feel as fit as a fiddle,'' he says. "I don't reckon you could ask for a better way to live your life. Whenever I see Bart Cummings at the races, I tell him:'`This is better than driving that bloody bread cart, Bart.' ''

Experience is something you gain a few minutes after you could have used it!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Foxseal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Oct 2014 at 8:30pm
Great article.  A true master trainer of stayers.  Even Bart Cummings has declared George was his greatest opponent to winning major distance races.

Quite a few of his horses were favourites of mine as a kid in the 1980's, like AMARANT (Adelaide & Brissie Cup winner in 1983), BRONZE KNIGHT (half bro to Black Kinght) and IMA RED MAN (3rd behind Boncrusher in the 1987 Aust Cup).

Does anyone know what happened to George's son Gary Hanlon?  Is he still in the racing industry?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Munga Rangi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Oct 2014 at 9:27pm
Lovely story Gay.
Caveat emptor
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Go Flash Go Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Oct 2014 at 9:24am

Good times following George Hanlon's horses, Bronze Knight my goodness yes ! and On Our Selection - just a great name. Boardwalk Angel a rare two year old winner but his training of stayers was a delight to follow.

Still haven't found one to replace him - l don't think it's possible Heart
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