George Handy decided to go for bigger things, closing his stable at Lincoln Downs in Rhode Island to try his hand at Liberty Bell Racetrack in Philadelphia. It was 1970. Handy’s assistant, Ned Allard, figured he better leave too. Without a job and with just a $1,500 claimer, Handy allowed him to train on the side, Allard began to make plans to hit the road. But, Fleetness Rules was ready to run, the owner wanted to run, Allard got talked into staying to run him, just once.
He won. Then won again. Allard didn’t leave New England for 25 years.
“Every day I went back to the barn, there was a new owner there wanting to know if I would take some more horses,” Allard said. “It was a fairytale start.”
And the rest, well, the rest is history. Allard has ridden the wave, up and down from Lincoln Downs to Suffolk to Rockingham Park to Philadelphia Park to Delaware Park to the Meadowlands to Saratoga to Parx and back to Saratoga. The 48-year odyssey hit two of its highs at Saratoga when Allard won the Alabama with Mom’s Command in her championship season in 1985 and again Friday when hard-hitting sprinter Always Sunshine won the Tale Of The Cat Stakes.
“It’s been quite a drought from my last stakes victory at Saratoga, I think it was 33 years ago when Mom’s Command won up there, that’s a significant amount of time,” Allard said. “Saratoga was always a fun place but I haven’t had the stock to go up there for a long time, it was fun to come back and get the job done.”
Allard has been getting the job done since Nov. 20, 1970 when Charles Maffeo guided Fleetness Rules to win at Lincoln Downs. The next year, Allard trained 41 winners and has hit for at least 29 every year until 2013 when he slipped to 16. Allard’s big owners are gone, but he still plugs away, the consummate horseman. He has trained 2,691 winners.
“I’m 72 years old now, that’s not old, but it’s not young either. This one felt just as good as 33 years ago,” Allard said. “When I started training horses, I was hoping I could do as well as my ex boss George Handy and to enjoy the success I had in those days, it was a dream come true.”
Allard picked up owners and horses with alacrity to build a powerful New England stable and then a powerful East Coast stable. Peter Fuller added the most muscle, handing Allard the keys to homebred runners that included Fuller’s Folly, winner of the Seneca Handicap at Saratoga and of course, Mom’s Command, the best of the best. Fuller introduced Allard to John Costello who bolstered the ranks with the likes of 13-time winner Jacuzzi Boogie. Costello introduced Allard to Gilbert Campbell, who has sent Allard horses for decades, including Always Sunshine.
“If you get really lucky and you meet the right people, things happen, I guess no matter how good a horseman you are, if you don’t meet the right owners, you’re just considered a good horseman that never got lucky,” Allard said. “Once you’re given the chance to handle some better horses, if you’re not a good horseman, it makes it a lot more difficult and you don’t keep those kind of people. But if you win some races and get lucky for them, it happens.”
Allard knew he had gotten lucky when Fleetness Rules won and those owners began to loiter at his barn, filling stalls. He appreciated it. He valued it.
“I knew. Oh, I knew. I was just blessed. I’m smart enough to know that the horses make us, we don’t make them,” Allard said. “If we do get them, we’re just blessed trainers to have those kind of horses, whether you’re D. Wayne Lukas back in those days or Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown or Bob Baffert or whoever, we’re all just being blessed to be able to handle those kind of horses and those types of owners who are attracted to you to give you a shot to show off a little.”
No horse allowed Allard to show off like Mom’s Command. The Fuller homebred won 11 of 16 races, including the Acorn, Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama in 1985.
“Those kind of horses put you on the map,” Allard said. “She was relatively easy to train, they all have their quirks, she didn’t have many.”
In that magical 1985 season, the daughter of Top Command needed to stretch her stamina to 1 ½ miles in the CCA Oaks. Fuller worried.
“Do you really think this filly can go this far? Because Top Command, he’s a miler and that’s as good as the pedigree gets…” Fuller said.
Allard ended the doubt quickly.
“Pete, there is not a better filly in the country,” Allard said. “I can’t imagine anybody beating her.”
Twenty-three years later, Allard still marveled of the conviction that Mom’s Command instilled.
“To have that kind of confidence and feel that strong about a horse, that’s a very rare, a very rare thing to happen,” Allard said. “I never felt that way before or after. You’re always hoping you can win it, hoping you’re better than the rest, but you don’t go into too many races thinking, ‘Hey, there’s nobody in the country that can beat this horse.’ ”