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  /  Backstretch Buzz   /  Perfect Place: Allard Finds Peace, Success in Long Training Career

Perfect Place: Allard Finds Peace, Success in Long Training Career

Published: November 2021

Written by Vinnie Perrone

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Your father’s a renowned musician, your mother an accomplished oil painter. But you’re a kid moved more by a yawning summer in the cottage dad bought on Cobbetts Pond. There in the green, green wonder of southern New Hampshire, a stranger pulls up in a flashy orange car. Suddenly the music soars and colors burst without note or brushstroke.

A thing like this happens when you’re 10, and you see a horse on the hood of a Cadillac.

Not your typical chrome deal, either, but a painted jockey-ridden dazzler in orange-and-white silks. A reaching Thoroughbred aimed to run straight off the front of the El Dorado convertible.

Outside a cabin down the way, you help the stranger haul some stuff from the car trunk, ask what’s the deal with the horse up front. “You’d have to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to find that out,” the mystery man tells you.

You don’t even know his name, but his words seep restless. You rise before all the next morning, dress and sit in dew-licked darkness on the stranger’s front porch until booted footsteps draw close and the screen door creaks open.

“What possessed me to go sit on his doorstep the next day, I can’t tell you,” 75-year-old Ned Allard says, New England still tickling his words and his ways. “But he brought me out to the track that first day, and it was love at first sight.”

A rising sun turned Shangri-la aglow, George Handy’s racing stable at Rockingham Park, 1956. Handy asked the boy his age. “Fourteen,” Ned Allard answered.

And then the moment. Was this how his dad felt with a woodwind in his hands, his mom a paintbrush and palette? A leather strap worn smooth and hitched to a racehorse, a stroll through pillowy shedrow dirt at once harmonic and dissonant, hypnotic and fidgety, empowering and humbling. A sensation to taste and savor and taste some more.

“My parents thought it was kinda neat that, at that age, I wanted to do something as far as work was concerned,” Allard says. Their postscript: Whatever you do in life, do what you love.

A word from his folks, and Ned Allard found the racetrack an open lane. “I was bitten,” he says.

Sixty-five trackside years haven’t dulled the impression. From the days of discovery in sweet New England to his unplanned start as a trainer to his brassy work with Hall of Fame filly Mom’s Command to his nomadic course through the Mid-Atlantic to his sustaining touch with still-radiant 9-year-old Always Sunshine, Ned Allard can’t arrest the zest.

“Jumpin’ in the winner’s circle today feels as good as it did in 1970 when I won my first race at Lincoln Downs,” he says more than 2,700 victories later. “Then again, you get up at 3 o’clock every morning seven days a week, they think you’re crazy. And maybe they’re right.”
The trainer enters an open barn to unlock a racehorse and sometimes finds the key to lasting human friendships – so Allard joined with Peter Fuller, John Costello, Gilbert Campbell. “It’s amazing how it all came together,” he says.

Fuller, the free-wheeling son of a Mass­achusetts governor and congressman and second-generation Boston car dealer, made national headlines after homebred Dancer’s Image won the 1968 Kentucky Derby for trainer Lou Cavalaris, then had it stripped on a disputed Bute overage. Sixteen years later, Fuller and Allard issued Mom’s Command, whose magical 1985 campaign neither horse nor man could overturn.

Through Fuller, Allard met Costello and won 13 races with the Lowell Sun publisher’s Jacuzzi Boogie. Costello brought in developer Campbell, who raced Always Sunshine and teamed with Allard for scores of stakes winners across five decades before he died Sept. 16 at age 91. Allard says Gil’s wife, Marilyn, has pledged to keep most of their racers racing and broodmares breeding.

These flourishing alliances grew from Cobbetts Pond southward. Joseph Allard, Ned’s virtuosic father, knew Costello and Campbell from the Vesper Country Club, near Lowell, on the Merrimack River in Tyngsborough, Mass. Ned isn’t sure, but he thinks Gil’s father probably built the family’s $4,500 vacation cabin and blocs of others about the pond.

Handy sought it for easy access to Rockingham Park and got an unexpected stablehand. Ned Allard tromped a path to Handy’s porch every morning until the summer of ’56 retired and The Rock stopped rolling. Handy got in his mean machine then and joined his horses at Rhode Island’s Lincoln Downs; the Allards returned to Tenafly, N.J.

Ned began fifth grade horseless and humdrum. Here and there in the family home hung portraits and landscapes his mom, Ann, had painted. Dad Joe traveled a lot, like he had in the days he mentored Stan Getz and coached the saxophone sections for Glenn Miller’s and Benny Goodman’s orchestras. Now, when he wasn’t on TV or radio performing with Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra, he taught clarinet and sax at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Joe Allard exposed his four kids to song and instruments without pressure. Son Ronald became a professional jazz saxophonist and clarinetist. Younger son Ned lacked the ear and interest despite the effort. “I can play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on every instrument imaginable,” he says.

Clarinet, sax, piano: None brought Ned Allard the sensation of a horse on a lead shank. Not even the drums. The rhythmic thrum of hoofbeats, he thought: Now that’s percussion.

On paper or not, Joe Allard knew the score. “He used to love to tell people he played the clarinet,” Ned says, “and his son played the horses.”

The family returned to Cobbetts Pond each summer, and Ned to Handy’s wonderland. Years later, still a teen, Allard became Handy’s assistant and worked the circuit: Rhode Island’s Lincoln Downs or Narragansett Park in the fall, Maryland’s Bowie Race Course in winter, New York’s Aqueduct for a few weeks on the trip north, Massachusetts’ Suffolk Downs in the spring, then back to The Rock. As for high school, Allard says, “I graduated from the George Handy School of Hard Knocks.”

Handy skillfully managed a diverse stable of claimers and better and an eclectic clientele as well, Allard says; he watched and learned how to coax the good from horses and people. By 1970, when the head trainer sought richer means with a crack at Pennsylvania, Allard readied to go along and cowrite the new chapter. Then the plot twisted.

With Handy’s blessing, 24-year-old Allard had started training $1,500 claimer Fleetness Rules on the side, a task more tantalizing than tangible. Fleetness Rules had spent much of 1970 rehabbing and neared a racing return that fall as Handy meant to leave Lincoln. Committed to the move, Allard pledged to find a trainer for Fleetness Rules.

The owner bristled.

“What are you talkin’ about? You’ve had the horse all year,” he challenged his young trainer. “Run him at least one time anyway.”

And so Allard did. Fleetness Rules won his revival.

“I still was gonna give him to somebody else to get the hell outta Lincoln Downs, and the horse won again,” Allard says. “And every time I went back to the barn, it seemed like there was another owner standin’ there, sayin’, ‘Geez, Ned – I’d like to give you a few horses.’ ”

Handy left. Allard stayed and made a run at the Lincoln Downs training title without formally requesting stalls. “I’ll never forget [racing secretary] Ted Dooley calling me in and congratulating me on a wonderful meet,” Allard says. Of course, like that owner, Dooley offered up a question about the future. “Do you know anything about a stall application?”

And that was Allard’s start as a trainer.

The gift of altered plans: Devotion to a bottom-level claimer kept Allard planted, gave him access to Campbell, Costello and Fuller, thus Mom’s Command; later Charlie Matses, Phillip Torsney, Millicent Johnsen.

In the fall of ’81, Fuller homebred Shananie found Allard’s barn and later won two stakes. The following June, Campbell entered the fray by spending $14,000 on 4-year-old maiden Ski Resort from a Horses of Racing Age sale at Belmont Park. Allard had gotten a line on the colt through Rick Violette, who’d galloped for Ned before moving to New York.

“He’s a really nice horse,” Allard recalls the tout, “who needs some special attention to his rear end.”

He often showed that side to rivals, winning his first three starts for Allard and Campbell and 13 races total, feats eventually obscured by a chestnut filly down the shedrow. Fuller had horses in New York with Bobby Lake, in Maryland with Odie Clelland, but fed a pipeline of racing promise into Allard’s New England stables. Along came homebred Mom’s Command, by Top Command out of the Pia Star-sired Star Mommy, twice a winner.

That Mom’s Command debuted in Rockingham’s Faneuil Miss Stakes that summer of 1984 owed more to opportunity than belief, Allard says. They’d planned to start the 2-year-old in a maiden special weight but detoured after jockey Abby Fuller, the owner’s daughter, began serving a suspension.

“Abby was getting on horses for me and starting to ride a lot,” Allard says. “And then Mom’s Command’s half-sister [Mom’s Ice Cream, by Far North] was selling in Kentucky.”

Fuller being Fuller, he aimed high.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could get some black type for this filly? It would really help her sister sell,” he told Allard.

“Black type?” Allard replied. “We haven’t even run her yet.”

“Well, they’ve got that little stake at Rockingham. Why don’t we consider that?”

Mom’s Command waited for Abby but otherwise hurried. She won her debut (at 44-1) and a Suffolk Downs stakes in her follow-up, and cued her handlers to aim higher. Mom’s Ice Cream sold for $90,000, but never raced.

The rise of Mom’s Command illuminated Fuller’s nonconformist ways. Born into wealth, he’d embraced philanthropy: Three days after Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination, Fuller sent Dancer’s Image to Bowie and donated the winning Governor’s Cup purse to widow Coretta Scott King; Fuller also established youth sports and education programs in Boston and elsewhere. A sickly child, he became a high school wrestler, later an amateur boxing champ. And as Mom’s Command became a serious racehorse fit to find any high-powered stable, the loyal Fuller entertained none of it. Mom’s Command made graded-stakes trips to New York, Maryland and California the balance of her rookie season, leaving each time from Allard’s New England quarters.

Maryland’s Donald Barr, a native New Englander training there in the mid-’80s, says her ascent redefined the possibilities for him and other horsemen. The filly brought them more than pride, Barr says; it gave them hope.

He adds: “Very few horses in New England were able to leave and win a graded stakes. We had good horses in New England, but they came to New England . . . You look back then, they didn’t have any colts like her. She happened to be a filly, but she was the best horse in New England.”

As Mom’s Command roared into her 3-year-old season, a strangeness teased Allard’s words: bravado. Sure she’d won the 1-mile Acorn-G1, the turf scribes granted, but a New York filly Triple Crown winner must next confront the 11⁄8-mile Mother Goose-G1 and then the 1 1/2-mile Coaching Club American Oaks-G1. Mom’s Command’s sire, Top Command, preferred a mile. What kind of conveyance would she need to get those trips?

Allard laughed as if he knew.

“I had never had the feeling before, and I haven’t had it since,” he says. “But when she started going long, she was so dominant with such ease, I couldn’t imagine a 3-year-old filly in the country that could beat her.”

Mom’s Command won the Mother Goose and the CCA Oaks to complete the sweep. And tacked on Saratoga’s 1 1/4-mile Alabama-G1. She won seven of nine starts that year, was second in the other two and won the 3-year-old filly championship over future Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret. Mom’s Command’s racing legacy: 16-11-2-1, $902,972.

Seventy-five-year-old Ned Allard says he would not have changed the way 39-year-old Ned Allard trained the filly, with one possible exception.

“When we stopped on her, the offers were tremendous from people that wanted to buy her,” he says. “And there really was no reason why she couldn’t have come back and run as a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old because, relatively, she was really a very sound horse. But insurance was through the roof, and Peter wanted to insure her for a lot of money. And, back then, you almost couldn’t even earn enough money to pay her insurance rate.”

Fuller sold a half-interest in Mom’s Command to New York-based Jayeff B Stable for $4 million as part of an alternate-year foal-keeping agreement. Of the mare’s 15 foals, Jayeff B auctioned for $27,000 the yearling that became her lone stakes winner, Jonesboro (by Sefapiano).
After Mom’s Command turned to motherhood at Fuller’s Runnymede Farm in North Hampton, N.H., Campbell and Allard too diversified. In 1988, Campbell bought Waldemar Farm in Williston, Fla., renamed it Stonehedge Farm South and started breeding almost exclusively in Florida. Two years later, Allard left New England for Philadelphia Park and closer access to richer offerings. The move paid off: From 1990 to 2016, his horses won 85 stakes.

Campbell provided most of the big shots: Friel’s for Real took the Grade 3 Pimlico Breeders’ Cup Distaff Handicap and five other stakes. Pleasant Dilemma, Ask Shananie and Von Groovey won multiple stakes. And Marilyn’s Madness delivered the connections four repeat stakes winners herself: Magical Madness and Touched by Madness (both by Sword Dance-Ire), Unreal Madness (Unreal Zeal) and Sejm’s Madness (Sejm). Sired by Shananie, Fuller’s onetime stakes hero, Marilyn’s Madness bridged Allard’s allegiances to his New England comrades.

With his Florida deployment, Campbell started racing more of his horses there (primarily with trainer Kathleen O’Connell) to take advantage of state-bred bonuses, a change Allard understood and endorsed. Where Campbell-owned runners routinely occupied more than a dozen Allard stalls, they numbered about five of his 18 at Delaware Park by September’s end.

One, homebred Always Sunshine (West Acre—Sunny Again, by Awesome Again), reached Allard in 2015, debuted in the rain at Parx and made a splash at 5 furlongs, winning in 58.44 seconds. Later that 3-year-old season, he took the Dave’s Friend at Laurel Park, then Pimlico’s Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap at 4, Saratoga’s Tale of the Cat and one other stakes at 6, Mountaineer’s Sen. Robert C. Byrd Memorial at 7.

The Byrd marked his 30th start. Possibly, the stable considered, his last. Always Sunshine developed “minor” issues, Allard says, the kind that become magnified in an older horse. Absent a roadmap to resumption, the horse went raceless in 2020.

“You weren’t sure what you were bringing him back for,” Allard says. “You just had to train him to see what kind of horse you had when you brought him back. And he was actin’ like a 3-year-old, never mind a 9-year-old.”

Always Sunshine resumed by winning a Laurel Park optional claimer sprint in January 2021.

“As a colt, up until he was 5, he could be a little obnoxious and a little headstrong,” Allard says. “He was all a young man. And then we cut him a little late in life . . . and he’s like an old lead pony. Nothin’ bothers him. He’s just quiet, relaxed, like a little old man that still has a young man in him.”

Second and third in two stakes tries since, Always Sunshine had hit the board in his first seven starts of 2021, defying age and circumstance: The non-sweater won back-to-back in July and August as he and Allard managed ways to beat the heat. Then came an October hiccup, when he whacked the starting gate at Belmont Park, rushed into contention and faded, which did nothing to sully his overall record (38-14-6-7, $777,900) or Allard’s admiration.

“He’s just been a real joy all year,” the trainer says.

Even now, a thirst for work whets Allard’s words, expressions, movements. He’s found familiar comfort at Delaware Park, the way he found it most anywhere the call has taken him. He owned a home once, decades ago, in Winthrop, Mass., before he went to Rocketts Mill Farm in Doswell, Va., to check on Mom’s Com­mand and other horses being broken for Fuller and Campbell. There he met Mary Catherine Dapanicis, a Virginia Tech graduate and crackerjack show rider who became his wife, and more, 32 years ago.
“My assistant and my right hand,” Allard says. “She’s a great gal and a hard worker.”

Of their perfectly footloose life as Wilming­ton, Del., renters, he says, “Since we moved down here, we always felt like this might not be the last place we’re gonna be. So you’ve got the gypsy in you. You’ve gotta go where your horses fit. So it’s really difficult to try to settle down, and then the next thing you know, you’ve got to move.”

That’s how the old-timers operated, guys like Handy who found a distinctive rhythm to the seasons judged more by racetrack than climate. Allard says Handy hasn’t lost his spunk at 98: He recently phoned congratulations to his old protege on another winner, saying, “Musta been amateur day.”

The times they had, Allard says. Which reminds him . . .

He’s at Bowie one December with Handy, early 1960s, meets a young racetracker he likes a lot. She invites him over for supper with her family, asks Ned during dinner about his parents. He gives them the story about his dad and his work with Toscanini, says if they want to see him, coincidentally, they can watch NBC’s Bell Telephone Hour at 7. Tacitly, he knows “The Nutcracker Suite” awaits, and his father’s bass-clarinet solo.

Sensing the girl’s father’s disregard for racetrack doings, Ned thinks his dad’s artistic prowess will help gain him currency. The moment comes. The camera spotlights but does not identify Joe Allard.

“There he is,” Ned pronounces with a pointed finger. “There’s my dad.” “That’s it!” the girl’s father exclaims. “I’ve heard enough! He’s so full o’ sh–, this guy!”

Ned finishes the tale: “He kicked me outta the house.”

He and the young woman went into the backyard, he says, climbed aboard ponies, rode back to Bowie and made separate tracks thereafter.

He laughs too at the prospect of retirement, saying, “I used to tell Peter [Fuller], ‘If I ever retire, it’ll be fun to have a few horses to train.’ ” The work and the road still enthrall him. One week in June, he drove from Delaware to Pimlico and back on a Saturday (142 miles roundtrip), to Parx and back on a Monday (114 miles), to Belmont Park and back on a Thursday (292 miles).

“Wherever they go,” he says, “I’ll be there to saddle ’em.”

Not in any hood-adorned dazzler, either, but a plain silver Hyundai aiming straight for Shangri-la.