Steve Moran

‘Maybe it was crazy training so young, but I just went with the flow’

Retired trainer Joe Hall is the patriarch of an immediate and extended family which has had an enormous influence on racing, plus he’s been a mentor and father figure to many beyond his kin.

The breadth of the family’s influence is best kept simple by way of introduction. 

Hall, 82, and still living close to the Morphettville racecourse and the stables now occupied by Stuart Gower, which housed his famous “Joe’s Bar”, had six brothers and two sisters which created the stretch of the family’s impact. His father Robert (Bob) had trained and ridden jumpers including Arum, who won 12 hurdle races. 

His brother Ron (R.R. J. Hall) was champion jumps jockey in Victoria in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1953. His sons Ron and Greg then made their mark. Ron junior (R.J. Hall) was champions jumps jockey in 1973 and continues in his role as Racing Victoria’s Jockey Wellbeing and Safety Officer. His son Vincent rode more than 400 winners. 

Gregory Michael Hall rode 49 Group 1 winners including three of the four holy grails – Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate and Golden Slipper. The other – the Caulfield Cup – was won twice by his son Nicholas, who landed nine Group 1s in a truncated career. 

Joe, of course, is the father of David, who trained Makybe Diva (Desert King) to the first of her three Melbourne Cup wins before relinquishing that role when he moved to Hong Kong, where he is still training successfully. It’s often said that David, at one point, trained the world’s best stayer, sprinter and jumper in Makybe Diva, Silent Witness (El Moxie) and Karasi. 

Brothers Brian, Bob and Max also rode at various stages, as did Joe. Brian (B.V. Hall) was a “gun” apprentice in his time and won the 1955 Adelaide Cup on Storm Glow. His son Robert “rode for a while” according to Joe. “Brian and the great Geoff Lane were the two star apprentices of the time but Brian got heavy,” recalls Ron junior. 

His sisters Noreen and Gwen married jumps jockeys. Noreen was married to Cliff Bickham who, somewhat famously, won the Von Doussa and Great Eastern Steeplechases at Oakbank in 1952 on the Kevin Lafferty-trained Royal Pentzia. They led throughout to win by 25 lengths. 

Bickham, who had not won a race in Adelaide for 15 months, went to Oakbank on the Saturday without a ride but picked up the mount on Royal Pentzia when Keith Denham couldn’t make the weight. Bickham also won the 1947 VRC Grand National Steeplechase and Brierly Steeplechase on Formidable. 

Gwen married Kevin Callaghan, who made the news when he “fell” twice in a hurdle race at Geelong in 1955. His mount fell, when leading, near the winning post the first time around; he was placed in the ambulance which then rolled when it hit some loose ground while again pursuing the field. Kevin and Gwen’s son Danny also rode. 

Family aside, Joe Hall tutored many others in racing including apprentices Glen Dorol, Chris Symons and Jon O’Connor, who remain close to the “boss”. Other young riders to go through the Hall stable were Ricky Barone, Jarrod Marks, Dean Cleaver, Jason Lyon and Kane Newsham. Not to mention now successful trainer Phillip Stokes, with whom he has a share in a couple of horses, and his long time assistant Paul Shepherdson.

“He was the boss back then when I started at 15 years of age and I still call him boss now,” said Dorol, “and I was bloody petrified of him when I was a kid. He was very strict but I respected him and still do.”

Symons echoes those thoughts. “He was strict and tough. You couldn’t go to the milk bar without his permission but he looked after me like I was his own and the whole family made me feel like I was part of their family,” he said, referring to Joe’s wife Polly and daughters Jane and Mandy and to David to whom he’d been apprenticed in Melbourne. 

If Joe Hall was a hard task-master, that is no surprise given his upbringing. He spent five years in an orphanage after his mother fell seriously ill. With his father unable to manage work and nine children, the two youngest, Joe and Brian, were sent to St Joseph’s boys home in Ballarat. “I remember that time well, I had plenty of the strap. You’d hold your hand out and if you let it drop to lessen the blow then you’d get another,” he said. 

At just 13, he was sent to work at the Widgiewa Station in the central Riverina. “I was just a kid. I fell asleep on the train and went through to Narrandera, which was about 40 miles further down the line. I was a bit concerned but an old woman said I could stay the night at the pub and I went to the station the next morning.

“The station was owned by Otway Falkiner. He was a member of parliament and it was a big-time operation. I worked as a station hand. It was tough and I didn’t get paid much but I loved it and stayed there for five years. I enjoyed my young life once I got out of the orphanage,” he said. 

Six months after arriving he was riding at the bush tracks, in the area, on Saturdays and public holidays. “Did you ride any winners?,” I sheepishly asked. “Of course I did, was there ever a Hall who didn’t ride a winner?,” he replied. 

His riding skills would be later honed with a move to Adelaide and an apprenticeship with brother Ron who’d moved from Melbourne. “I rode 25 winners in my first six months and finished up running second to Jim Courtney in the apprentice’s title,” he said. 

He was competing against such household names as Pat Glennon, Billy Pyers, Des Coleman, Jim Johnson and Courtney. “Glennon was amazing. He’d pinch two lengths out of the barriers while the rest of us were organising our reins. 

“As I say, I did very well for about six months but it didn’t get much better after that. I stuck it out until I was 21 before getting a trainer’s licence which was pretty automatic, in those days, if you’d been riding,” he said. 

He immediately spent the 2500 pounds from his apprenticeship fund on a truck and horse feed and stable rent despite having, that same year, married Polly (Pauline). “I rented at Glenelg, behind the school and brother Ray was my first owner. I started with six horses and won with the first couple we sent to the races. Stone Of Destiny was one and Abdication the other, winning the Fulham Park Plate with Georgie Hall – who was no relation – aboard.

“Maybe it was crazy training so young, but I just went with the flow. It seemed like the natural thing to do. I learned everything I knew about training from brother Ron,” he said. 

He took to it well, remaining one of the most successful and respected trainers over the next four decades in Adelaide, which at one time, or another, then was home to Bart Cummings, Colin Hayes, John Hawkes, George Hanlon, Leon Macdonald, Mick Armfield, Bill Smart, Grahame Heagney, Tom Jenner and other training luminaries. It was a glorious era of South Australian racing. 

Hall more than held his own. He finished second one year, in the premiership, to the leviathan Hayes and trained many a good horse. He prepared Regal Jester (Sovereign Plea) to win the 1978 South Australian Derby – beating the Hayes-trained champion Dulcify (Decies). He was ridden by John Murray, who rode many winners for Hall. 

Regal Jester later ran third in the Western Australian Derby but Hall then lost the horse to George Hanlon. 

He prepared Oenjay Star (Royal Yacht), who was unbeaten at two and won nine races including the SAJC Lightning Stakes twice and was runner-up to Manikato (Manihi) in the 1979 Freeway Stakes at Moonee Valley. 

A year earlier, Hall won the VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes with Pacifica (Red God), who beat Karaman (Karayar). Both horses had the misfortune to be born in the same year as Manikato and Dulcify. Karaman went on to win the AJC Sires’ Produce but was twice denied major races wins by both Manikato and Dulcify (including the Caulfield Guineas in which his rider Garry Murphy protested unsuccessfully against Manikato). 

Hall trained many horses for Makybe Diva’s owner Tony Santic and they included Smytzer’s Rivalry (Made Of Gold), who won the 1999 SAJC Sires’ Produce Stakes and 1999 Morphettville Guineas – ridden by Dorol. In the Sires, she beat later Caulfield Cup winner Diatribe (Brief Truce). 

He trained the multiple Group 2 winner Royal Code (King’s Theatre) to win on debut in Adelaide before being transferred to Melbourne and son David and won the 1991 SAJC Dequetteville Stakes with She’s A Pipe Dream (Jackson Square). 

Dorol can rattle off a list of several other good horses to emerge from the stable, including the one who might have been anything – Shady Road (Prince Echo). He won his maiden by 13 lengths and ran two seconds faster than the next best 1200-metre winner on the card at his second start at Strathalbyn in August 2000. 

“He was very good,” Dorol recalled, “but he bowed a tendon after that race and despite numerous attempts from Joe, and later by David, he couldn’t get back to the track. 

“He had his first start at Cheltenham on the last day of the previous season. I said to Joe we should run him in the Dermody Sakes, the weight-for-age race for two and three year-olds, that’s how good he was, but Joe opted for the two-year-old race. Unfortunately he reared up at the start and hit his head and I’m sure he was concussed. I came back covered in blood and the horse, from memory, had to have eight staples in his head.”

Dorol also well remembers the Morphettville Guineas win on Smytzer’s Rivalry. “That was the most satisfying win for Joe. She was lame on the Friday and not going to run. That night we had pizzas delivered to Joe’s bar and probably drank a dozen beers. Then at 5am on the Saturday, Joe said “she’s OK to run” and I had to shed about five kilos in a few hours,” he said. 

Despite the many stories of Joe’s Bar, Dorol says Hall insisted that there was no alcohol in the stables. “He was very strict on that. Not even permitted for owners and absolutely not for the staff. The bar was a great meeting place for Joe’s friends and owners. He wasn’t the sort of bloke to go to the pub.

“He didn’t socialise much with other trainers. He never went to the trainer’s tower at Morphettville. He’d clock them from the middle,” Dorol said. 

Hall himself concedes he didn’t have many close relationships with his colleagues but he does speak highly of Bart Cummings. Cummings and his wife Val made a point of calling into the Hall family celebrations after Makybe Diva won the Melbourne Cup. 

“We have been friends for years,” Hall said at the time, “I knew Bart’s father [Jim] and then I trained alongside Bart, so there’s a bit of history. We even sent David to the Sacred Heart Christian Brothers school in Adelaide because Bart went there. I thought, ‘Well, if they can teach David as much as they must have taught Bart, the boy can’t go wrong’.”

Symons recalls that Hall was an amazing judge of a horse. “He could tell you if you’d gone two seconds too quick or two seconds too slow just by looking at the horse after its work, whether he’d watched the gallop or not.

“He had a big influence on me. I wouldn’t say I was a bad kid but I was a vulnerable kid and without his discipline, I could have finished up anywhere. He gave me an opportunity to become a jockey. I was pretty hopeless when I went there. I think that’s why David sent me over.

“He gave me a work ethic and without that I wouldn’t have the Funky Farm,” Symons said in reference to the boutique zoo and tourist attraction he’s now fully focused on following his recent retirement from riding, “and I still speak to him quite a lot.”

As to his father, son David says: “I think he is very well liked by a lot of people. He was a very patient man with a horse, widely respected as a trainer and a great dad.”

Collectively, you might say they are the Halls of (some) fame. Individually, Joe Hall’s place would be deserved in South Australia’s.