Joe Taylor: Horse Trainer, Gambler, and Gentleman

Joe Taylor was born in Sydney in 1908 to Edmund Barton Taylor, who made a living as a hotel winemaker, and Norah Catherine Killalea.

Taylor first started boxing as a youngster, playing rugby league and working as a billboard before advancing to managing rugby league boxers and teams.

In 1932, he married Edith Anne May Johnson at St. Pius Catholic Church in Enmore. That union persisted for 8 years, producing a son before divorcing in 1944. If asked at this stage, he would claim the occupations of bookie and carpenter.

Less than a month later, he remarried Elizabeth Watson. That lady had two daughters before she died and she left Taylor a widower.

Taylor’s passion in life was the game and those early years often saw him drop his salary for the week at the track.

The World War II period involved Taylor with the Thommo’s School of Twos, essentially a series of illegal card games that was started by George Guest in 1910 and ran for many years in Sydney. Taylor supplemented this with some baccarat schools.

Taylor brought Rose’s restaurant back to life in 1949, christening it the Celebrity Restaurant Club. It was very popular on the racing set, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, and featured top-notch entertainment imported from, among other places, the United States.

In 1954, he expanded by opening the Carlisle Club at Kings Cross, which also proved successful. History says that there were illicit gaming facilities on their club premises, but a rosy perspective would offer that this was just a case of a business trying to please its clientele. That same year, he took over control of Thommo following the death of George Guest.

As a gambler, Taylor gambled with everyone’s favorite commodity: cash. He used his employees as agents to place his bets and enjoyed substantial success on his own horses to the extent that other bookies opened their smaller horses. However, this did not stop Taylor from making a profit, and Taylor was his own man when the subject of buying horses came up.

Notable trainers who prepared Taylor’s horses for him included Reg Farris, senior and junior, as well as Albert Woods and Kevin Hayes.

Taylor played cards and also bet on the lickers. He was considered a “magnificent, if unremarkable” gambler, and had the unique attitude that “money is nothing but ammunition for gambling”, and was more a source of pleasure than an end in itself. Big Bill Waterhouse is quoted as saying that Taylor was “one of the few men in the world who gives a damn about money.”

Nowhere was this attitude more evident than on the day Taylor experienced his greatest triumph in racing, a win in the 1962 STC Golden Slipper Stakes for his horse birthday card. He is reputed to have given most of his winnings, thousands in fact, to his teammates, and lost the rest of it when another of his horses finished last in the last race of the day.

A modern Robin Hood like Taylor is often known for the company he keeps and Taylor enjoyed some notoriety through his association with the likes of Jack Davey and State Premier Sir Robert Askin. He was also associated with Ezra Norton, editor of the Sydney Daily Mirror and owner of the 1957 Melbourne Cup winning Straight Draw.

Less tasty, perhaps, the acquaintances included accomplices from the illegal gambling community, namely Len McPherson, Fred Anderson and Perce Galea.

Taylor also appeared to have connections to the law enforcement establishment because police raids designed to crack down on illegal gambling operations never seemed effective in shutting down the store.

In 1971, at the age of 63, Taylor married a third time, marrying a 46-year-old secretary, Patricia Moffit, and listed her occupation as a restaurateur. Five years later, he died of a heart attack. He is survived by his son from his first marriage and daughters from his second.

Taylor’s legacy to the sport of racing will forever be that he knew his horses, honored his debts, dealt in cash, and most importantly, he did it with great style and few enemies.

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