Joe Taylor: Horse Trainer, Punter and Gentleman

Joe Taylor was born in Sydney in 1908 to Edmund Barton Taylor, who earned his keep as a hotel cellarman, and Norah Catherine Killalea.

Taylor first took up boxing as a young man, played Rugby league, and filled in as a bill poster before advancing to management of boxers and Rugby League teams.

In 1932, he married Edith Anne May Johnson at St. Pius’s Catholic Church in Enmore. That union persisted for 8 years, producing a son prior to a divorce in 1944. If asked at this stage, he would claim the occupations of bookmaker and shipwright.

Less than a month after, he married again to Elizabeth Watson. That lady produced two daughters before she died and left Taylor a widower.

Taylor’s passion in life was gambling and those early years often saw him leaving his wages for the week at the track.

The period of WWII had Taylor involved with Thommo’s two-up school, essentially a series of illegal card games that was initiated by George Guest in 1910 and operated 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 wildly popular with the racing set, especially during the 50s and 60s, and featured top shelf entertainment imported from, among other places, America.

In 1954, he expanded by opening the Carlisle Club in Kings Cross which also proved a hit. History states that there were illicit gaming facilities on the premises of his clubs, but a sanguine perspective would offer that this was just a case of a business trying to please its clientele. That same year, he assumed control of Thommo’s following the death of George Guest.

As a punter, Taylor wagered with everyone’s favourite 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 his horses lower. This did not prevent Taylor from turning a profit, however, and Taylor was his own man when the subject of buying horses arose.

Trainers of note that prepped Taylor’s horses for him were Reg Farris, senior and junior, as well as Albert Woods and Kevin Hayes.

Taylor gambled at cards and wagered on the dish lickers as well. He was considered a “magnificent, if unflamboyant,” gambler, and had the unique attitude that “money is nothing but betting ammunition,” and was more a source of pleasure than an end to itself. Big Bill Waterhouse is quoted as saying Taylor was “one of the few men in the world who completely doesn’t give a damn about money.”

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

A modern day Robin Hood such as Taylor is often known by the company he keeps and Taylor enjoyed some notoriety via his association with personalities such as Jack Davey and State premier Sir Robert Askin. He was also associated with Ezra Norton, publisher of the Sydney Daily Mirror and owner of the 1957 Melbourne Cup winner Straight Draw.

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

Taylor seemed also to possess connections with the law enforcement establishment because police raids designed to topple the illegal gambling operations never quite seemed effective in closing the shop.

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

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