As trainer Martin Allan sits one win shy of the 50th winner prepared from his boutique stable since taking out his licence in 2015, there are certain trademarks from his career to date that stand out to an outsider looking in.
Hard work, dedication and big-picture plans.
From working several jobs to get his business on its feet in its early days, to selling shares in an unraced trial winner just days before winning a $60,000 metropolitan race on debut – simply to attract owners and get his name out there – the Scottish-born and English-bred globetrotter has left no stone unturned in his quest to become a trainer.
Allan, 33, hails from a family of eight children and was introduced to racing through his brother.
“My oldest brother is a jockey and was too small to do anything else, really,” Allan said.
“He worked with Jack Berry and that kind of led us to get involved as well.
“I was 14 when he first started and I used to go down to the races to watch him ride and just got drawn into it.
“We had two training schools in the UK; the British Racing School and the Northern Racing College, so I went to the Northern Racing College to learn how to ride racehorses and it all kicked off from there.
“It was a 12-week course that teaches you everything to be able to work at a stable.”
Allan pursued stablehand and trackwork duties throughout his 20s as weight issues ended his jockey career before it had begun, however, the desire to train horses was something that remained constant.
Stuck in a rut, he decided to explore new opportunities and set off to the land down under for a working holiday.
Or so he thought.
“I kind of wasn’t going anywhere in England, you can’t just become a trainer over there like you can here,” he said.
“Generally, the farmers in England are the ones that train, as well.
“For a few years I’d been trying to do it and eventually I just thought that I’d go to Australia for the winter and then go back home, but that never eventuated, and I ended up staying.
“I came to Australia when I was 26 and the plan was to do Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and then Perth.
“I started off by doing three months in Sydney for Bart and James Cummings.”
Allan has an aunt who resides in Perth and, although he was scheduled to finish his trip in Western Australia, six years on he has only become further entrenched in the local racing hub of Ascot.
He took a liking to the WA lifestyle and felt the more laid-back nature of Perth’s racing scene, compared with what he had experienced on the east coast, was an ideal platform to transition into training.
“I just saw an opportunity here,” Allan said.
“I started working on the barriers and a little bit for Magic Millions setting up their tents, as well as riding trackwork.
“I was freelancing originally and then Paul Jordan got me going.
“I started breaking-in his horses for him and he’s probably been my biggest influence.
“I also worked for Neville Parnham and he helped me out heaps early days with settling down here and I owe a lot to him, too.”
Allan ended up purchasing a Vital Equine filly, later named Vital Art, from Mungrup Stud in 2013 and pre-trained the two-year-old until she was ready to trial.
Still without a trainer’s licence at that stage, Allan sent the filly to Ascot trainer Eric Wake two weeks before her first trial and, just over a month later, she won the $60,000 Initial Plate at Belmont at her race debut.
She would also go on to finish second in consecutive starts that preparation, accumulating $62,400 in her first four starts and giving Allan a bank to start planning his future.
He used some of the winnings to purchase two modestly-priced yearlings the following year, including one that would later become Essayez, a winner of three races and $117,600 in a five-start debut race campaign.
“I bought the horses before I got my trainer’s licence knowing that I’d have them ready by the time I had my licence,” Allan said.
“One cost $3,000 and only had one start and didn’t show much, and the one that cost $9,000 was Essayez.
“She won a trial and, because I didn’t have any owners, I spoke to Neville about it and ended up selling 40 per cent of her that week.
“She won on the Saturday five days after the trial and it was more about publicity, really, and getting my name out there.
“Some of my friends that train only have themselves involved and it doesn’t generate more business.”
As any business owner would know, getting things off the ground in the early stages of operation is difficult in any industry, however, it can be even more daunting in a foreign jurisdiction where you have few contacts.
After encountering some tough times, Allan’s appreciation for his partner, Finnish-born Mira Vaatainen, is abundantly clear.
“I met her when I moved to Perth and we’ve been together ever since,” Allan said.
“They say behind every good man is a great woman.
“We were going pretty hard when we first started here.
“I was training, doing the breakers and riding for Neville, plus working on the barriers.
“Originally we used to train from a property in Banjup, that’s where we had Essayez.
“We used to drive in, work for Neville, do our breakers, leave at about 1 o’clock and then do our own horses at home after that.”
Fast forward to today and Allan has re-located to Auburn Park in Ascot and has around 22 horses in work at any given time.
Still breaking-in and pre-training, he says he likes to fill half of his stable with his racehorses and the other half with breakers and pre-trainers for external clients.
“We just concentrate on low numbers with the racehorses and keep our money flowing through the breaking and pre-training,” he said.
“I just didn’t want to get too big too quick, I’ve seen it happen a few times here already since I’ve been here.
“I’m just learning things from watching other trainers, even if I’m not working with them, but still indirectly if they say something that sticks.”
Allan makes mention of his continued support from stable owners such as Peter Morley’s Belhus Racing syndications, however, his pre-training clients also include WA’s premier owner-breeder, Bob Peters.
Allan has been entrusted with educating Peters’ regally-bred juveniles once they have been broken-in since 2017 and is one of the first riders to put a saddle on some future top-liners.
“An owner from the stable is good friends with Bob and I knew there was an opening of pre-training there, so I gave him a ring and then started jogging them up,” he said.
“All we’re doing is educating them in Ascot.
“They come here to see the track, do barrier work and things like that.
“We start doing that with them and it’s good because you get to sit on some very nice horses.
“Arcadia Queen and Regal Power were the first bunch to come through.
“It’s a good gig and we enjoy it.”
As for Allan’s own stable, he has shown versatility in training metropolitan winners of all ages and distances throughout his young career.
You don’t have to look back far, with last Saturday’s Vale Jack Cohen Handicap (1000m) winner at Belmont, Night Voyage, being a $9,000 interstate tried-horse purchase that arrived at Allan’s yard in 2017.
The Bachelor Duke gelding had produced three wins, two minor placings and $37,205 in stake earnings prior to joining Allan’s yard, however, he has since added another six wins, 16 minor placings and $203,305 in earnings to his record so far.
Allan’s most promising horse, however, is Neurological, a winner at eight of 18 career starts to date.
“Neurological is definitely my best horse so far,” he said.
“He’ll go to the Hannans Handicap in Kalgoorlie, but I just need to plan the route so he doesn’t go to the well too much.
“We also have a horse called Flow who we bought from over east.
“He was going to race in the Idyllic Prince Stakes but he was a bit light when he came over, so we ended up putting him out.
“He’ll go to the Northerly Stakes, Asian Beau Stakes and races like that at Ascot.”
Allan will continue juggling his training, pre-training and breaking trio of work for now, however, he plans to limit his stable to his own racehorses and external pre-trainers when his business progresses further down the track.
In the meantime, he’s focused on improving his winners’ tally each season and is hungry to land his first stakes-level success.
“We had 19 winners last season and this year I want to get about 25 with more metro winners,” Allan said.
“I feel like sometimes I shoot myself in the foot by going to provincial too much and then by the time I come to town, the weight is a bit too high.
“I also definitely want to win a Listed race.
“We won the Batavia Sprint and Fitzpatrick Plate last season, but they’re not classed as Listed races.
“Neurological is going to the Farnley Stakes, the Hannans and potentially the Northam Cup, so hopefully we can get a Listed win somewhere and get some more owners.”
As for the future ahead, Allan is quite content in calling Australia home.
And why wouldn’t he?
With the way his stable is progressing, one would assume he won’t have to wait anywhere near as long to bring up his next half-century of winners.
“I’ll stay in Australia permanently,” he said.
“Everything is going smooth, we go to the beach after working 20 horses and it’s only half-past-nine in the morning, so we’ve got a system that works.
“Paul Jordan said to me once, ’you’ve got to remember that you’ve got to do this for the rest of your life’, which kind of stuck with me.
“You can’t just keep burning yourself out, it’s got to be enjoyable.
“It seems to be working at the moment and we’ve got a good system going with a good team of people.”