Few can match H. Joseph Allen’s experience as a breeder and owner. The Bronx, N.Y., native is best known for having bred and owned War Front, who competed from 2004-2006 before he was retired and developed into a prized stallion. He also co-owned Just a Game with Peter Brant, his cousin. She won the 1980 Eclipse Award as champion turf female.
Allen, 80, is retired after a career as a newsprint manufacturer. He has raced extensively abroad and domestically and learned over time that patience is essential. No horse has been more of a project than Doswell, a 7-year-old gelded son of Giant’s Causeway, who is being pointed toward the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park.
Doswell debuted on July 14, 2017 at Newmarket in England. He did not break his maiden until his sixth start, on Aug. 8, 2020 at Saratoga. He went through a series of prominent trainers: John Gosden, Chad Brown and Shug McGaughey. Barclay Tagg and his assistant, Robin Smullen, finally put him on the right path and turned him into a winner in a career marked by quirky behavior and prolonged layoffs.
Doswell looms as a contender in the Pegasus Turf after winning the Fort Lauderdale Stakes on Dec. 18 at Gulfstream Park in only his 12th career start. The Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Filly and Mare Turf are part of a stakes-filled card leading to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational and a highly-anticipated confrontation between certain Horse of the Year Knicks Go and flashy Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victor Life Is Good.
Tom Pedulla interviewed Allen on behalf of America’s Best Racing:
PEDULLA: How long have you been in racing? Can you recall your first horse?
ALLEN: Yes. The first horse was a horse by the name of Ferrous, a gelding. When I finally decided I was going to get in, I was going to go to the auctions and buy some yearlings. But my trainer (Howie Tesher) convinced me to buy this gelding that he was training for a breeder. He said, ‘You know, this horse can really run. You really need to buy this horse and it’s not much money.’ It turned out I bought him for $25,000, I think it was in 1974. Probably the worst thing that happened, I won my first race.
PEDULLA: What has your experience been like since then?
ALLEN: For me, it’s been a matter of survival. I’ve tried to get by where I can mitigate my expenses.
PEDULLA: How many horses do you have?
ALLEN: Oh, gosh. I have about 90 horses total. But that includes the breeding stock.
PEDULLA: How many broodmares do you have?
ALLEN: I’m breeding 21 mares this year. I’m foal sharing on two other mares, so that would be 23.
PEDULLA: What does the racing aspect do for you?
ALLEN: Well, it’s fun. It’s a tremendous challenge. To me, the challenge is ‘Can you make it without being stupid?’ You have to be very, very careful. Or at least I try to be. I try to find a way to have some control over my expenses and if I have to sell, I will sell some of my good mares. This thing can get away from you if you’re not careful. It’s a wonderful game, but people don’t realize how hard it is.
PEDULLA: Who was your best horse?
ALLEN: What really made my career, I was very lucky with the stallion War Front. I bred him and that really changed the dynamics of everything. I bred him and I syndicated him when he retired. He stands at Claiborne still. He’s getting old now, but he’s been the franchise.
PEDULLA: How much pleasure do you derive from the breeding aspect?
ALLEN: In the racing community and the breeding community, you meet some very interesting people. I’ve met many wonderful people through this business. That’s what I think I’ve enjoyed the most.
PEDULLA: Doswell began his career in England. How did that come about?
ALLEN: I really liked Doswell. He was one of those yearlings that I thought was a really nice yearling. I decided to send one to England and I gave him to John [Gosden]. John kind of liked the horse, but he was kind of a nut. He acted badly in the gate. John said ‘We’re going to have to [geld] this horse.’ I said, ‘John, you can cut him. It’s fine. But I can’t leave him in England because the purses are so much better here.’
PEDULLA: What happened when Doswell returned to the United States?
ALLEN: Shug McGaughey took him first. He was a little bit sore. I think Shug thought he was going to be more trouble than he was worth because he was a very difficult horse to train. He really didn’t last with Shug very long. He had physical problems and we turned him out for a while. When I brought him back, since Shug really didn’t want him, I gave him to Chad Brown. I think Chad saw he had talent, but he was having difficulty with him.
PEDULLA: What led you to Tagg’s barn?
ALLEN: I figured I’ve got to get this to a trainer who can really take some time with this horse. I think Robin and Barclay are very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish with this horse and rightly so. People today can’t do what Barclay and Robin have done with this horse because they just don’t have the time. It’s just not economical to do it. I’m happy I got Barclay to do this and I was able to stick with him and I’m glad I did it.
PEDULLA: Is the key that you’ve always seen talent in Doswell?
ALLEN: He definitely has ability and I don’t think it’s all out yet. I’m crossing my fingers. He’s really good right now. If he can stay good, it would be wonderful.
PEDULLA: How important is the Pegasus on the racing calendar?
ALLEN: Well, I think it’s a great card. This is what it’s all about.
PEDULLA: Are you excited for the Pegasus Turf?
ALLEN: Very much so. Especially with the history of this horse, how could you not be?