John Tait was born in Edinburgh in 1813, and migrated to Tasmania in 1837. After trying his hand at the jewellery business, he moved to the Bathurst region as the licencee of the Albion Inn and then the Black Bull Inn. He was widely known for his skill with his fists, which enabled him to control unruly patrons.
In Bathurst, Tait began his career as a thoroughbred owner and trainer. With his winnings from local match races he expanded his interests to Sydney, where he won the 1850 and 1851 AJC St Leger, and the 1851 Australian Plate and 1851 Queen's Plate. Tait then visited England to purchase breeding stock for his stud farm at Mt Druitt, and established training stables at Byron Lodge, Randwick.
By the end of the 1850s, Tait was the leading owner and trainer in the colony, and could claim to be the first to make horseracing a commercial business. He was also regarded as a man of absolute integrity – hence the familiar name by which he became known, “honest John”.
Tait's outstanding horse was The Barb, winner of 17 races from 24 starts, including the 1866 AJC Derby and Melbourne Cup, and the 1868 and 1869 Sydney Cups. He won three more Melbourne Cups with Glencoe (1868), The Pearl (1871), and The Quack (1872). Among his many other successes were the winners of two Epsom Handicaps, three Metropolitan Handicaps, four AJC Derbies, six AJC St Legers, four Victoria Derbies, two VRC St Legers, two VRC Oaks, and three VRC Champion Stakes.
When Tait retired from the turf in 1883, it was calculated that his horses had won 30,000 pounds in stakes money (in excess of $A3 million in today's currency).
Tait was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
Image Source: Australian Racing Museum Collection, Courtesy - the Tait Family.