Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Michael (Jack) Holt (1879–1951)

by John Ritchie

This article was published:

Michael (Jack) Holt (1879-1951), racehorse trainer, was born on 14 November 1879 at Berwick, Victoria, youngest child of Michael Holt, a Melbourne-born labourer, and his wife Mary, née Corkery, from Cork, Ireland. Young Michael attended the local state school, sang in the Catholic church choir and learned to ride. After a postal-delivery job, he obtained a jockey's licence in 1898 and rode at Sandown, then received his Victoria Racing Club trainer's licence in 1902 and moved to Epsom in 1908, having his first metropolitan victory in 1911.

In the seventeen seasons from 1918-19 to 1934-35 he headed the Victorian Trainers' Premiership on thirteen occasions, came second on three and third once. His horses won all the important cups in Melbourne and Sydney, practically every major handicap and weight-for-age race in the V.R.C. and Australian Jockey Club calendars, as well as many events on country courses. In a career lasting until 1948 'the wizard of Mordialloc' trained some one thousand winners, earned an estimated £500,000 stake-money for his clients and was dubbed 'the most famous of all Australian racehorse trainers'.

Craft underlay his sensational successes. Holt could sound out horses with his eyes and hands, and had a sensibility toward their idiosyncrasies; he trained them lightly, fed them scientifically and kept them close to racing trim so as to bring them to peak condition quickly and sustain their fitness; and he also placed them astutely. Moreover, he employed competent stable-foremen, chose the best jockeys, including Frank Dempsey and Billy Duncan, and attracted patrons with outstanding thoroughbreds: Eurythmic won ten races on end in 1920, including the Caulfield Cup; Heroic scored in the 1926 Newmarket and W. S. Cox Plate and became a top sire; in 1933 Hall Mark triumphed in the A.J.C. Sires' Produce and the Underwood Stakes, the A.J.C. and Victoria Derbys, and the Melbourne Cup (as a three-year-old), while two years later he won the Doncaster carrying 9 st. 8 lb. (61 kg); in 1938 Nuffield completed the coveted treble of A.J.C. Derby, Caulfield Guineas and Victoria Derby. Believing that 'any price about a winner is a good price', Holt appreciated his betting coups by investment in suburban land, stocks and shares.

Bald, ruddy, chubby and dapper, he remained a bachelor and lived modestly and clannishly with his spinster sisters, Madge and Kitty, at Lethe, an eight-roomed spic-and-span weatherboard dwelling with a corrugated-iron roof and L-shaped verandah in Francis Street, Mordialloc. In preference to his Christian name, he answered to John, Jack and Jackson. His wardrobe and 1938 Packard limousine were among his few indulgences, while he enjoyed poker, billiards and golf. Insisting on order, a regular communicant, paterfamilias to his apprentices and strappers, and generous to children, the elderly and his Church, Holt retained his brusquerie, guile and wryness as shields against would-be imposers in a tough milieu.

Invalided after a heart attack in 1948, 'Jack' Holt died of coronary occlusion on 10 June 1951 at Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne, and, after a requiem Mass, was interred in his family's grave at Berwick cemetery. His estate was proved at £228,815, of which be bequeathed about £200,000 to St Vincent's Hospital for the establishment of its School of Medical Research.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Cavanough, The Wizard of Mordialloc (Melb, 1962)
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Jan 1933, 11 June 1951, 24 Apr 1958
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7, 8 Nov 1933, 11, 12 June 1951
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 7-9 Nov 1933, 11, 14 June 1951, 24 Apr 1958
  • private information.

Citation details

John Ritchie, 'Holt, Michael (Jack) (1879–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 November, 1879
Berwick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


10 June, 1951 (aged 71)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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