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TONY GOLLAN - WAS IT BRONCOS OR THOROUGHBREDS?

A look at the life of Queensland trainer Tony Gollan and how close he was to choosing Rugby League over the Horse Racing road the veteran trainer now walks

A look at the training career of Tony Gollan

Leaving full time education is always a critical point in the life and career of anyone. A wrong decision can send a person down the wrong path to the future, and there might never be a turning back to the right path. 

Such was the dilemma facing a young Tony Gollan as his final days in school rushed by. Already recognized as a potential future star in the world of rugby league, having played the game representatively for Queensland under nineteen teams, his progress was being closely monitored by top professional outfit, the Brisbane Broncos and a glittering career with them was beckoning. 

However, there was another “pull” on his ambitions – his love of horses – and this was strengthened by familial ties to the racehorse training stable run by his father, Darryl, in his hometown, Toowoomba. Moreover, during his rugby-playing days, after match activities often included a visit to the local track with his teammates to savor the thrills of the chase – and the joys of a winning wager. One of his schoolmates who frequently joined in these trips to the track was one, Stathi Katsidis, with whom he forged a close bond and with whom he would, in the coming years, develop a winning trainer-jockey partnership. And so it was that these factors proved the stronger and the world of horse racing, not rugby league, would enjoy the talents of Tony Gollan for years to come. But not immediately!

Tony Gollan - Starting a Training Career

At the age of twenty, bursting with all the confidence of youth but minus all the experiences of life as a trainer, the young Gollan took out a license, permitting him to open his own training facility in Toowoomba, with a stable of four horses. In spite of his father advising caution in the venture, and pointing out his lack of experience in the game, Gollan junior went ahead and entered his first horse in a race at Wandoan, with the unshakable conviction that this one would be the first of a long procession of winners. In Gollan’s own words “I thought the first horse I saddled in the race at Wandoan was a certainty and bet accordingly”. But stark reality was to hit home by the end of the race. “The horse ran off the track at the home turn and was soundly beaten. I was crushed and soon realised that this training caper was a lot tougher than I’d first thought!”. Nevertheless, despite this setback, Tony’s youthful enthusiasm for the sport carried him forward and the winners began to come, his first winner being Carbon Shadow at Clifford Park.

During  this period, his close school friend Katsidis had become his favourite jockey, and this partnership from Toowoomba marked their arrival on the larger stage with a win in a metropolitan race with a horse by the name of Nova Serrure. This success, at the age of twenty two was to set Gollan on the next stage of his career. It was at this point that once more ambition came out on top against common sense and Gollan moved his training activities to a new base at the Eagle Farm facility of Brisbane Race Club. Now, with a stable of fourteen horses to train results proved hard to come by, and then came a further hurdle to overcome in the shape of the lapsing of his visitors training permit for the facility. Tony Gollan was advised to seek alternative premises for his set-up. And so it was off to the Gold Coast to build up a new operation.  After six months of hard and largely fruitless labour, Gollan realised that the situation was not improving and so, much chastened, yet educated by his experiences, and with much reluctance and soul searching, the decision was taken to close the facility and return to Toowoomba to work with his father and his more experienced and knowledgeable team.

Retrain, Rebuild and Reward for Gollan

No doubt at this low point in his trainer career, this decision would severely shake the young man’s confidence, but today, looking back at the moment and the events which would follow, this would be the point from which his successes began to accumulate and take him to the fame he enjoys today. For the first twelve months after his return to Toowoomba, he spent every practical moment by his father’s side, learning every trick and skill he could acquire. 

Moreover, working very closely with legendary trainer, Jim Atkins, he was able to observe how to manage a stable team, and organise training and workloads to get the best from his charges.  Spending a full year at the knee of these masters, as it were, fully equipped  him for a return to the training game in his own right and in 2003 the Tony Gollan stable was revived as a going concern. An added boost followed soon after, when the Eureka Stud operation, owned and run by father and son duo, Colin and Scott McAlpine, showed faith in the young man by charging him with the training of their potential “super horse” Temple Spirit. 

Winning eight races between April 2003 and August 2004, the horse finally served to demonstrate that Tony Gollan had finally arrived as a name on the scene, and provided him a foundations stone on which to build. Indeed, Temple Spirit was to prove the gift that kept on giving. Retired from the track in 2004, her earnings had already reached almost $140,000 from her sixteen races, but her exploits in retirement were to prove even more fruitful in the shape of the Boom brothers.

Finally Getting Matters on the Right Track

The two horse brothers, Temple of Boom and Spirit of Boom were to be the mounts which would truly establish Gollan as a leading trainer. Speaking of the older brother he commented “I bought him as a yearling for $40,000. He was a great little fella with a nice big walk. In 2012, he gave me my first group1 victory in the Galaxy at Randwick and that was also James Macdonalds first Group1 win in Sydney so it was a great partnership” However, this race was not only remarkable for the win by Temple of Boom, Gollan also had another, surprise winner – it was the day he met his future wife, working that day for Gai Waterhouse as a personal assistant and looking after her horse Nobby Snip, who had followed the Temple home in second place. 

Twelve months later, in front of Temple of Boom’s stable door he would go down on one knee and propose a permanent “racing” partnership. Indeed, Temple of Doom reputedly paid for the wedding reception for Tony and his new wife, by coming home at 40/1victorious in a race at Eagle Farm a week before nuptials!

Temple of Boom ran his first race for Gollan, recording his first victory in the process, in the Magic Millions two year old prelude stakes in 2009, setting him on the path to earnings of almost $2million, with eleven wins and sixteen placed finishes from sixty four outings. Perhaps the greatest disappointment on the track was finishing in second place, behind his younger brother – no older brother likes to lose to a younger sibling – in the 2014 Doomben 10,000. Success after this outing eluded him and with some reluctance and much emotion, Gollan finally chose to retire him in June 2016. Although no longer racing on the track, he has since been earmarked for a career in eventing.

If Temple of Boom proved to be a highly profitable member of Gollan’s stable, his younger brother, Spirit of Boom, provided an even more satisfactory return. In a track career of fifty two races, Spirit racked up nine wins and twenty placed finishes, generating over $2.3millions in prize money. One of his greatest victories had already been mentioned earlier – the triumph over his elder brother in the Doomben 10000 – his other noteworthy first place came in the Magic Millions two year old plate in 2012, a Group 1 race which yielded $85000 in prize money. 

His final appearance on the track came in June 2014 at Eagle Farm, after which event Gollan retired him to stud. Yet this was not the end of Spirit of Boom. In his first year at stud, he sired an entire string of progeny, including nineteen winners, his yearlings fetching on average $160,000 at auction, one colt even achieving the dizzy heights of $500,000, with many training stables competing to purchase is stock as an investment. Indeed, one “expert” observed that at 90% fertility “you could mate him with a donkey and he’d produce a group 1 winner!”

Tony Gollan - A Highly Respected Pillar of the Racing Community

On the back of the successes of the Boom brothers, Tony has now established himself as a highly respected member of the Queensland horse racing community, with more than 1500 winners, among them many group1 champions, and prize money earnings north of $56million. However, for a man who has been the leading trainer in Queensland for eight consecutive years, Gollan is remarkably modest about his achievements. Two principles have guided his later career – “there is nothing individual about what we do here, It’s a massive team effort and I’m lucky to have a lot if great people around me” - reflects his belief that the team is greater than the individual and each team member has an important role to play in achieving success. His other maxim is that “the harder you work, the luckier you get” underlining his belief that har work is essential is anything is to be gained.

And it is this philosophy which finds him now training three young horses which have already broken the$1million barrier with their winning performances. The first of these is a gelding by the name of Vega One, which has already built a significant reputation following a win in the $1million Magic Millions Cup, after which he was sidelined by injury before returning to win the Group1 Kingsford Smith Cup and a second place in the Stradbroke Plate. His second horse, called Krone is a mare which has also recorded significant wins including the Group1 race, the Coolmore Classic at Rosehill

The third horse in this trio is Jonker is also a Group 1 winner of which much is expected. Other horses for the future are Isotope, which Gollan considers to be the best horse in training with him at the moment for track appearances at the Sydney autumn festival and Baller, recently placed with Gollan for improvement training with a view to the autumn season on Queenslands tracks.

With the Autumn Carnival quickly appearing on the horizon, the hard work theory practiced by the Gollan team is now ramping up for success, with prospective winners for several big races being brought to the peak of their performance. Whether the hoped-for successes come to pass, remains to be seen. One thing is for certain – that the Tony Gollan stable will continue to turn out winners with almost monotonous regularity and that is to the eternal benefit of the horse racing industry. One only has to imagine what the sport would be like if Gollan had become a “bronco” instead of a man of “thoroughbred” pedigree. It would certainly be a lot poorer!

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