Dave Mollett came to SA as a young man and fell in love with the country and has been here ever since. He makes it his business to attend top races all over the world and because of this and the many great contacts he has his knowledge of racing is phenomenal. He has a keen sense of humour which often shines through when interviewing jockeys, trainers and owners after a race. Apart from being a thoroughly entertaining man on TV his writing skills are considerable and in his articles his sense of humour becomes apparent. Dave is a real asset to racing and it is to be hoped he will keep going for a long time still.
What is your name and age? David Mollett and I’m 63.
Where do you live? Lonehill, Joburg.
Tell us about your family? I live with my three kids Jade (16), Kimberley (15) and Philip (12) and my lovely lady, Ning.
You were a confirmed bachelor for many years. What made you change your status and settle for family man life? While I’ve never been married, I am more than happy to have settled down with Ning (seven years now) who seems to understand me and has pointed out that my night-clubbing days might be over at my age!
Where do you originally come from and how did you get into the racing game? I was born in Yorkshire in the UK and my family had close ties with the owners of Halifax-based Timeform and – at age 18 – I started doing some articles for them, mainly visiting Yorkshire stables.
Your first full time job in racing was with the Rand Daily Mail. Tell us about your time with that newspaper? I came to SA in 1970 and in 1972 joined the Rand Daily Mail as assistant to racing editor, Stewart Ramsay. I had been told by a former Timeform employee, Ian Harrison, who was with The Star, that the RDM was looking for someone and Stewart kindly employed me over a beer in Hillbrow. He decided to move to Durban in 1974 so I was then given the main racing job at the RDM.
You have had many experiences in your career which could be described as scary. The ‘scariest’ could have been when you took the side of Gerald Turner in his dispute with the Jockey Club. Tell us about that experience? I was friendly with Gerald Turner who was as good a jockey then as Piere Strydom or Anton Marcus is today. When he fell foul of the Jockey Club they first banned him for 20 years, reduced this to three on appeal and then reintroduced the 20 years. I campaigned for him extensively in the RDM solely because of the inconsistency of the case. This didn’t go down well with the editor of the RDM who said I was out of a job if Gerald lost his appeal at the Appelate Division in Bloem. He won and I presumed I would have the scoop for the RDM. I was gobsmacked when Gerald informed me he had sold his story to the Sunday Times. Unlike now, the Sunday Times was big on racing in those days.
As a top racing journalist you always wanted the best for racing. Did you find that this sometimes clashed with what the powers that be wanted? I guess I have had run-ins with countless CEO and course managers over the years on various different issues. One that really galled me was the way horses were euthanized in the full view of racing fans. We now have screens for these sad situations.
How happy have your family been about your close involvement with horse racing in your life? Everyone who does something they love for a living are blessed and my family are very understanding when I go off to attend big races overseas. This year I’ve been to Cheltenham, the Investec Derby and York because I still regard UK racing as the best in the world.
You have always had a great love for English racing. What would you say are the biggest differences between SA racing and English racing? The quality of English and European horses is superior to here for the simple reason they are able to breed to the best pedigrees. Our bloodstock has improved dramatically in recent years, but we’re still a long way off the Premier League of racing countries.
You have had, and have taken the opportunity, to race all over the world. Would you say that SA’s top horses can now compare with the top horses in England and Europe? The success of several SA horses overseas has proved our best horses can compete at Gr 1 level – it kicked off with London News in Hong Kong in 1997 and has snowballed with Mike de Kock’s victories in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. We mustn’t forget that Horse Chestnut won in the USA before his career was ended through injury. One has to feel he would have reached the top in that country.
Mike de Kock has, without doubt, almost single handedly changed the face of SA racing. Are you in agreement with those who now say that de Kock is probably in the top 5 trainers in the world? Mike wouldn’t put himself in the top five, but I’d rate him in the first two in the Southern Hemisphere along with top Australian trainer, Lee Freedman. Mike has conquered Dubai and the Far East and he must now take aim at the world’s greatest races such as the English Derby, Arc and Melbourne Cup.
You have had your fair share of luck with owning horses. Which horse do you rate as the best you have been lucky enough to own? I’ve owned – or mainly had shares in – a good number of horses and the best would be the Foveros mare, Pretty Groovy, who won five races. My first trainer was Trevor Lange who took me under his wing when I started out here, but most of my success came with the late Roy Howe who won over 30 races for me and my partners. Today I have one horse (Dashing Dandy) with Stuart Pettigrew and one with Geoff Woodruff (World Airline). Geoff is adamant he’ll win a race with World Airline and I love his enthusiasm. I’ve lost count of the number of times punters have said they feel sorry for me when he runs unplaced!
Who have been the people who have had the greatest influence on you in horse racing? Reg Griffin, head of Timeform, who sadly died last year. Commentator Peter O’Sullevan who I became friendly with following the first million dollar race in Chicago in 1981. I was the only SA racing journalist invited to that race. Over the years I have been privileged to have written about top trainers such as George Azzie, John Breval, Syd Laird, Terrance Millard and, more recently, Mike de Kock and Geoff Woodruff. Hopefully I have broadened my racing knowledge by coming into contact with these experts.
You have tried your hand at most things in racing such as commentating, writing, interviewing atc. Which of them do you enjoy most? I once did a four-horse commentary at Turffontein without any hitches, but stuffed up a 20-runner race at Newmarket. I decided to stick to writing, but it is now the on-course interviewing work which I love most and think is my forte. I am happy to leave the commentating to top guys like Clyde Basel and Craig and Sheldon Peters.
Were you first interested in horse racing as a sport or did you get into it to make a living? My ambition was to play soccer for a top UK side and I was on the books of Halifax Town. However, I broke my right leg at age 17 and left at age 19 (this is why I walk badly today) and that put an end to that. While in hospital I started watching racing on TV, got hooked and then the Timeform factor kicked in and racing gradually became my life.
How do you handle those who are nasty or sarcastic to you after you have really fancied a horse which you have tipped to the public and it has run a shocker? Amazingly, I have a wonderful rapport with punters. I was choked up at the Vaal recently when I walked back past
the crowd from the parade ring and some started to clap and shout “Molly, Molly.” In the past I used to get tips from jockeys, but not any more. Some trainers do whisper at the last minute that I should “have a bet”, but they know I never hide any information from my TV audience.
What do you find to be the most difficult thing about post race interviews? A person who gives one-word answers. It happened in my early interviewing days with Anton Marcus, but you gradually get the hang of things and my days of being at all flustered are behind me.
What is the most embarrassing moment you have experienced in your racing career? I was doing an SABC crossing with Martin Locke and suddenly noticed my fly was undone!
You appear to be really passionate about racing wherever it may be. Apart from racing what else are you passionate about? My interests outside racing are sports (mainly football and cricket), but I’m also interested in law (my grandfather was a top lawyer) and also history which was my top subject at school. I was also a pretty useful table tennis player in my youth and got to the quarter-finals of the SA Open in 1978. In between fighting, my father found time to be the Army table tennis champion during the war.
How many horses have you owned up until now?
I would say 30-40 but no Horse Chesnuts!
Do you know how many winners you have had? Possibly 50, but only one this year.
As a passionate punter do you think it is possible to make a living by punting horses? I doubt it and I’ve seen some hugely wealthy businessmen tamed by the racing game.
If asked for advice on punting what would you say would be the best way to go about it? Don’t bet the rent money. Ensure there’s food on the table for the family, but if you consider a horse is at a wrong price there’s nothing wrong in doubling your bet.
Do you personally know anyone who makes a steady income from punting horses? No.
From what you can gather from your work experience do you think racing will be able to pull itself out of the doldrums? The powers that be have to realize the glory days of four decades ago aren’t going to return. But if we improve the catering (many more food outlets are needed on course) and, most importantly, train tote tellers on how to process bets, then we can attract a good many more people to the track.
From your experience do you think the apprentices of today are better, or worse, than their predecessors? Compared to what the apprentices went through some 20-30 years ago, our appies are spoilt rotten with access to too much money and the temptations that arise from that. Some would cringe at the thought of being asked to “muck out” a stable. Every year we get a youngster who looks above average, but we haven’t produced too many stars since Muis Roberts.
What horse, or horses, would you say will pay to follow over the next couple of months? The big talking horse is What A Winter and he’s with an expert trainer. If I was a punter, I’d closely follow trainer Neil Bruss who is an excellent horseman
From what you have seen and experienced do you think there is too little co-operation between the various raceclubs and too much self interest on the part of those who should, or could, make racing the draw card it used to be? Squabbling in racing happens all over the world. It’s mainly due to people on ego-trips and the sport suffers as a result. When talented people like former Gold Circle chairman, John Bescoby, decide “enough is enough” then you know the game is in trouble.
Was there ever a time when you wanted to quit horseracing and walk away from the game? Never – particularly after backing a winner!
Is there a most memorable moment in your time in racing or are there a couple which stand out? I was lucky enough to witness Makybe Diva’s third Melbourne
Cup win and along with London News’ Hong Kong triumph and Mill Reef’s Arc win remain moments I cherish most.
Which do you consider to be best horse you have ever seen? Mill Reef although Triple Crown winner,) Nijinsky (whom I visited at stud in the USA in 1976was also a real star. Horse Chestnut is the best I’ve seen here.
Is there any particular personality, past or present, that you particularly admired and feel could be an example to all in the racing game? Terrance Millard won 108 Gr 1 races and is an SA legend who I greatly admire. But racing also needs personalities and right now we’re lucky to have entertaining TV presenters such as Paul Lafferty, Stan Elley and Rod McCurdy.
Tell us about the places where you have raced and which is your favourite track? I’ve raced in USA, France, UK, Australia, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, Mauritius, India and Thailand. Without doubt, my favourite course is York.
Do you think success of SA trainers, jockeys and owners overseas will do anything to bring the crowds back to the racecourse? We need greater exposure of our racing successes overseas in our newspapers. This would help. It’s a disgrace that a leading newspaper like The Sunday Times doesn’t cover racing.
Which do you consider to be the most promising horses racing in the country right now? What A Winter and Mike de Kock’s unbeaten filly, Igugu.
What are your short term ambitions for racing in South Africa? We need to compete our home-bred horses in as many top overseas races as possible.
How interested in the breeding side of the game are you? I always consider the breeding when assessing a horse’s chance in a race. I believe if you breed to the best you’ll get the best. I have shares in two mares at Robin Scott’s Highdown Stud and he’s been such a loyal friend since I started out so many years ago.
Which stallions excite you as a follower of the game? Western Winter, Fort Wood and Jet Master. I believe Mrs O has acquired a very promising new stallion in Ideal World who is out of the great racemare, Banks Hill.
Which tracks do you think give horses and jockeys the fairest chance to win? Turffontein and Clairwood.
What do you consider to be the greatest lessons you have learned about racing in your career to date? Try not to lose your cool whatever the circumstances. Listen to the advice of people who have been in the game a long time.
Is there anything about the racing game which really displeases you and what do you think can be done about this? Our tote facilities need urgent attention. I get numerous complaints about punters not being able to get on or getting wrong tickets, but I have to point out this has nothing to do with me.
Are most of your friends connected to racing? Yes, but I do like to dine out with those who are in different jobs.
What would you consider to be your biggest achievement in your career up until now? Winning the 2009 Equus Journalist-Of-The-Year award rates my pinnacle achievement. I also received an award at the 1995 Sportsman-Of-The-Year banquet.
What is your philosophy on the racing game? There’s always another meeting tomorrow.
From what you have observed of racing do you think the game is straight? Any form of gambling can attract skullduggery, but I believe racing is straighter now (probably because of the cameras) than it was 20 years ago.
If you had one piece of advice for your fellow associates in the racing world what would it be? Be yourself and be sure of your facts before opening your yap!