A sobering realisation that he is no longer the teenage soccer sensation that wowed the Halifax crowds a half century ago, coupled with a prognosis from his orthopaedic surgeon that he could be wheelchair-bound in under five years, has forced Tellytrack legend Dave Mollett to make a potentially lifechanging decision to undergo knee replacement surgery in the new year.
“None of us are getting any younger and I am not a guy who resorts to the doctor for every cough and sneeze. But I am in serious pain and have to face up to the fact that I have no choice but to have this operation. It is going to be extremely tough – I am a freelancer so I lose my income when not working and the medical aid shortfall of 85% is frightening!” he said with a serious frown on his generally jovial face.
The Yorkshireman’s universal broad public appeal probably lies largely in his ability to hobnob with the elite in the Royal Box at Ascot and to transcend, in the flash of an eye, to enjoying a beer at a dingy tote in downtown Joburg.
He is the seasoned coal-face punter and a gentleman purist all neatly rolled into one.
On screen, Mollet comes across as extremely polished and relaxed – we wondered whether he was a natural with no nerves at all?
“I don’t know about that but it eventually becomes second nature – as easy as downing a pint,” he laughs
A man of vast experience and a mine of knowledge, Molly completes 30 years in 2015 with Business Day and prior to that spent 13 years with the Rand Daily Mail.
He was appointed Racing Editor there in 1974 at the age of 27.
“That was a top job in the days before television took over,” he says proudly.
But who is the man behind the ‘Follow Molly, Fill Your Wally’ brand?
A natural born sportsman, the Leeds United fan grew up in Halifax, England and went to a rugby school – a reality that didn’t stop him and his football fanatic friends from forming a soccer side there. This youthful initiative was frowned upon by his parents .
He was also no slouch on the cricket field and his cat-like reflexes made him a formidable foe at table tennis – fast forward to 1979 and he would win his way through to the quarter finals of the SA Open in this sport.
But his sporting ambitions took an early knock. His folks’ worst fears were realised when at the age of 16 their talented son was apprenticed to Halifax Town and broke bones in his left knee in his second game.
In his comeback twelve months later, more disaster struck – he broke the bones in his right knee and despite the guilt of the huge expenses for his father, he suffered the disappointment of seeing his promising career come to an abrupt end.
Horseracing The Winner
But one door closes and another opens. Soccer’s loss was to be horseracing’s gain.
“My family knew Reg Griffin who was the head of Timeform and I got hooked watching horseracing on TV while my knees recovered. He sent me out to do interviews with trainers in Middleham and other parts of Yorkshire. The rest is history I suppose.”
He says, with a distant gaze, that his job has allowed him to enjoy many fantastic moments in racing.
“I was invited to the first Million dollar race in Chicago in 1981 when I was lucky enough to meet and have dinner with the legendary commentator, Peter O’Sullevan.”
Molly also writes a weekly column for The Citizen.
“As you know, I also do on-course presentation and some studio work for Tellytrack. My plan is to leave the on-course work at the end of the 2016 season and – if I am still sane – I will concentrate on the studio work which I really enjoy,” he said.
Molly says that the major satisfaction and much of the real reward of his job lies in the camaraderie that he has built up over the years with owners, trainers and jockeys.
“Many have become friends and they have no hesitation in taking my calls – which is so important for any journalist.”
Much like his colleague, Shaheen Shaw, Mollett comes across on screen as a punter’s punter.
“Yes, I enjoy having a dip. And I suppose that, like all punters, one makes a noise about the winnings and keeps quiet about the losses! I have had one or two successful punts but I don’t bet on every race. My favourite bet is the exacta – it is often good value. I have seen many wealthy people lose fortunes in this game,” he admits.
Is he involved in any other aspects of the game?
“I have two mares with Robin Scott and we currently have a two year-old Overlord filly in training with Geoff Woodruff. That gives us much pleasure and fun – even though it is not an inexpensive hobby!”
We asked him how much homework the Tellytrack presenters do. And if he simply winged his on- screen appearances or whether there was hours of prep work involved?
“I study the form in Sporting Post which I couldn’t do without. It is such great value with articles by numerous knowledgeable people. As I mentioned already, over the years, one finds being in front of the camera is as easy as downing a pint!”
That reminds us – he has the reputation of being a salt-of-the-earth swashbuckling party animal – is that a fair reflection of the perception?
“What one could do thirty years ago is not necessarily true today! I used to own a bar in Thailand which was the combination of a house of happy endings and golf tours. So I have had my day, but I am now happily married to Ning who points out that I’m a bit old for the disco!”
“These days I have slowed down and I’m more of a beach lover – particularly Bermuda where the family have been a number of times. For relaxation, I love anything to do with sport and the legal world on TV – which may go back to my grandfather being a successful lawyer.”
Looking forward to 2015, his personal challenges aside, we asked him for his thoughts on where horseracing is headed.
“The industry has a knack of getting off the floor like a battered boxer. Because so many people like a punt, it is likely to survive any crisis – although there is no question that the glory days of the 1970’s and 80’s are unlikely to return. I believe 2015 will be particularly interesting from the perspective of how the sales war plays out. Mike de Kock has suggested an amalgamation between CTS and BSA , but I doubt if both parties fancy that. One can never say we don’t live in interesting times!” he smiled.
He recently married his long time partner Ning and lives with his three beautiful children Jade, Kimberley and Philip in Lonehill, Johannesburg.
A New Year’s resolution?
“The operation is naturally first and foremost in my mind. It is going to be a very tough time for me and us as a family. But I have good friends and support. My resolution is ultimately to get to Christmas 2015 and, God willing, being able to continue working as soon as possible after the operation.”
Where will he and the family be spending Christmas?
“We are off to Stonehaven, a resort on the Vaal River, prior to New Year but I have to work at Turffontein on 1 January! So I will have to pace myself well. We are then off to the Cape for a week with the family in Fish Hoek from 2 to 9 January.”
“Then I will have to start packing my bag for hospital and getting my mind focussed on an extended period of box rest!” he said.
“Oh, and may I take the opportunity to wish everybody in horseracing a healthy and happy festive season and a wonderful 2015.”