As young as 10 the Jolly brothers from Dingabledinga in the shadows of Kuitpo Forest were riding at picnic race meetings, but when a barely broken-in pony unmercifully dumped David onto a car bonnet he realised this caper wasn’t for him.
At 16 he found his dream job of meticulously delving into the pedigree of thoroughbreds with bloodstock agents here and later overseas, while two years later when his brother Richard turned 16 he was hailed as one of our most promising jockeys having ridden Saratov to victory in the 1989 Perth Cup.
They are now both trainers enjoying success – Richard at Morphettville and David at Goolwa – and although long-time removed from those treacherous picnic meetings that were banned here almost 20 years ago, the brothers won’t have a runner in this year’s Melbourne Cup either.
That’s racing; the very lows and highs; not always about glam and glitter and sipping bubbly as some bloke blows the bugle to the tune of the First Call for the traditional parading of the runners. According to David, it’s just a hard day’s work.
In his real world, having a runner in the Cup remains a dream, but it’s also far from being the only race on the program. To David, who has earned enormous respect among his peers, the racing industry itself is the thrill, and his every-morning alarm buzzing louder than normal at 4.30 when the cold wind and rain pelts the beaches of Goolwa merely becomes part of the experience.
When many of us recover from the forthcoming Cup aftermath that stops a working nation, David will be tediously attending to his team of 25-30 in work.
Racing can be a tough game. Many a day he has taken the slow road home from a Melbourne city meeting, but always positive because he reminds himself of the good times, like the autumn of 2013 when his seven-year-old gelding Budriguez battled on like a boxer fighting well above his weight to dead-heat with then Melbourne Cup favourite Puissance De Lune in the Blamey Stakes at Flemington.
Later, Budriguez, the old gelding from Goolwa, and Puissance De Lune, the dashing grey stallion from Ireland, both went lame, which reminds us there is no class distinction in this game; a mix of kings and common trainers.
As David says, we only need to go down the road to a meeting at Strathalbyn to appreciate that racing is more than just a cup.
“Go there and you see blokes jumping through hoops straight after winning a maiden,” David said. “I watch them and think, isn’t that great? A smaller scale to the big races in Melbourne of course, but still a lot of work into winning that race.
“Some trainers have only two horses so the odds say they’re not going to win as regularly, but that’s the beauty of this industry; these guys can still have a Melbourne Cup winner. Everyone has a chance.
“Every trainer would love to win a Melbourne Cup, but to me it’s more about having a good horse and there are plenty of races for good horses. Besides, the Cup has changed; the Europeans have taken it over. It’s harder for a local horse just to get into the race; we don’t breed many stayers here in Australia these days so it’s tougher again.
“We’ve have enjoyed a couple of wins springtime in Melbourne, and that is something. The whole of Australia seems to converge on Melbourne this time of the year and they’re watching you; everyone wants to win there this time of the year. It’s what makes you get out of bed at 4.30 every day.
“They say the harder you work the luckier you get, and it’s so true in racing. Success makes you hungrier; you get that winning feeling and you want it all to go around again. I don’t think there is a trainer that at any time has thought ‘what I am I doing this for?’ You have your tough times, but the next week you land a winner and you pull your socks up and suddenly there’s spring in your step.
“You thrive on the pressure, but there are also the times when you have a bunch of horses with limited ability. It’s cold and it’s pouring, and the alarm goes off. You just think; make my day.
“We’re at the beach four or five times a week. There is also the work on the training track across the road from here and we go to Strathalbyn (racetrack).
“The bigger trainers are the ones surviving; the smaller ones probably battle. Our team has been regularly in the top five or 10 for the state, but we have had our good and very lean years.
“Training down here at Goolwa is probably good for eight or nine months, but then the winter comes – because we’re on the coast you cop it a lot worse. It’s a hard slog to get the horses fit, and keep them fit; they curl up in the winter. This is a good time of the year; they’re on a rise and they tend to flourish. Late spring-autumn is good for us because of the weather.
“I just love racing. I love the horses, and watching them develop. It’s like having baby; you see them grow, or being a football coach and seeing a young lad develop. You take horses through stages knowing when to push them or back off. A lot of science has come into it, but in my mind it will never outweigh your gut feeling and the decisions based on what you see.”
David said his passion for studying and researching thoroughbred bloodlines has been invaluable since gaining his trainer’s licence in 1993, and he himself has pedigree lines in the racing industry.
His dad, Peter, turned from dairy cows at Myponga to training thoroughbreds with success, while David’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Bob Cowper, who is still doing well at 92, also raced horses.
Bob was a Beaufighter pilot, completing numerous night missions for the RAAF during World War II, and David’s love and respect for him is acknowledged through his racing colours – the RAAF symbol with a red dot in the middle of a royal blue dot with a white background.
David and his wife, Sandy – who plays a huge role in working the horses and the entire business – have two children, Sienna, seven, and Asha, five.
Sandy is from Parrakie, near Lameroo in the Mallee region, which means between their home towns they probably have fewer residents than they have horses at their Goolwa stables.
It does, however, make it understandable why they were keen to leave training in the city and six years ago move back to the country at their Goolwa complex, which was first established by Ray Taylor in late 80s, and then Jeremy Gask.
“We love it here in Goolwa,” David said. “To train here is unique; a great school nearby for the girls, a good lifestyle, and we can train the horses on the beach. There aren’t too many places in Australia or even the world where you can do all that.
“I guess the best thing about training here is that when we win a race in Melbourne you can hear the cheers from the front bar of the Goolwa pub.
“We’ve tasted the success over there and it will happen again. It could be my most promising two right now, Alabama Missile and Street Car Isobel… you never know, and that’s racing. There are another 12 or 15 on the way in pre-training at Finniss, and with each one you just hope this is the one that’s going to be really special.
“I have had some good ones; Zip Zip Aray won the biggest race for me (2002 Goodwood Handicap), but it’s always hard to go past Budriguez; he’s nine now, and he’s giving everything he’s got to get back to his best. We’ll see.”
More than likely old “Bud” will win again; he’s like that, a real trier. It won’t be the Melbourne Cup, just a race that will stop a front bar at the local pub.