There has been only one occasion in the past 25 years that Tony Gollan didn’t want to be a horse trainer. 

It was a bleak, wintry day in his home town of Toowoomba when he was 26 years old and racing for $4000 purses. He had just one horse in his yard, a filly called Temple Spirit, and he telephoned his friend Peter Moody to tell him he was packing it in.

“I rang Peter and asked him for a job,” Gollan says, recalling a memory nearly 20 years old. “He said ‘don’t be an idiot’, and it was the best advice I’ve ever had.”

Gollan couldn’t have known that not only was Moody on the money. Temple Spirit, a tidy daughter of Special Dane, would change the course of his career. Bred and owned by studmaster Colin McAlpine of nearby Eureka Stud, the filly went on with her 16-race career for eight victories, including the Tattersalls Classic at Eagle Farm in 2004. 

However, in retirement she foaled the Group One-winning brothers Temple Of Boom and Spirit Of Boom, and it is because of his training this pair through million-dollar careers that Gollan bats in the major league of Australian racing today. 

At 44, Gollan is Queensland’s leading trainer and has been for a decade, based at Eagle Farm and giving his rivals in the Brisbane premiership a relentless beating. Right now, he is the third-best trainer in Australia by winners, behind only the Maher-Eustace and Waller operations, and ahead of the Godolphin and Neasham armies.

Gollan boasts one of the best winning strike-rates in Australia. In fact, he sits behind only Tulloch Lodge right now, and he’s pulling it off with just 90 horses in the yard. In a racing picture where the goliath stables have strings of over 300, it’s a mighty achievement to even stay in touch, let alone lead them.

“I don’t think I’m ever happy though,” he says. “I’m just not that kind of guy. I’m not an unhappy person, but I’m never happy with what we’re achieving. I’m always looking to do more and that’s just part of the person that I am.”

Gollan runs a staff of 35 from his yard at Eagle Farm, to which he relocated from his Toowoomba roots in 2012. For 10 straight seasons he has led the Queensland metropolitan trainers’ title, an effort that puts him firmly in the company of men like Fred Best and J.J. Atkins, who decorate the Queensland Hall of Fame.

"I’m not an unhappy person, but I’m never happy with what we’re achieving"

Tony Gollan

Gollan sits at 99 stakes wins with horses like the ‘Boom brothers’, Skirt The Law, Outback Barbie and Isotope, top-liners who have notched multiple career victories against the best of their peers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. They’ve been tough, seasons-long horses made by Gollan, who admits it’s easy to get lost in the black-and-white picture of horse racing.

“It’s all about winning and losing in this game,” he says. “Racing is quite unique in that respect. We go to the races several times a week and we either win or we lose. I try not to get too caught up in the winning or losing, instead trying to focus more on the processes of how we’ve got there. I’m constantly trying to look for the positives and evaluate the negatives.”

Positivity is a useful agenda, even if it’s just for half the day. Gollan is a self-admitted morning person, which isn’t unusual for a racehorse trainer. He’ll tell you he’s the best version of himself at first light, and it’s all downhill from there. 

“I’m fairly positive when the day begins, but there can be any series of events that may change that by the time the day is over,” he admits, which is probably why he’s been known to be something of a hotspur, even if it’s happening less and less these days.

Brian Siemsen, a lifelong friend of Gollan’s and the principal of Black Soil Bloodstock, says it’s folly to argue with the trainer, that he gets nowhere, but it hasn’t stained a brilliant friendship that has lasted much of their lives, and it hasn’t affected the success they’ve had with Black Soil, both on the track and in the sale ring.

Veteran Queensland journalist Bart Sinclair, who has spent his career around the traps of the Brisbane Racing Club, says Gollan can deliver a spray with the best of them, and it was particularly noticeable in the young trainer’s early days at Eagle Farm.

“He was a hothead when he arrived and I think he’d admit that,” Sinclair says. “But I told him something once. I said ‘honey catches more than vinegar’, and Tony has repeated that back to me a number of times. I think he’s mellowed a lot now.”

When Sinclair retired in 2012 as racing editor of the Courier-Mail, his career had been 43 years long. He’s seen plenty and remembers more, and he likens Gollan’s extraordinary rise in Queensland to two of the state’s best local legends.

“The two trainers I would compare Tony to are Bruce McLachlan and Peter Moody,” Sinclair says. “Those two were young and extremely ambitious with a great work ethic. Those are the common themes between the three of them, but they also had a vision for what they could achieve. Even though they didn’t have runs on the board, they had the self-confidence to think they could make it big, and they did.”

Gollan’s home town of Toowoomba in the Darling Downs is a tight sort of place with a small-town feel. His father was a publican and local trainer, so the young Gollan had a grounding in racehorses growing up and he never really entertained doing anything else.

Even when he was a one-horse trainer and pinned to the wall financially, barely keeping the bills at bay, he knew he wouldn’t walk away from racing. This was the career for him and Peter Moody knew it.

“We see the glamourous side of racing on TV, but there’s a shit tonne of hard work involved,” Gollan says. 

“I remember leading two horses around the streets of Toowoomba and it was three degrees, and there’s a south-westerly blowing right through your clothes. I was making no money, flat-out just breaking even, and those are the parts you don’t see on TV. But we do it because we love it and we can’t see ourselves doing anything else.”

“We see the glamourous side of racing on TV, but there’s a shit tonne of hard work involved."

Tony Gollan

It wasn’t the career choice that Darryl Gollan wanted for his son, however.

“My dad was a country trainer and he knew how hard it was to get ahead,” Gollan says. “I always knew this was what I wanted, but my old man wouldn’t let me start. He wanted me to do something else, like a trade or go to uni, because he knew how hard it was.”

Darryl Gollan, ‘king of the babies’, died in 2020 after a 15-year battle with cancer. His wife, Paulette, potters around her son’s Eagle Farm yard to this day, washing the stable’s colours and bringing a family feel to the business. 

Tony Gollan's seasonal statistics

Season Winners Win % G1 wins Stakes wins
2023/24 69 20.70% 0 4
2022/23 194 20.20% 0 11
2021/22 136 16.70% 1 9
2020/21 171 21.00% 2 11
2019/20 158 17.50% 0 8
2018/19 137 16.00% 0 9
2017/18 137 16.30% 0 9
2016/17 108 12.90% 0 3
2015/16 106 15.10% 0 11
2014/15 95 15.80% 0 3

Gollan himself lives nearby with wife Jane and their two kids, Jamieson and Boyd, who get the most from their ‘Disney dad’ at the fun times of the day. After all, what racehorse trainer manages the school runs?

It’s obvious that Gollan is attached to this good life in Brisbane. The city and its racing has been good to him, but will he outgrow it? Is a move to either Sydney or Melbourne on the cards?

“When I first moved to Brisbane, I didn’t think I’d stay this long,” he says. “I thought I’d try to get to Sydney or Melbourne, but then I really fell in love with Brisbane, to be honest. Pretty quickly, it started to feel like home. 

“Right from when I started training, which was when I was 20, I wanted to be a city trainer, but did I think I’d be in Brisbane this far down the line? Probably not. I thought I might have been further afield, but our business has great support in Brisbane and we’ve had great success, and next minute you’re married with kids and that’s where I am.”

There are a lot of people who think Gollan will eventually relocate to the hungry leagues of Sydney or Melbourne. Whether that’s a gradual edge south or a sudden decision is anyone’s guess, including Gollan’s. 

For the moment, he says he’s happy with close ties to the Snowden and Maher-Eustace yards interstate, which supply advice, accommodation and mateship when he’s travelling his horses.

“Tony is a very good trainer,” Bart Sinclair says. “He surrounds himself with very good people, and he’s got a thirst for knowledge. 

“He’s always asking questions of other trainers when he travels, which is probably his next mountain to climb, winning Group One races in Sydney and Melbourne, which Bruce McLachlan did, and of course Peter Moody did.

“I don’t know what Tony’s plans are, but there’s no doubt he’s good enough to compete in Sydney and Melbourne, and competing is one thing. He dominates in Brisbane.” 

“He (Gollan) surrounds himself with very good people, and he’s got a thirst for knowledge.

Bart Sinclair

In Queensland, Gollan’s client base ranges from the mums-and-dads owners in for five percent to the corporate high-flyers like Brian Siemsen. 

Among the latter is Brisbane businessman Darren Smeath, who has the bulk of his 30-horse portfolio with Gollan at Eagle Farm. They include the cheaply bought, former million-dollar yearling Zarastro, who arrived at Gollan’s last year with ordinary x-rays and a lacklustre runsheet.

“Tony has this knack for tried horses,” Smeath says. “When it came to Zarastro, he said we were lunatics. He doesn’t beat around the bush where a lot of other trainers do. With Tony, it’s right down the line and you can take it as you want to, but that’s the way he is.”

Zarastro cost Smeath and his friends just $32,500 on Inglis Digital late last year, and he’s won six times that figure in Gollan’s care. 

He’s raced just six times for the trainer and it’s that sort of success that has kept the clients coming. They’re as much a fan of the man as they are of the trainer.

“To me, Tony is like one of my footy mates, one of the boys,” Smeath says. “He’s got the biggest stable in Queensland but he is still approachable. If any of my guys want to visit the yard, he’ll show them around, introduce them to people. He always makes himself available.”

Tony Gollan's most recent Group 1 winner Jonker at Altona Beach (Photo: (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

The calibre of Gollan’s horses has crept skywards these last few years, which will need to happen if he wants to keep lining up in the southern carnivals. 

This year, he travelled his Group-winning miler Antino through Melbourne and Sydney, and the horse proved more than worthy when second in the Toorak Handicap. Gollan has had Jonker win the Manikato Stakes and Vega One the Kingsford Smith Cup. Both of these victories added to the Group One tallies of Temple Of Boom and Spirit Of Boom years earlier.

But the Boom legacy is never far away, some 21 years after Temple Spirit showed up in Gollan’s life. Spirit Of Boom, who won close to $2.5 million in Gollan’s care, is now a leading sire at Eureka Stud, and Gollan the most successful trainer of the horse’s progeny.

From 57 runners, Gollan has had 42 individual Spirit Of Boom winners, with a 75 percent winners-to-runners ratio, and the prizemoney figure for these horses is just shy of $10 million. Few trainers, excepting outfits like Godolphin and Coolmore, can boast this sort of relationship with the offspring of a stallion they have built. 

Gollan owes a lot to this relationship and he knows it. He was always going to be a horse trainer, but without the filly Temple Spirit, and if not for that phone call to Peter Moody one morning, his life might look very different.