Dallas Wilkins records rare milestone in harness racing

To understand exactly what Could It Be Me’s maiden triumph as a pacer meant to the Wilkins family, a viewing of the race replay is a must.

In trainer Dallas Wilkins’ own words, the gelding was lucky to still be a race horse.

There have been numerous times during his tenure that the team behind him thought a career as a riding pony would be more suitable.

But, as Wilkins and his wife Catherine own and bred the son of Shadow Play, they were under no time and money constraints, so they poked along at their leisure. 

And, seeing as they had been there from the earliest days with Could It Be Me, he was a special horse for the Wilkins’.

With Dallas in the sulky at Redcliffe’s track on Thursday afternoon, Could It Be Me loomed up as the winner as they turned for home and there was one solitary person on the outside running rail of the track watching the race.

It can certainly be quiet at some mid-week harness racing meetings but Catherine was having none of that, waving her arms around and screaming as Could It Be Me went past Exwhygeetee in the closing stages to grab his first win.

“I could hear her as I came around the home turn,” Dallas said with a laugh.

As well as seeing Could It Be Me breakthrough the maiden barrier, it was also a milestone day for Dallas personally.

In a rare occurrence in the code, the 67-year-old trained, drove, bred and owned the winner.

“It does not happen very often at all really,” Wilkins said of a participant filling all four roles.

“He becomes my first official winner as a trainer, breeder, owner and driver.

“It certainly was special for us.

“If it was not for the QBRED bonus, he might not have got to the races in his life as he was doing so much wrong, but that bonus kept us going.”

While the Thagoona-based Wilkins has driven in plenty of winners across his decades in the sport, Thursday’s victory was his first also as a licensed trainer.

Dallas and Catherine Wilkins with Could It Be Me at Redcliffe.
Dallas and Catherine have bred over 40 foals across their time in the industry, many of which they have gone on and raced.

For much of the time, the Wilkins’ have broken in the standardbred’s and got them nearly read to race, before handing the keys over to Ray Cross.

Veteran Cross previously trained in the Sunshine State before relocating to Victoria in recent years.

While the Wilkins’ were a key part of the process over the time, Cross was the official trainer on race day, which resulted in Dallas only picking up his maiden victory as a trainer this week.

While Thursday’s result was the gelding’s first professional victory as a race horse, he has been successful on the show circuit, including at Toowoomba and the recent Ekka.

He also put in an excellent effort against Open Class horses when he was still a maiden at Warwick earlier this year, as well.

The gelding won the Maiden Pace over 1780 metres on Thursday but there was every chance earlier in his life that he would be targeted at trotting events.

The five-year-old was trained as a trotter for around three and a half years, with his trainer noting he could barely pace at all in his early days.

And, while he could trot, he did not ever trot fast enough for the Wilkins’ to think it was going to be a viable racing option.

“One day when I was jogging him on the jogger, he made the fatal mistake of breaking into a pace for about 50 yards,” Dallas recalls.

“I thought that was time to make him a pacer.

“That is why he has taken so long, being a five-year-old and only having eight or so starts.

“He took a little while to get him pacing but we got him there eventually.”

Reflecting back on the decision, Dallas says the family were torn as to if they were to continue with the racing venture or give him away to become a riding pony as he was such a “lovely horse under saddle”.

They are ecstatic that they stuck with the pacer they refer to “Leeroy” around their barn.

“To achieve the result, I went to the races on Thursday not expecting to win, I was just hoping he would run up to last week’s effort,” Dallas said.

“He started to learn what it is all about last week.

“If he kept going on that path – but did not win –  I would have been happy with that.

“But, when he went that extra bit, I was over the moon, it was one of my best moments achievement wise that I have had in harness racing.”

After running third earlier this month at The Triangle at $151, Leeroy was backed into favouritism in the opening event on Thursday and he provided his loyal followers with the cash.

By Jordan Gerrans