The meteoric rise of Double D driver Dexter Dunn

by Murray Brown

Between Tim Tetrick (2,855 starts) and Dexter Dunn (2,199 starts), they participated in 5,054 races in 2021 and the total earnings of the horses they drove were separated by only $338. Double T drove the winners of $12,917,113 and Double D, the winners of $12,916,775.

It’s possible that Dunn may not be the best harness driver in the world, but he would certainly be in any conversation on that topic.

If one were to ask him, the answer you would likely get is that there are quite a few outstanding drivers everywhere that he has raced.

At the age of 25 in 2015, Dexter won the World Driving Championships held in Australia.

He has been the leading money winning driver in New Zealand, among the tops in Australia and now in North America.

As with most outstanding horsemen, Dunn was born into the game.

His dad Robert was an excellent trainer driver in New Zealand. His mom Rose also comes from a well-known New Zealand racing family.

At the age of 11, Robert had Dexter in a bike training horses.

At the age of 17, Dexter moved to Melbourne in Australia to help in caring for and training horses with New Zealand trainer Tim Butt.

Dexter then secured his driver’s license and worked with Andy Gath for a year.

He then moved back to New Zealand where he became the leading driver for perennial leading trainer Cran Dalgety. He was with Dalgety for 12 years and it was while in his employ that he participated in and won the 2015 World Driving Championships.

This scribe first made his acquaintance while in Ireland where this thin-as-a-rail young man clad in all black swept just about every race he was in during the Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend of racing.

“Who is that young guy?” I asked our host Derek Delaney. “He is the best driver we’ve ever had over here,” was the quick response. “You might see him in America before too long, if his plans work out.”

If one wonders where Dexter Dunn is these days, he is in the midst of some well-earned rest and recuperation in Delray Beach, FL. It was there that I caught up with him.

Have you changed your colors? The first time I saw you race you were all clad in black in Ireland?

“Actually, the all-black is the color of my home country New Zealand. Much like Americans might be New York Yankees fans or Canadians fans of the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs, virtually all New Zealanders are fans of the All Blacks our National Rugby team. We have a huge rivalry with the Australian rugby teams and their fans. When I came to North America, I adopted the familiar red and black colors you see me wearing now.”

What motivated you to make the move to North America?

“Racing in North America might be analogous to an actor wanting to go to Hollywood. I’d followed American racing all my life. It was where many of the world’s great races were held. I’d read about and seen the Hambletonian, the Meadowlands Pace and all the great North American races. It was where what I wanted was located. I wanted to give it a try, before I got too old and then regretted not having tried it.”

Was there anybody that motivated you to come?

“More than anybody else, I owe any success that I’ve enjoyed to Chris and Nicola Ryder. Firstly, they urged me to come here and give it a go. Secondly, and probably most importantly, they gave me a chance to drive their good horses. Horses like Bettors Wish, Party Girl Hill and Niki Hill don’t just drop from the sky. I lived with Chris and Nicola when I first got here. It was a huge edge knowing and being friends with one of North America’s leading trainers. Besides which and likely most importantly they are among the most wonderful and most hospitable people I know.”

What’s your favorite racetrack at which you compete?

“That would have to be The Meadowlands. It’s the number one racetrack in North America. Having said that, there is nothing in all of horse racing as great as racing at The Red Mile on a beautiful Fall day. The folks in Canada do a great job at Woodbine-Mohawk also.”

What is the major difference between racing here in North America and Down Under?

“Actually there is a greater difference between racing in New Zealand and Australia than there is between racing in Australia and North America. Australian racing has become more similar to North American than has New Zealand. In New Zealand, the fields are generally larger and there is more strategy and less of an emphasis on speed than there is here and in Australia.”

How about the drivers?

“There are great drivers everywhere. Look at how well Todd and Andrew McCarthy have done here. I’m sure that if the better North American drivers tried it down under for any length of time, they would do well. If there is a difference, it might be in the numbers of good and top drivers. Just about every track here has top drivers who when they have the horsepower, can get the job done.”

Are you a better driver now than when you first arrived in this country?

“I sure hope that I am. I’d like to think I’ve learned from experience and observation. I love horses and I hope that the feeling is mutual. I try to be kind to them. You need not only to be aware of the horses that you are driving, but in most instances you need to know your competition, both the horses and the guys that are driving them.”

Were you surprised at how quickly you got to the top here?

“Most definitely so! I thought that some of it might come incrementally over time. But I never even dared to dream that it might come as fast as it did. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate. I started with a successful trainer who gave me good horses to drive. That led to me getting more good horses and it grew. Success breeds success.”

Please speak about some of your favorite horses.

“I suppose the first truly great horse I drove and maybe my all-time favorite is Christen Me. Who was as classy and as high speed a horse as I’ve ever been around. He was the Horse of the Year in Australia and won the Miracle Mile there for me. I cared for him so much, that when I saw him in a claiming race for $30,000 at Yonkers, I decided I wanted to make sure he was well taken care of for the rest of his life, so I claimed him with that intention. I shipped him to Brett Miller in Ohio with that in mind. But Christen Me had other ideas. He was so full of himself and in effect told Brett that he needed the training and competition. So he’s now back in training and will probably race in Ohio — but not in claimers.

“My first great horse here was undoubtedly Bettors Wish. He was not only great, but he was as consistent as a horse could possibly be. He never went anything resembling a bad race. Of course there was Manchego. When she was at the top of her game, she was the very best trotter I’ve ever sat behind. She was as light on her feet as any trotter that I’ve ever seen. When you said go to her, she was gone. Then there were the two Hill girls, Party Girl Hill and Niki Hill. If there are better pacing fillies than those two, I’ve not seen therm.

“Another of my favorites is Nifty Norman’s Amigo Volo. He’s just a little guy, but nobody ever told him that he’s too small.”

You decided to give yourself a vacation and are down in Delray Beach away from the cold. When do you anticipate that you will get back to driving?

“Probably sooner, rather than later. However, I’m really enjoying the sunshine and warm weather down here in Florida. I keep hearing about the snow and how cold it is up north. The more I hear that, the more I want to remain here. I don’t have any set schedule. I suppose that when things warm up in the north and the bigger races begin, I will get the itch to be back in the bike again and go to The Meadowlands.”

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