by Adam Hamilton
It is so typical of Grant Dixon’s modesty and unassuming nature that he doesn’t feel comfortable talking much about his latest remarkable achievement.
The champion Queensland horseman became just the fourth driver in the southern hemisphere to top 5,000 career wins when he saluted on stable favourite Colt Thirty One on Aug. 13 at Albion Park.
It propelled the 49-year-old Dixon into truly elite company. Chris Alford leads the way with more than 7,700 wins, the late Gavin Lang reached 6,303 and veteran WA superstar Chris Lewis is nearing 6,000.
“It is amazing to be up with those guys, but it doesn’t feel quite right,” Dixon said. “I’ve won most of my races up here in Queensland, while they’ve won everywhere and won Inter Dominions and major Group 1 races all over the place.
“I guess that’s the only disappointing part to me, that I haven’t had the horses or opportunities to win those sorts of races.”
All that could be set to change in the next couple of years, but more on that later.
In a script fitting of a TV show, Dixon brought-up his milestone win on Colt Thirty One when the 6-year-old turned his form around to post the 51st win of his stellar career, which has netted over $A1 million in earnings.
“It was like old Chester (Colt Thirty One) knew the significance of the night and the race,” Dixon said.
“He’d been down on form for while and we didn’t think he could win. He had a hard run and when he’d normally be feeling the pinch, he really dug in. I could feel him really lift halfway down the straight. It’s the best he’s felt in a long time, and it made it extra special.
“Chester’s the most special horse we’ve had. He and a horse called Majestic Mach, who looked like being anything as a young horse, but didn’t quite go on with it as much as we hoped when he got older.”
Dixon’s milestone is even more remarkable and special to him given the major health scare he was confronted with in 2013.
“I had this bad cold I just couldn’t shake. Majestic Mach was in the Sires’ final on the Saturday night, and I didn’t want to miss driving him, so I went to the doctor on the Tuesday. He took some blood tests,” Dixon said.
“The next day the phone rang, I saw it was the doctor’s number, and thought ‘Oh, this can’t be good.’ He told me to get straight to the (Brisbane) hospital because I had Leukemia and needed to go straight for treatment immediately.
“I was hooked-up to a machine for three hours a day for the next 10 days straight.
“I was so flat, but I asked him if I could pop out of hospital just for one drive – Majestic Mach in that final. He said he wouldn’t recommend it, but also wouldn’t stop me. I drove in the race, but gee it knocked me around because my red (blood) cell count was so low.”
Dixon’s form of Leukemia is CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukemia) and, after the initial blood transfusions, it is treatable with ongoing medication.
“I’m lucky, very lucky. It’s the best type of Leukemia to get, if that makes sense,” he said. “It’s pretty much stayed under control since with medication. I see the specialist once every three months and keep dealing with it.”
Dixon is in awe of his wife of almost 12 years, Trista, who not only runs the huge stable of 60 horses in work, but is also mother to their three children: Thomas 9, Jai 7 and Cooper 2.
“She’s a marvel. She works harder than me, way, way harder,” he said. “It was just before we had Thomas when I got sick, and Trista’s had to shoulder everything along the way.
“We’d have runners at four or five meetings every week and I’d drive at four. I used to drive at five or six, but I make time to spend with the kids now. I listen to those self-help podcasts and there’s not a successful person you listen to who doesn’t say they wished they carved out more time to spend with their kids.”
Dixon started driving in 1988, not long after his hugely successful and late father, Bill, had moved the family down from Townsville in northern Queensland to the big smoke in Brisbane to try and take his training career to another level.
“Dad was a great support and huge inspiration,” Grant said. “It took me a bit of time to get ticking when I first started driving. I’d say it was a slow, gradual climb.”
Back to Dixon’s lament about a scarcity of interstate or feature race opportunities and in an already special year, he looks to have found the best pacer he has trained yet, 3-year-old Leap To Fame.
The son of Bettors Delight has looked awesome winning 12 of his 17 starts, including the Group 1 NSW and Queensland Derbys.
Leap To Fame has already won an interstate feature with the NSW Derby triumph in March, but Dixon hopes it is just entrée to the coming months and years.
“He’s potentially the best yet. I say potentially because Majestic Mach and Colt Thirty One were fantastic young horses and raced against really, really good crops. Majestic Mach was beaten by Lennytheshark in a NSW Derby and he went on to win an Inter Dominion. King Of Swing beat Colt Thirty One in the 2YO Breeders Crown and he won three Miracle Miles.
“Leap To Fame feels special and has looked great so far, but his test will come in the next few months when we head to Victoria.”
Leap To Fame is trying to become the first pacer since Captain Joy in 2005 to win the NSW, Queensland Victoria Derbys.
The heats of the Victoria Derby are at Melton on Oct. 1 and the final a week later.
Beyond that, the powerfully-built colt has got the Breeders Crown series in Victoria in November and then a trip to Sydney for the NSW Breeders Challenge.
Then, next year, there are races like the Chariots Of Fire, Miracle Mile and the inaugural running of the world’s richest race, the $A2.1 million Eureka in Sydney next September.
“We’ll meet some really talented horses in Victoria,” Dixon said. “It’ll definitely be a step-up from what he’s been beating so far.”
Horses such as Catch A Wave, who boasts nine wins from just 10 starts, and Kiwi raider Akuta, who is considered one “right out of the box” by New Zealand experts.
“I’m not saying and certainly not assuming he’ll beat those horses, but he has got X-factor this horse. I had to really ask him for the ultimate effort, that bit extra, for the first time in the Queensland Derby last time and he found for me. Only special horses can do that,” Dixon said.