Day At The Track

Dakota Jackson reflects on first driving victory

03:01 AM 24 Jan 2019 NZDT
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Dakota Jackson
While he is both a trainer and driver, Dakota Jackson’s ultimate goal is to be a catch driver.
Dakota Jackson Photo

Trenton, NJ — For harness racing driver Dakota Jackson, ignorance may not have been bliss, but it sure was advantageous.

On Nov. 21, the 20-year-old recorded his first driving win when he guided Dontcallme Dude to victory at Ohio’s Northfield Park. What Jackson did not know when the race started, is that his horse went off at odds of 6-5, making him the favorite for the first time in his young career.

“If I knew I was the favorite, I probably would have found some way to mess up the race and mess up my drive,” Jackson said with a laugh. “I thought I expected to be maybe third or fourth choice. I didn’t expect to be 6-5 and have everybody putting their money on me.”

Sitting in third after the opening quarter-mile, Jackson decided to make his move.

 

Dakota Jackson recorded his first driving win when he guided Dontcallme Dude to victory on Nov. 21 at Northfield Park. JJ Zamaiko photo.
 

“I was kind of hesitant to pull,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to pull this horse too early and I’m going to get beat.’ I looked over and thought ‘If I don’t get out now I don’t know if I’ll ever get out.’ At about the half-mile pole I kicked the plugs on him and going past the paddock, my dad and my brother and everyone was standing there, and I just let out the biggest holler I could let off. As soon as I did that the horse pinned his ears back and just went. It was exciting.”

Dontcallme Dude won by 3-1/2 lengths, leading to a feeling Jackson never had before.

“When I came across the line I was shaking,” Jackson said. “I didn’t really think I had it won. I could still hear everyone behind me so I wasn’t going to count it until I got across the line. When I did I thought ‘Aw gee, this is nice.’”

Jackson has not won since then, although he has barely raced since he does not have winter colors. He is anxiously awaiting the start of the season while he works as a trainer for James Stiltner in Ohio.

Dakota and his twin brother, Zachary, have wanted to drive and train ever since they were boys growing up in Monroe, Mich. Their parents, Kelly and Charles, met at the Indiana State fairgrounds in Indianapolis. Charles is also in the business, which is one of the reasons he wanted his boys to stay out of it.

“My dad wanted me and my brother to go into the military,” Jackson said. “He knew how hard it was. He wanted us boys to have good financial stability. My mom was kind of a little hesitant, but if we wanted to drive or train horses or be a blacksmith, my mom was always kind of ‘Go ahead do what you want, I’ll be supporting you the whole way.’”

Pretty much everyone in Monroe who knew the Jackson twins knew where their hearts lied.

“A lot of people will tell you, when Raceway Park was opening up, every morning and every afternoon before the races, me and my brother would actually hook race bikes to the fence at Raceway Park and we’d actually pretend we were driving,” Dakota said. “We kind of had a gist that we wanted to be drivers and trainers for a long time.”

Jackson jogged his first horse at age 6 and trained his first at age 12.

“My dad was jogging one on the track, he told me not to go do it; I went ahead and did it anyway,” he said. “It was at the Red Mile where I trained my first horse. We didn’t go very fast, it was like 2:45 or something.”

At age 12, the boys moved with their mom to Mentor On The Lake, Ohio, a town on Lake Erie just northeast of Cleveland. Jackson continued to learn the business and at age 18 he got his driving license. He also bought his first horse — which he still owns — an 11-year-old by the name of Milliondollardad. He purchased him for $2,500 from David McNeight III and feels it was a successful purchase despite limited monetary success.

“He hasn’t made me a whole lot of money but he’s taught me how to drive, he’s taught me patience and taught me a lot of respect for a horse,” Jackson said. “I would never have had the chance to even start driving without him. I owe big things to Davey McNeight and that horse.”

Asked how the horse helped him so much, Jackson said Milliondollardad did things he never thought a horse could teach a person.

“At first a lot of people said he was dangerous,” Dakota said. “In my eyes he was never really dangerous. He was more or less a real finicky horse. You can’t fight with him, you can’t be hard on his mouth. You’ve got to learn patience with him, you’ve got to do it his way. You’ve got to work with him instead of against him.

“Me being 18 years old, I was eager to drive, I wanted to have a horse with a lot of gate speed. He could leave a little but he could never really leave a whole bunch. The guys here (at Northfield) are seasoned drivers, they want you to earn your respect as much as they want to give you your respect. So I kind of got stuck toward the back a little bit and picked up a lot of thirds, fourths and fifths with him. Aaron Merriman drove him on Jug Week in Delaware. He ended up fifth. That was my first Jug Week as a trainer so the horse raced huge, I thought.”

With the support of his girlfriend, Lexi Chadbourne, Jackson plans on claiming a horse or two, and also wants to start driving Milliondollardad more frequently.

“Lexi really gives me confidence,” Dakota said. “She has a horse too and I drove her horse (Three New Dawns). She does a lot for me when it comes to getting confidence. If I have a bad race, she’ll still come up and tell me ‘Hey, you drove him fine.’”

While he is both a trainer and driver, Jackson’s ultimate goal is to be a catch driver.

“I want to have a couple horses on my own and I want to be able to catch drive for other people,” he said. “I’m just not getting a lot of chances. But my mom said ‘Sooner or later it will come, you’ve just got to wait.’”

Jackson is willing to wait for as long as it takes, considering he never wanted anything else.

“My sister, Hillary Miller, will tell you she doesn’t know why we want to do it, she just knows we want to do it and she’ll support us 100 percent,” Jackson said. “My brother and I have always wanted to be in this business our whole life. There was never a question about it.”

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