The Dunn family name has been around harness racing circles as long as most remember. In recent years, it has been youngest son Dexter who has hogged many of the headlines as he breaks records none would of thought possible. However, today 20 July is a day the family will proudly remember as the day the patriarch of the family, Robert (RJ) Dunn trained his 100th winner for 2013-2014 harness racing season, joining a small but select club of trainers who have also done so.
While the 100 win milestone had been creeping closer over the last few weeks, starting this week, there still 4 winners required. With 18 runners engaged over three meetings it seemed inevitable that this week would be it.
Starting on Thursday night, 2yr old Johnny Jet did the right thing, scoring the first win of his fledgling career, at the last Forbury Park meeting of the season. Onto Friday night, it was a recent newcomer to the stable, Westburn Warrior, that took the winning count to 98. Today's Ashburton meeting was full of promise. "To be honest I was quite confident about the two that won doing the job," reflected Robert. "I was also quite keen on the 2yr old filly (Cullens First Meddle)." Unfortunately this runner lost her stride early in the race and finished tailed off.
After having had little luck recently, Art Critic came home with an undeniable run over the top of them, in the 5th race for driver Sam Ottley, who must surely have wrapped up the junior drivers premiership now also. She has built to an unassailable lead with 49 win for the season. Coming to the last of the day and the question was would it be 99 not out heading into the next week of racing? A confident drive by John with newcomer to the stable in Wesley Silcox, quickly put an end to this debate. After looming large on the turn, he eyeballed pacemaker Change Time before quickly asserting his dominance, going on to win by 2 lengths without being overly extended.
While the 100 win milestone was not something that the stable had set out to do at the start of the season, over the last two months it certainly became a point of focus. "I wouldn't call getting there the highlight of my career," said Robert, "but it is something to be proud of and tribute to a great team effort." "If you'd told me two years ago that I would train 100 winners in a season, I would have told you, that you are kidding." The 2011-2012 season was disappointing by the high standards that had been set previously and produced just 44 winners. An opportunity to lease some boxes at Woodend beach came about and from there the results began to grow. A career high of 90 wins were achieved in the 2012-2013 season and some new stars unveiled. So it was that high hopes were set for the current season.
A lightning start to the season that had the stable going toe-to-toe with the powerful Purdon/Rasmussen barn up to the end of January, was followed by quieter months in the autumn and early winter. "It did look a bit tough at one stage," confessed Robert. However, the annual Nelson/Marlborough winter circuit got things rolling again. Starting July, it became a case of not if, but when. That said it is a huge sense of relief as well as pride that all involved in the stable operations must be feeling today.
For Robert, this is just another tick in the box for an already stellar training career in which he has trained a New Zealand Cup winner - Mainland Banner - in 2005 and trained and driven Master Musician to win the 1992 Auckland Cup. With new stars in the form of Elios and Franco Nelson, hopes will be high for these features in the upcoming season. In all, Robert has now trained the winners of 960 races in New Zealand and $9,905,373 in stake-earnings. These days the stable operation is solely based at the beach and who could argue with it as a recipe for success.
While the kudos goes to Robert, he would be the first to acknowledge the role of eldest son John in being Robert's "unofficial" training partner and right-hand man. John has worked tirelessly setting high standards for all to follow. No-one would begrudge his success. John has also had another great year in the cart, driving 92 winners to date (4th in the premiership).
By Mike Drury (ROBERT DUNN RACING)