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In Harness: Two Time Champion Driver Dexter Dunn Loves A Challenge

Mark Hall / USTA

Dexter Dunn’s $11.1 million in purses last year was
North America’s best.

(Courtesy of USTA Media Relations)

Hightstown, NJ — After picking up his second Driver of the Year Award and becoming the first driver not named Tetrick or Gingras to lead North America in purses since 2006, Dexter Dunn will attempt this year to accomplish the same goal he sets every season — do better.

He knows it might be difficult. To briefly recap Dunn’s 2020 campaign, he was the regular driver of six Dan Patch Award winners, led all drivers in Breeders Crown wins with four, and set world records behind Manchego and Party Girl Hill.

Dunn’s $11.1 million in purses was North America’s best. The last time neither Tim Tetrick nor Yannick Gingras ended the year on top came 15 years earlier when Ron Pierce occupied the No. 1 spot.

“It’s a new season and we’ll start all over again,” Dunn said. “I always want to do better. It will be hard, but I’m going to try. I’m always up for a challenge. I love a challenge.”

Dunn only arrived in the U.S. from New Zealand in August 2018. In his first two full seasons in North America, he won 855 races and $23.2 million in purses. Those earnings ranked second and the wins seventh among all drivers in North America.

“It’s been a pretty crazy couple of years, really,” Dunn said. “I just got to drive so many good horses. It’s made my job a lot easier, but it’s also exciting for me, so it’s been very good.

“I got behind some really good horses last year and they performed, and all year too. It wasn’t like one race here, one race there, they really did it for the majority of the year. It was a different year for everybody involved, but the horses performed outstanding. The trainers had them ready and really had some good runs.”

The six Dan Patch Award winners driven regularly by Dunn were 2-year-old female pacer Fire Start Hanover, 3-year-old male trotter Amigo Volo, 3-year-old female pacer Party Girl Hill, older male pacer Bettor’s Wish, older female trotter Manchego, and older female pacer Kissin In The Sand. He also drove Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger once, winning a Kentucky Sire Stakes division.

In addition to his four Breeders Crowns, Dunn’s highlights included winning his first Triple Crown event, with Amigo Volo in the Kentucky Futurity, and winning a division of the Tattersalls Pace with Party Girl Hill, who became only the second female pacer in 30 years to defeat males in a race worth at least $100,000.

He also won a Jugette elimination with Party Girl Hill in 1:49.3, the first sub-1:50 mile by a female pacer on a half-mile track and drove Manchego to victory in 1:49.3 in the Spirit of Massachusetts at Plainridge Park, the fastest time ever for a female trotter on a five-eighths-mile track.

Dunn put an exclamation point on his season Nov. 21 at The Meadowlands, when he won the Governor’s Cup with Always A Miki and three TVG Series championships, with Bettor’s Wish, Kissin In The Sand, and Manchego.

The victory with Bettor’s Wish was particularly satisfying. Bettor’s Wish was Dunn’s first Dan Patch Award winner in 2019 and was making the final start in a career that saw him win 24 of 44 races and $2.6 million.

As Bettor’s Wish completed his 2-3/4 length win in the TVG, Dunn thrust his fist in the air as they crossed the finish line.

“It was just one of those in-the-moment things, with it being his last race and the way he won it,” Dunn said. “It wasn’t planned at all, it just happened.

“He’s been so good to me and had such a great career; it was nice to see him go out the way he did. He was the first good one I got on when I got here. He never let me down. I let him down a few times, but he never let me down. I was just really happy for all the owners for him to go out like that.”

Prior to arriving in North America, Dunn was the leading driver in New Zealand, leading the premiership in wins for 10 consecutive years from 2008 through 2017. He won the World Driving Championship in 2015.

Dunn was encouraged to move to the U.S. by longtime family friend Chris Ryder, a fellow New Zealand native who has trained in the States for decades and counted Bettor’s Wish and Party Girl Hill among his stable’s stars in 2020.

“I’ve had a lot of help from good friends,” Dunn said. “I love it here. I love America and the opportunities. I’ve been really enjoying it.”

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