On the back of the colt is an equally keen and proud Dave Wilson, one of Canada’s winningest jockeys who has surged back to top form just two years after a sudden illness took him by surprise.
An agonizing encounter with pancreatitis late in 2009 cut Wilson’s racing season short and set a scare among the racing industry. Everyone, including Wilson, wondered: was the four-time leading rider and double Sovereign Award winner going to get back to championship form?
As the 44-year-old gets ready to begin the 2012 season at his Vancouver track, all signs say the accomplished horseman is on the way again.
It has been quite a ride for Wilson who was the apprentice riding sensation in Canada in 1994 just one year after taking out his jockey’s license. He won the award again the next season, also. “I wasn’t really a horse guy when I was young,” said Wilson. “I didn’t live on a farm, I was more into hockey and Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr.”
No doubt the Toronto-born Wilson’s size led him to tackle race riding and he began working at the track at 19 as a hotwalker. It wasn’t long before he was galloping horses and learning the ropes of the business from legendary trainer/jockey Frank Barroby.
It turned out he was a natural. In his first year he won 123 races at Hastings Park and Woodbine, more than any other apprentice in North America. He was an easy winner of the Sovereign for top apprentice rider but somehow was overlooked by American voters for that year’s Eclipse Award.
“Winning the Sovereigns for apprentice went way beyond my expectations,” said Wilson. “Woodbine was awesome, very intimidating.”
As a young father of three, Wilson returned to ride permanently at Hastings and since then has been a mainstay among the leading western Canadian riders.
Throughout Wilson’s riding career he has had the opportunity to ride many champion racehorses including one of the top B.C. bred fillies in the province’s history, Strawberry Morn in mid ’90s.
There have been many memorable wins for Wilson such as the 2005 B.C. Derby, where he cruised to a 3 1/2-length victory aboard the 41-to-1 long shot Spaghetti Mouse.
Just three years later, in 2008, he won the same race again aboard Krazy Koffee to mark the dark bay gelding’s fifth straight win. He was also the regular rider of graded stakes winner Monashee who won 11 straight stakes races.
It was the fall of 2009, just before the B.C. Derby when Wilson was forced to book off one race day because of brutal pain in his midsection that got to the point where he was forced to check into hospital. Days after being checked in he was still in rough shape and was soon diagnosed with pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas, accompanied by severe pain that can lead to major complications if left untreated.
While bed-ridden in the hospital Wilson was hooked up to an IV and was allowed only ‘green Jell-O for breakfast, orange Jell-O for lunch, and red Jell-O for dinner’.
Doctors eventually discovered the jockey’s infection was due to a combination of an unbalanced diet, stresses, and a spill on the track a week before.
During his unnerving one-week stay at the hospital, his girlfriend, Heidi, left his side only to go train her own horses at Hastings. He was overwhelmed by visitors and get well cards.
Once he was able to leave the hospital, Wilson set on a stern course to get healthy and fit.
He worked horses in the early morning with the strength and enthusiasm needed for the job. Asked if his sickness would affect his riding he replied, “If I can work in the mornings, then I can work in the afternoons”.
He reappeared for the 2010 season and won 33 races, a number far below his numbers in previous years when he won anywhere from 70 to 160 races. In 2011, Wilson scored 42 times. His career total is 1,868 wins from 11,530 mounts and $25.6 million in purse earnings, making him one of the top jockeys in Canadian history,
Wilson is optimistic he’s ready as ever to take aim at the leading jockey title once again at Hastings.
“I’m good to go. I’m 100%,” said Wilson. “I would like to keep doing this until I’m 50.”