By Duane Ranger
Hall-of-Fame horseman, Bill Dixon, sadly had no idea that the inaugural $21,000 Pace at Albion Park on December 21, was named and raced in his honour.
The 76-year-old wasn’t even aware that his son Grant, and daughter-in-law, Trista, trained and drove Virgil to win the 1,660m mobile. In fact they quinella-ed the first ever ‘Bill Dixon’ – the only time it won’t be called the Bill Dixon Memorial.
Mr Dixon died eight days after that race on Sunday (December 29) at Palm Lake Care at Bethania. Mr Dixon resided at Glen Retirement Village at Waterford West.
“I visited him and his partner Jan (Miller) almost every day. Poor Bill deteriorated badly over the last 18 months, and then from about seven weeks ago he just couldn’t do anything to help himself.
“What he did for Queensland and Australian harness racing was immeasurable, but sadly in the end his death was a blessing. The doctors couldn’t do any more for him.
“Thankfully Bill is now at peace, and no longer suffering,” said Ian Wallace, his close friend of 30-plus years.
Mr Dixon was born in Charters Towers, and was born into an equine family. He gave 60 years of his life to harness racing.
“His parents always had trotters and gallopers. His father drove him to school each day then home again, but often young Bill was back home before his father arrived at the property. Bill went in the front gate, over the back fence and ran home to be with the horses,” Wallace said.
As a 16-year-old in 1959 Mr Dixon gained his harness racing driving licence, but had to carry a lead bag because he was too light.
Wallace said after marrying Raylene in Charters Towers, their sons, Bryce and Grant were born in 1969 and 1972 respectively.
“Bill raced in Charters Towers and and then aged 31 he moved to Townsville. A year later (September 8, 1975) he drove nine winners in a day – four at Charters Towers and five at Townsville. That is a national record he still possesses some 44 years later.
“Then in 1979 he became the leading Australian driver with 154 wins that season. Three years later, aged 31 he relocated his family back to Brisbane. Grant was just 10 at the time. The following year Bill moved his operation to 18 acres at Burnside Rd, Alberton,” Wallace said.
“Then in 1994, Jeremy Lee won the New South Wales Derby, giving him one of his greatest moments in the sport,” he added.
Wallace said up until late this year Mr Dixon watched all the races on TV and was very proud of what his son Grant had achieved.
“Grant is following in his footsteps. In fact he took over the training from Bill in the 2011-2012 season, and has done brilliantly since. That was after Bill won four straight national training premierships,” Wallace said.
Those four titles came in 2011 with 299 wins; ($1.8m); 2010: 264 ($0.5m); 2009: 242 ($1.6m); and 2008: 243 ($1.4m).
Mr Dixon's 299 training victories in 2011 were a national record until Emma Stewart snatched it off him in 2018.
Stewart's record of 309 victories was then overhauled by Grant Dixon, who won a record 340 races last season.
Mr Dixon was inducted into the Queensland Racing Hall-of-Fame in 2008. Four years later he was bestowed with the Distinguished National Service Award.
At the time, the chairman of Harness Racing Australia, Geoff Want, said this of Mr Dixon:
“Bill Dixon is a name well known to all involved in the sport. As the winner of the J D Watts Award for the leading Australian trainer for the period of 2008-11 inclusive, Bill was also the leading driver in 1978, showing his longevity and versatility in the sport.
“He was the dominant trainer in North Queensland until making the move to Brisbane to further enhance his reputation as a horseman of great renown. Whilst retired from training he maintains his heavy involvement with the industry as president of BOTRA.”
Wallace said Mr Dixon was president of BOTRA (Breeders, Owners, Trainers, Reinspersons Association) for many years before he became his side-kick (secretary) in 1990 to about 2014.
“He was still negotiating with Racing Queensland in 2016 for improvements. He always had others concerns at heart – from the Gold Coast to Cairns, and nationally.
“What he hasn’t done for the industry isn’t worth mentioning. He is a harness racing legend and known throughout Australia, and the world, for his achievements. A great horseman, a great human, and truly one of a kind,” said Wallace.
As well as being a top trainer and reinsman and competing at World Driving Championships, Wallace said Mr Dixon was a fighter for the good of the industry.
“He always had the welfare of the sport in his heart and did many wonderful things for the game, like getting rid of the running rail.
“What he did during the EI (Equine Influenza) out-break was phenomenal, all while establishing his state-of-the art training facility at Tamborine after relocating from Gilberton. Grant and his wife, Trista, still train from there. It is a simply amazing complex. World-class! I haven’t seen better,” Wallace said.
Wallace said Mr Dixon’s title-winning 243 wins in 2008 was astonishing considering Queensland was crippled with Equine Influenza, which cut short his season by three months.
He said the Dixon stable was one of the worst effected with all of the horses stabled on the property contracting the dreaded virus. If trying to fight off this virus wasn't enough, it was also the year Mr Dixon relocated.
“Bill burnt the candle at both ends, yet still trained many winners as well as preparing Good Lookin Girl and Atomic Ark for the Inter Dominions under difficult and trying circumstances.
Good Lookin Girl went on to be the best mare in the country with a collection of feature race victories highlighted by a 1.53.7 demolition of the Ladyship Mile.
Wallace said his good mate twice trained six winners at a meeting - at Albion Park and Gold Coast
From 1982-83 to 2010-11 Mr Dixon trained 2,833 winners from 20,538 starters and won $13,335,095 in stakes.
Bill or Grant Dixon, have been champion national trainers in 11 of the last 12 seasons, and have been first or second in all of the last 14 seasons.
“Bill developed his compassion for harness racing in the small North Queensland town of Charters Towers to his state-of-the-art world class training facility at Tamborine - from which the Dixon team have operated for the past 12 seasons.”
Mr Dixon retired from training in 2011-2012.
One month and two days after his namesake, Cooper William Dixon was born to Grant and Trista, his grandfather, passed away.
Mr Dixon’s funeral will be held this Monday (January 6) at the Uniting Church, Mount Warren Park, at 10am.
Racing Queensland honoured Mr Dixon at its meeting at Albion Park on New Year’s eve. Drivers who drew one, wore his famous black-and-white check colours as a mark of respect.