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Spotlight On: Stewart Dickson

19 April 2024

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Stewart Wilson Dickson is a man for all seasons.

Hailing from Innisfail in North Queensland, Stewart Dickson moved to the south-east of the state with his parents back in 1964 where they set-up camp at Bridgeman Downs, just north of Brisbane, with no background in harness racing.

In fact, Dickson was a skilled equestrian rider who stumbled into harness racing following a day at Rocklea where he competed and won a showjumping event before watching harness racing at the same venue.

But Dickson quickly worked out the difference in prize money and soon got himself a pacer.

Son Of Jerry became his maiden standardbred and Dickson fondly recalls he taught him more than he could learn.

From there, the much-respected horseman never looked back.

The proficient conditioner has carved out a magnificent career spanning five decades, working with some remarkably gifted equine athletes from his Caboolture property, aptly named Nitro Lodge after purchasing the property back in 1991.

And they’ve come in all shapes and sizes.

But, somewhat amazingly, another big milestone is just around the corner.

Dickson, 74, is closing in on 1000 career victories since official HRA (Harness Racing Australia) data has been collated. Seasoned experts indicate he’s easily past that figure, while some of his current troops in training have passed or are nearing record figures.

As it stands, Dickson prepares ageing warrior Lancelot Bromac, the evergreen 14-year-old gelding who holds the record for most starts by an Australian pacer with 539 starts and still counting.

Lancelot Bromac has won 34 races with career earnings recently surpassing $400,000.

Amazingly, 32 of those wins have come at Albion Park.

His nearest rival on the leaderboard is former Queensland-based pacer and now retired marvel Destreos who went to the track 486 times for Ken Rattray and Sally Stingel.

Destreos still holds the record for most wins at Albion Park (73) while the Top 5 is rounded out by Our Overanova (51), Nickys Falcon (47), Colt Thirty One (44) and Toolara Dream (42).

Lancelot Bromac with regular driver Angus Garrard and trainer Stewart Dickson.
LANCELOT BROMAC NZ
ASHLEE NITRO
ILLBEWATCHING Next Racing
MISTER HART

It should be noted that the bulk of victories for Destreos came via open class racing!

And for those wondering, the Top 10 is completed by Hal Thomas (40), Blacks A Fake, Be Good Johnny & Cobbity Classic (38) and then Happy Haldon & Melton Multimax (34) then followed by Lancelot Bromac.

So, while Lancelot Bromac has been the ‘focus’ horse for the Dickson stable in recent times given his exploits, another pair of pacers in the care of the Dickson are quietly chipping away with their own slice of history.

The Redcliffe record for most wins at the famed ‘triangular’ track currently sits at 30 held by Glenmore Admiral, a super durable pacer who was prepared by Keith Addison for the bulk of his career before finishing off with Stuart Hunter.

Glenmore Admiral won 75 races in total during his time on the track racing through the 1980s and early ‘90s.

But the cavalry is coming for the Redcliffe record with Ashlee Nitro (27), Mister Hart (24) and Illbewatching (18) all within striking distance.

Both Ashlee Nitro and Illbewatching are prepared by Dickson.

Ashlee Nitro and Illbewatching are siblings - half-brother/sister.

Oddly, the bulk of victories for both Ashlee Nitro and Illbewatching is very similar to Lancelot Bromac with Ashlee Nitro winning 27 of her 30 races at Redcliffe while Illbewatching has won 18 of his 22 races at the bayside track.

“I don’t know what it is about the trio. They just have their ways about doing things but, overall, they’re all quite similar in many other ways,” Dickson explained.

“They jog off a lead and swim every day, that’s a snapshot of their week in work when racing. It’s very basic but all three swim every day and are trained out of paddock before going into a yard overnight. Being in the paddock throughout the day allows them to get their heads down and enjoy mother nature.”

Ashlee Nitro.

Currently working a team of 10, nine of which are racehorses, Dickson outlined his stable stalwarts are a product of the ‘new way’ of racing compared to the past.

“Racing has certainly changed. The evolution has seen a major shift in speed, the breed is a lot more refined which now generates the speed because they’re much cleaner gaited compared to the old days,” he said.

“But the two biggest differences for mine are barrier draws and drivers. Barrier draws make a huge difference while today’s drivers expect more. It’s a business and treated accordingly with the way they handle loyalty, do form, and know the ins and outs of all the competing horses.

“I’m certain Lance and Ash are great examples of this. These young professional drivers generate more speed from both horses, which gives them confidence.

“I’m not sure how long both Lance and Ash can keep going. In fact, I’m fairly certain this will be the final year of racing for Ash, so hopefully she can secure the Redcliffe record before we call time on her career.”

Dickson inherited the three pacers from their previous owners, Peter Draney (Lancelot Bromac) moved on with life while his brother-in-law Ken O’Connor (Ashlee Nitro and Illbewatching) passed away.

O’Connor was breeding from Ashlees Gem before the mare was sold to Victorian trainer Mattie Craven who put the Christian Cullen mare in foal to champion sire Bettors Delight.

Craven’s current star Bettor Isolate (10 wins from 23 starts) hails from this family.

“The horses were great for Ken but more importantly, he was great for the horses. The decision was made to sell Ashlees Gem because we’re not getting any younger. Mattie snapped her up quickly and hopefully she’ll keep doing the job,” Dickson said.

“When we call time on Ash (Ashlee Nitro), I have no plans on breeding from her, not at my age, so I’ll have to figure out something in the end.

“All three horses have been good earners, certainly not my best, but great honest performers.”

Illbewatching.

So, who does Dickson rank among his star performers of the past?

In no particular order.

Lord Minbar: “Raced competitively against Popular Alm in several features, enough said!”

Waylon: “Genuine racehorse who tried very hard, great horse for me and would’ve loved more like him.”

Speedy Lord: “New Zealand pacer who made it to open company, always gave his best.”

Makin It Easy: “Best juvenile I trained. Won nine straight as a two-year-old and unplaced just once in 14 starts which was his final start of the season.”

Robert Harlyn: “I was only his driver but without doubt the best I’ve sat behind. I could talk to him, and he knew exactly what my thinking was at the time. Super intelligent animal.”

And honourable mentions.

Thomas Nitro, Jacky Boy, Sheffin Heir, Me N Jim, Tolvan, Do It Again, Low Frequency, Tarport Sally, Makin News, Evening Class, Strawbs Buller Boy, Phantom Fella, Fitchity, Irish Wolfe Tone, Makin Time, Lady Mandeville, Jurassic Jack, Simply Stunning, Smooth Davita, Tyrolean Storm, Sammy Bye Bye, Harley Street, Toddie Jane, Tarport Sally and Ima Go Man among many others.

“I’ve been lucky to work with so many wonderful horses and, with a bit more luck, it could’ve been completely different, but I can’t complain because I’ve got so many great memories,” Dickson said.

“In many ways, it was a fluke how I got started but the game has been good to me.”

Many would argue it was no fluke, maybe destiny, and the game is better for having “Stewie Dickson” involved.

Stewart Wilson Dickson, a great harness racing man.