10/02/2009 12:00AM

Wilkinson has gone from trucking to training

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Winston Wilkinson, 61, has been training Thoroughbreds for over 20 years and has been a mainstay in the shed rows of Fort Erie. His quiet, laid-back demeanor, together with his friendly smile and helping hand, is very much appreciated by his fellow Fort Erie horsemen.

Wilkinson and his wife, Carol, decided to take up the racing game in the mid-1980s after buying a small farm in Smithville, Ontario, an hour's drive from the Fort Erie track. From that moment on, the love of the Thoroughbred has continued to shape their lives.

"I made some money running my own trucking business," said Wilkinson, "and that enabled us to buy the farm.

"As a teenager in Barbados I worked around Thoroughbreds and even rode in three races, but the weight factor was too much so I had to move on. But my dream had been to one day own a couple of horses and have my trainer's license."

Wilkinson said he began his training career with Quarter Horses at Picov Downs (now Ajax Downs) and then moved onto Thoroughbreds. After Winston became established as a Thoroughbred trainer, the Wilkinsons decided to try their hand at breeding horses and had some decent success in the 1990s.

A favorite homebred of Wilkinson's was the 1995 foal Twisted at Five. By the sire Prosperous, a son of Mr. Prospector, and out of the mare Queen of Fives, Twisted at Five banked over $100,000 and won at both Woodbine and Fort Erie.

"Breeding is a tough and expensive operation," said Wilkinson, "and although we had our successes, the decision was made to stick with the conditioning end of the business. That is where we are today, and we enjoy our small stable of runners and really enjoy the day-to-day connection with horsemen and the track.

Wilkinson said he has 11 runners in the barn.

Wilkinson has worked with Woodbine-based trainer Bob Tiller in recent years, preparing youngsters at the Fort for the eventual move to Woodbine.

"In addition to the young horses, he also sends us some runners that just do not fit in at Woodbine," he said.

Tiller is responsible for finding Wilkinson's current favorite, the 5-year-old mare I See Rockets. Tiller bought her at the Woodbine yearling sale for Wilkinson and his partner Clinton Morris.

"She is very game, usually brings home a check, and has won at both Ontario tracks," Wilkinson said. "She is presently at the farm having a small break, but will be back for the end of the season."

Wilkinson is in the top 10 in the trainer standings and is satisfied with the barn's results this season.

* Heavy rains and strong winds caused the Monday card to be cut short after the third race. The track, a sea of mud Monday afternoon, was closed to workouts on Tuesday morning, and racing resumed that afternoon.