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Davis’ Wilson bonds with thoroughbreds

By February 24, 2011

James Bond has nothing on Michael Wilson.

Both are other-worldly handsome, personable and extremely intelligent. They globe-hop to places like Paris, Dubai, London and Australia. They mingle with sheikhs and heads of state. They’re seen at Ascot, the Melbourne Cup, the Kentucky Derby, each surrounded by folks who want to get close, to know more.

The differences? Nobody shoots at Wilson. He doesn’t drive an Aston Martin (yet) and those cool toys Q gives James don’t exist in Michael’s world.

Other differences? Bond is fiction. Michael Wilson — a Davis High and UC Davis graduate — is real. And getting REALER all the time.

You see, Wilson is in the final months of a two-year program that could see him become one of the saviors of West Coast thoroughbred racing.

Wilson, 25, earned a Darley Fast Start internship in 2009 and since then has been learning the world of horse racing from conception to winner’s circle.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai is Wilson’s benefactor. One of the world’s wealthiest men has spent much of the past decade underpinning the sport of kings from his Godolphin Stables, which not surprisingly stretch around the world.

His Darley program annually takes a dozen of the top, young equine minds in the world and schools them 24/7 in everything from track management to animal husbandry to lining up clients. Training horses, however, is the foundation of Darley Fast Start.

If you checked in here before last year’s Kentucky Derby, you know our former Blue Devil is drinking in every aspect of this once-most-popular sport in the United States. (In the 1950s, more people went to the track nationwide than attended any other pro sport.)

But now entries are flagging. Golden Gate Fields often struggles to build five- and six-horse races. Attendance is WAAAAY down (thank you, economy and simulcasting) and ownership is a mystery to most sports enthusiasts (remember that sport of kings thing?).

That said, Sheikh Mohammed understands a healthy global sport means that the U.S. must buy in and thrive. Wilson knows that, too. And with guys like our Michael Wilson, the future has a shining light.

Wilson will return to training upon graduation from Darley in July. He left shed row and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to join the sheikh’s school. Baffert told me last summer that Wilson “is one of those can’t-miss guys.” Wow. This coming from arguably the nation’s No. 1 saddler.

“The best lesson I’ve learned on the course is that there isn’t one way to train a horse,” Wilson said this week, via e-mail from Dubai. “I’ve always believed this and felt that you have to tailor a horse’s training program to the individual horse.”

And guess what? There’s ANOTHER Davis tie to Wilson’s fast track — swim coach Pete Motekaitis.

“I learned (about) training athletes as individuals early in my swimming career from coach Motekaitis. None of the swimmers on my team trained exactly the same. Day-by-day he would tailor the workout to each swimmer … and the results spoke for themselves (eight consecutive CIF section championships).”

Wilson says Motekaitis’ concepts apply with horses. In fact, over the past 30 years, water therapy and aquatic training have snuck into equine conditioning.

While Motekaitis (who returns to DHS this spring to assist boys swim guru Tracy Stapleton) always had the horses in the past, Wilson hopes some dandy thoroughbreds materialize for him in the future.

“I have a few ideas about the guys I’d like to work for, but at this point I haven’t decided anything,” Wilson continues. “My plans are still the same — and haven’t changed over my time on the course. I still hope to be out on my own, training within the next two or three years …

“…Unless I get lucky and somebody comes up to me and offers me a barn full of 20 horses right after (I graduate).”

One thing is sure in this industry of chance: This summer those established trainers will stumble all over each other for James Bond’s, er, Michael Wilson’s services.

— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or (530) 747-8047. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Bruce Gallaudet

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