IT'S easy to forget sometimes that Luke Dunne is still only 16.
The teenager has crammed more into his life than most people double his age or even older.
At an age when most kids are only tentatively starting to think about a future career path, Dunne has plenty of his already mapped out.
The supremely-gifted sporting talent is only a few months into his harness racing driving career, but is already making his mark.
Dunne's victory aboard Real Dash - a horse he parts own with his father, Carisbrook trainer Paul Watson - at harness racing headquarters on February 18 was his fifth in just a short time.
His first on the Julie Douglas-trained Cobalt Blues at Kilmore in November arrived at only his 11th drive.
In a sport where heavy emphasis is placed on breeding, Dunne's is more than solid.
He is the fourth generation of his family to follow the path into harness racing and proudly so.
While there was certainly no pressure placed on him, Dunne concedes in terms of a career, harness racing was always likely going to win out.
"I grew up in Maryborough with my mum Kelly-Anne (Dunne) and she did a lot of work with the old man's horses. They had a couple of handy ones over the journey, between about 2005 when I was born and 2010-11," he said.
"In 2011, we got a Group 1 (with Shes An Image) and a couple of Group placings. We had a good run.
"Dad's a trainer, my grandfather Frank Dunne and great grandfather Paddy both drove, so I'm the fourth generation of the family.
"I've been told I'm a bit silly, I should be playing footy," he added with a laugh.
"But after having a couple of trial drives about 12 months ago, I just knew this was for me."
There's certainly a case to be made - and a robust one at that - for him to follow the football path.
An accomplished and skilful on-baller, most recently with Royal Park in the Maryborough-Castlemaine league, he was playing seniors at 15.
It followed a spate of junior club best and fairests and a league medal during a stellar 2016 season in which he polled 11 best on grounds and 48 votes in total, attracting votes in every single game that season.
He finished second in last year's MCDFNL rookie of the year award.
Not surprisingly, he has received calls from 11 senior clubs in the region over the summer, but doubts he will have the time to commit with harness racing his categorical focus.
Dunne said it was during the first year of COVID-19 that his resolve for a harness racing career really strengthened.
"I had always been involved with the horses, but I'd never really done it individually, going out and playing around with horse by myself, or training one as my own," he said.
"Over lockdown I started doing a lot more work with one horse and by toying around I taught myself a lot of things.
"I really started enjoying it and by the second lockdown all I wanted to do was buy horses, so I got a couple here, a couple there, so between me and the old man we were training about 12.
"We had five different horses make the races and four of them won within about six weeks of each other. It was a really good run.
"Come the third lockdown they went downhill with injuries, we had four of six all do something wrong."
One of those to succumb to injury was Real Dash, who has since returned, and has accounted for two of Dunne's five winners to date.
The nine-year-old gelding further provided him with his early career highlight in the sulky with his first win at Melton.
A $1500 purchase from Sydney for Dunne and his father, Real Dash has won two of six starts this season and followed Dunne to his employers Julie and Glenn Douglas and their powerhouse stable at Strathfieldsaye, where he has started to thrive.
He has been a definite work in progress, according to Dunne.
"We just needed him to work with other horses to try and get him to switch on, " he said.
"One of the biggest issues has been getting weight on him, he's always been really fine.
"We tried everything. We gave him a milk and honey drench and put him out in the paddock for six weeks before he came back in and he came in as fat as.
"So it took another two months to trim him up again. It caught us by surprise, but it's been good.
"He looked like a horse again."
Read more: Young Dunne dashes to win number five
Based at Strathfieldsaye, Dunne has no shortage of people to lean on for advice, including the Douglases, influential owner Eric Anderson, Roma Pocock and young-gun driver Jack Laugher, who is fresh off a breakout 195 win season in 2021.
On the home front, he is living with Laugher and his father Michael Laugher, also a trainer.
As he is with each drive and opportunity, Dunne could not speak more highly of the experience he is gaining at the Douglas stable.
"Late last year, working with my own horses and not quite getting results, I was getting a little frustrated more than anything," he said.
"So I thought I'd go to work elsewhere, get a bit more of an opportunity and learn some things.
"It didn't mean I couldn't work my own horses. As it's turned out four of my fives wins have been from here (the Douglases).
"It's working and the combination of everyone's knowledge out here has certainly been to my benefit."
Dunne is confident he is getting better and better with each drive and as a consequence growing sharply in confidence.
"Early, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and worrying myself out of things," he said.
"I got the first win out the way and everything became pressured to me and I just over-thought things and pulled the wrong rein at the wrong time, little things can cost you a race.
"There was a couple of times I ran a nice second or third, but I could have been the winner if I had just done something a little different."
After having a couple of trial drives about 12 months ago, I just knew this was for me.- Luke Dunne
Dunne's boss and multiple Victorian premiership-winning trainer Glenn Douglas said it was easy to sometimes lose sight of the fact he was still only 16 years old.
"At his age, I probably wasn't thinking about having a job," he said.
"He's probably had more life experience than I've ever had at 16.
"He's a good kid, but learning fast what it takes to be in or industry.
"He's got a real love for the horses, which certainly helps.
"We've still got to remember he's only 16, but he's come a long way since he's been driving.
"In the few short few months he's been driving he's got more winners than some people get in five years.
"It's not an easy game and as a young man we don't try and tax him too hard.
"It is an industry that can be pretty demanding, so time will tell."
Douglas praised Dunner's winning drive on Real Dash as poised and precise.
"It was a great drive," he said.
"Like most kids driving and even blokes like me, you have to get them to relax and not try and force the issue.
"He summed the race up perfectly.
"We spoke a little bit about it before the race about what might happen and what might not happen.
"He pulled the right rein. He could have tried to go inside the horse and that would have been a fatal mistake as it ran to the pegs.
"He paused and pulled to the outside and did a real good job.
"We hope there are many more good wins to come for him."
We've still got to remember he's only 16, but he's come a long way since he's been driving.- Glenn Douglas
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