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Walls getting learning experience with young horses

July 17, 2019

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Dalton Walls can go fast, but he’s in no hurry.

Walls, who was a four-year letterman in track (sprinter/hurdler) and soccer in high school, is pursuing a career in harness racing as a trainer. The 20-year-old Walls, the son of trainer Bruce Walls, is based at the Darke County Fairgrounds in western Ohio, where his small stable includes unbeaten Ohio Sire Stakes trotter Big Box Hanover.

Since starting his own stable in 2017, Walls has won 14 of 67 races and earned $126,388 in purses. Walls and Bruce Soulsby are ownership partners on five horses, all trotters.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been at the barn doing stuff,” Walls said about his involvement in racing, which began by helping his dad around the stables. “When I went out on my own, Bruce Soulsby has been the force behind me. I owe him almost everything. He really gave me a shot for a young guy. We just keep growing a little bit every year. He and his wife have been really big supporters of me, and I owe them a lot.”

Walls did not intend to focus on training horses so early in his adulthood. He went to Wittenberg University to study business management, but the success of the horses he kept as a side project persuaded him to direct his full attention toward racing.

“I always wanted to keep my hand in it, but I saw how tough it could be with the ups and downs of the business,” Walls said. “My first year of college, I had a couple horses and was trying to do both, but I was getting stretched too thin trying to do everything. The horses were racing well enough that I decided to take a year and see if I could give it a shot and see if I could get something going. So far, it’s been going really well.”

Walls plans to continue working on his college degree, now with a focus on agri-business.

“I want to have something to fall back on,” Walls said. “I think that’s really important.”

Walls enjoys working with young horses, particularly trotters.

“The biggest thing for me is taking young colts that know nothing and watch them develop,” Walls said. “That’s my favorite thing, developing young trotting colts and watching them grow mentally and physically. I get a lot of joy out of that. It’s the most fulfilling thing for me.”

So much so, that Walls has no burning desire to drive in races. He has driven 12 times, but only once since last August.

“We focus on younger horses and I don’t want my owners having to worry about me learning to drive on these young trotters,” Walls said. “There are a lot of good guys out there. I think it’s best to let those guys drive and let me just worry about the horses, I think that’s more what I want to do for sure.”

Big Box Hanover, a son of Uncle Peter-Box Of Dreams, has been a pleasant addition to the Walls-Soulsby stable. The gelding is 2-for-2 this year, with both victories coming on the Ohio Sire Stakes circuit. The horse, driven regularly by Trevor Smith, was purchased for $13,000 at the 2018 Ohio Selected Jug Sale.

“He was a big, good-looking thing,” Walls said. “We thought the price was right and took a shot on him. He’s been good to us so far. We’re really excited.”

Walls was uncertain what to think of Big Box Hanover when he was preparing him for this season’s races.

“He never did anything wrong, but he only did exactly what you asked of him and not an ounce more,” Walls said. “He was never very impressive. You could kind of tell there was always more in the tank, but he never gave me much until we started racing. He’s done a 180. He just continues to get better.

“I think what has impressed me the most, and I think Trevor Smith would say the same thing, he’s really willing to chase horses down. When he’s got a target in front of him, he never seems to run out of gas; he just keeps coming. For as big as he is, I really didn’t think he would be that fast of a horse. He continues to surprise me and rip off nice quarters and stuff like that. He really gives me everything he’s got on the racetrack and that’s all I can ask of him.”

Big Box Hanover could help the young trainer make a name for himself, but Walls is taking everything in stride.

“I want to get as big as the game will let me, but where I’m at right now, I think it’s important that I have enough time to do almost everything myself,” Walls said. “The owners are paying me to do a job and pay attention to stuff. If I keep my numbers small, I can put in more quality time with every horse I’ve got instead of getting stretched too thin and running around too much.”

Most importantly, Walls learns more the more he does with each horse.

“The owners letting me make mistakes has been really good for me,” Walls said. “They don’t lose patience with me and let me take my time and learn the right thing to do. I think making those mistakes has been good for me. Every horse I’ve had has been a learning experience, whether it’s good or bad. That’s been huge for me.” (Ken Weingartner/USTA)

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