Wilkes grew up on a dairy farm in New South Wales, Australia, and started his racing career at 16 as a groom and exercise rider. He worked in the stables of Australian trainers Paul Sutherland, Vic Thompson Jr., and Colin Hayes and arranged through a friend to come to the U.S. and work for trainer Carl Nafzger. Wilkes arrived in 1989 and galloped horses for a year and a half. Among the horses he climbed aboard during that tour with Nafzger was Unbridled,
the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, who
went on to be an important sire. Wilkes went back to Australia to
train for three years and returned in 1993 to work for Nafzger and
became the top assistant. When Nafzger began scaling back his
operation in 2005 and moved into semi-retirement in 2006, he turned
the bulk of his stable over to Wilkes, who is based in Louisville.
They continue their close association, and Wilkes helped Nafzger
with the development of 2006 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and 2007
Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. Wilkes' stakes horses include
Capt. Candyman Can, Warrior's Reward, Bearpath, Moonport
and Miss Isella.