He impressed Frank Banner a former sprint champion, who advised him to become a professional. Downes quickly made a name for himself in Mile events.
In 1963 at Bendigo, aged 23 years, he became the first professional athlete in the world to break the magical four-minute mile barrier. Downes’ time of 3.59.7 seconds set on March 10′ 1963 was still standing as the world professional record more than 20 years later.
At Stawell in 1965, Downes won the Herb Hedemann Invitation Mile from scratch. His impressive wins at Stawell between 1959 and 1969 included seven first placings from ten events, a second, a third and a fourth.
Nearing the end of his career, Downes won the Mile championship at Northcote in 1969 – thus ended the career of Australia’s most brilliant miler, a man who ran better because of his fear of losing.