At the end of every season, voters at Saratoga Casino Hotel name a Johnny Page Award winner. The honor is bestowed to the track’s top up-and-coming driver or, in some cases, a driver who may be more of a veteran but is new to the track and thus deemed a breakthrough sulky star. Some years, it can be a bit difficult to spot one reinsman that has set himself apart from the rest among “Spa newbies.” In 2021, though, the voting was a landslide as Brett Beckwith took home the Johnny Page Award after winning over 100 races in his rookie year and although not all of those victories came at Saratoga, he did establish himself as one of the track’s top catch-drivers in ’21.
There was no sophomore slump in the cards for Beckwith in the early portion of the ’22 campaign. After spending much of the winter driving at Freehold and a bit at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Brett was ready to roll when the season at the Spa kicked off in February. The 19 year old came out strong and while still driving out of town a bit, he was present for every race card here at Saratoga. His talent and budding experience continued to shine as Beckwith kicked off his season in the top five in the driver standings. To an observer, he appeared to be more of a veteran than a rookie and was clearly finding that proper balance of aggression and patience while continuing on his path to becoming a complete driver. While sitting fourth in the local standings, Beckwith was sitting in mid-pack in a race on April 11th. When the horses in the race turned for home, there were dueling leaders and after one of the two slugging it out for the win made a break, it led to an ugly accident. Several drivers hit the track including Brett Beckwith. “I heard the yelling of the drivers involved and I tried to avoid it the best I could but it didn’t work out very well,” the young reinsman recalled. “Fortunately I wasn’t trampled or anything but when I hit the track, I knew I had messed up my wrist pretty badly. I’ve broken it before and I just knew it had happened again.” Unfortunately, he was right.
The next week Brett headed to Pennsylvania where he had surgery on his badly broken wrist. “The surgeon we wanted to use in New York wasn’t available and through some family connections, we heard of a phenomenal surgeon in Pennsylvania so that’s the path we took,” Beckwith explained. “I wound up with a plate and about eight screws in there. It was bad.” Maybe even worse than the pain and physicality of dealing with this unforeseen and unfortunate incident was the mental aspect of it for Brett. “I was pretty distraught when it happened, honestly. I had a pretty good year last year but things were really picking up for me before the accident. I was having a pretty good amount of success and gaining more and more experience so it really sucked. I was third in the driver standings at Freehold and was maybe fourth here at home. Not that there’s ever a good time for an injury but this seemed like really bad timing for me,” Brett lamented. When I asked Brett about the toughest part of the whole unfortunate situation, he answer was pretty quick. “Boredom. I don’t like to sit around and there wasn’t much else I could do. So I pretty much just watched every race at every race track there is,” he joked. “After a few weeks, I could function enough to get to the barn a bit and eventually did a little jogging….but nothing too intense. The one thing I did do was run every day. I wanted to stay in shape so I did do that.”
After three months on the mend, Brett Beckwith returned to the sulky on Thursday afternoon when he piloted Angel Nation in the Open Trot at Plainridge in Massachusetts. Although the Melissa Beckwith-trained trotter didn’t fare very well in that start, the trip in the sulky had to feel like it was a long time coming for Brett. “Good to be back,” he gleamed. “Mentally, I’m 100% which is good. No fear, nothing like that. Every driver knows there is risk. Another accident will come at some point I’m sure just hopefully not for quite a while. Physically, I’m doing way better than expected. I was told it would take a year or so to feel 100% and while I might not be a hundred yet, it’s really close. The wrist feels perfect strength wise just maybe not where it’ll be from a mobility standpoint. But honestly, I’m excited because even the mobility is really, really good,” he explained. As far as what Brett missed the most in the three months while he was on the shelf, “the competition,” he answered. “It’s truly not about the money for me. That doesn’t drive me. The competition does. I’m a very competitive person. I love to win and really I just love being out there racing. Even though I still have a lot to learn, I was just getting to the point of being comfortable. Making decisions, gaining experience, just basically improving.” And while the time he was down must’ve felt like an eternity, in reality it was only three months in what hopefully will be a lengthy and prosperous career.
Although Brett’s return drive came at Plainridge last week, he will be a Saratoga staple moving forward. “I’ll drive at Plainridge when I can but I’ll be back full time here at home. Coming back this weekend was really exciting. It’s great to be back,” Beckwith explained. As far as what’s to come, “maybe I’ll do some Meadowlands here and there when I can and when Freehold starts back up, I’ll get there when I can but I want to get things back going here at home,” he said. Brett was also quick to mention the numerous amount of drivers who reached out to him over the course of the time of his recovery. “A lot of guys who have gone through some bad injuries got a hold of me to tell me to just stick it out and be patient. That it’ll take a while but don’t rush it back before you’re ready both physically and mentally,” he recalled. “A lot of the guys who reached out I hadn’t ever even really spoke with before so that was really cool of them.” Brett mentioned top-flight drivers like Aaron Merriman, Matt Kakaley and James Macdonald among others who were very encouraging to him along the way. “It really meant a lot to hear from guys who had gone through something similar before,” Brett acknowledged. The 19 year old Beckwith wasted very little time in returning to the winner’s circle as on Saturday night he piloted the winner in race two at the Spa on an evening in which he wound up making three trips to victory lane. A hat trick in the return of Brett Beckwith whose lengthy wait to return to the sulky is now complete.
Live racing takes place on Monday July 11 starting at noon before Monday racing goes on hiatus until after Labor Day. Beginning this Friday (July 15), the racing schedule will consist of Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening racing starting at 6:45pm each night and it will remain that way throughout the thoroughbred meet across the street before wrapping up during the week of Labor Day. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!