The Beckwith name has been synonymous with winning at Saratoga Casino Hotel going back well over a decade. After all, Mark Beckwith has been among the top five drivers at the Spa in most years since coming here full time in 2008. The veteran reinsman has piled up over 5,800 career victories as a driver and is still in the back half of the top ten in the local driver standings this year. Melissa Beckwith is approaching the 2,000 win mark as a trainer and since coming to Saratoga in ’08 has won the training title eight times. Both husband and wife grew up in harness racing families so it would only make sense that their son Brett tried giving a career in the sport a go.
Brett Beckwith has always been around racing, growing up in the backstretch and in the grandstand. Unlike many who spent their youth in the stables, the son of Mark and Melissa didn’t always dream of being a driver. In fact, it was to the contrary. “I was around the horses a lot when I was young. Then I kind of got away from it,” Brett told me. “When I turned like fifteen or sixteen, I spent more time in the barn and started to really grow a passion for it. I would jog them and train them a little and really started to love it.” At that point, Brett decided to lay the groundwork for a career as a driver. At the age of sixteen, drivers can compete in amateur races and qualifiers and that is the path Beckwith took.
Brett started to pile up the drives in the weekly qualifiers at Saratoga while competing in amateur races, usually at Yonkers. This year, he turned eighteen and thus was able to begin driving in pari-mutuel races, an idea his parents weren’t really thrilled about. “They didn’t love the idea of me being a driver at first,” Brett admitted. “But they came around. And ultimately, it’s my decision.” And with the early returns in, that decision is looking like a pretty good one.
Just weeks after his eighteenth birthday, Brett Beckwith piloted his first winner at Pompano Park in Florida, a moment that understandably still stands out in the young man’s mind. “It was special. I was driving my parents’ horse and my mom’s family was all there at the track,’ Brett recalled. And his mom’s family certainly has a long history in the business. Melissa’s father Jerry Silverman was inducted into the Harness Hall of Fame in 2019. Her brother Richie had a long career in harness racing as well. After a successful, albeit brief, stint driving in Florida this winter, Brett set up shop at his home in Saratoga and has become a regular in the sulky this season. Picking up more and more drives as his rookie season as gone on, the youngster is appearing more and more comfortable in the bike while still learning. “It isn’t easy,” the favorite for the track’s Johnny Page Award for up-and-coming drivers admitted to me. “I’m just trying to find that right mix of aggressiveness and patience. You can’t win every race you’re in and you have to remember that. I’m always trying to please the trainers that I drive for. Give them my all and try to put the horse in the best possible position for that race. Whatever that may be. The hardest part of driving is trying to get a horse that doesn’t really want to go, to go.”
When I talked to Brett about what he perceives as his biggest strengths thus far in the early stages of his career as a driver, his answer was pretty simple. “Versatility. Knowing when you’re in a spot to potentially win and also realizing that you can’t win all the time and sometimes getting the owners and trainers a good third or fourth place check is good too. It just depends on the circumstances of the race,” Beckwith logically explained. As far as things he’s working on, Brett referenced all-around horsemanship. “I just have to continue to learn the horses. Trying to know the horses better is a big part of it and I’m still improving in that department. Also, I need to learn how to lose better. I’m not very good at that yet,” Brett chuckled. And that desire to succeed, as well as his competitive nature, is a trait Brett has always exhibited. That competition spills over to the track maybe even more so when he races against his father. “He and I both love competing and when we square off against each other in a race, we both want it even more. We had a stretch drive against each other last week and I’ve never seen him want to win so badly,” Brett laughed. “But that’s okay because I wanted to beat him just as bad as he wanted to beat me. There’s no one I want to beat more than my dad. But that’s just the business. You have to crave winning in order to succeed,” he said of the good-natured competition among the two.
Having a full-time job as a driver at age eighteen isn’t easy as Brett Beckwith is learning but the youngster is enjoying success in his rookie season in the sulky. He’s traveled around a fair amount and has already recorded wins at Vernon Downs, Plainridge Park, Tioga Downs and Freehold Raceway in addition to his victories at Pompano last winter and now has fifteen wins here at Saratoga. And maybe more importantly as far as his development goes, he’s accrued well over 200 starts at the Spa in ’21. On Monday’s matinee, the young reinsman piloted a pair of winners, scoring his fourth ever driving double. “It was fun. I’ve gotten some doubles but haven’t been able to grab that triple yet. I’m trying!” Beckwith said. In fact, not only did Brett pilot a pair of winners on the card but he did secured the victories in back-to-back races while guiding trotter Jeter’s Way and pacer Juxlivin My Dream to front-running scores. On Saturday night, he had another drive in the Open Pace as well, sitting behind longshot Quagmire Bluechip in the $14,000 feature. As far as future plans, well, short term he is planning on driving here at Saratoga on our three days per week and when Freehold opens back up, he plans on heading there to get some work on Fridays and Saturdays. “I raced a little at Freehold before they closed for the season and I’m looking forward to getting some more opportunities there when they open back up,” the 18 year old told me. As far as a longer term plan, Brett says he’d ideally like to split his time between here at Saratoga and in New Jersey at Freehold and the Meadowlands. Lofty goals for sure but none that seem unachievable for the young man who is getting better and better and seemingly feeling more and more comfortable in the bike. When I asked him if he wants to run his own stable someday, Brett said that it wasn’t one of his goals. “No. I’m not looking to have my own barn. I’d like to own a few horses for sure and give them to some different trainers but definitely not looking to be a trainer myself,” he explained. One thing is for certain- we’ve been used to seeing the Beckwith name at or near the top of the driver and/or trainer standings for the better part of the last fifteen years at the Spa and it seems very likely that that will continue as there is now a new Beckwith in town.
Live racing takes place on Monday and Tuesday afternoons starting at 12 Noon and on Saturday evenings with first post time set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!