Aaron Merriman, 33, reached career win number 5,000 when he drove Genesis See Yah to a 1:54.3 victory in Race 9 on Monday (Feb. 20) at Northfield Park. Despite missing time because of injuries, Merriman became the fifth youngest driver to reach that milestone. A total of 79 drivers have won at least 5,000 races in harness racing history and only two did it prior to the age of 33.
"It snuck up on me," he said. "It's a really nice accomplishment; not a lot of guys have done it. I didn't think it was within reach. I didn't start driving until I was 21, and I've had to take substantial time off. So I guess I got there quick. I've been blessed with good health and able to drive live horses."
Merriman was catapulted from the sulky in a June 11, 2010, accident at The Meadows and suffered a broken left elbow, two broken wrists and head injuries. At the time, he was the season's leading dash driver in North America. Surgery and the ensuing rehabilitation sidelined him for five months.
The previous year he won a career-best 706 times, good for third place among all drivers, and earned $5.05 million in purses. He averaged 590 victories per season from 2006 through 2009 and was the top driver at Northfield Park all four years. The Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, native has totaled $23.1 million in purses for his career.
This season, Merriman is tied for sixth place in victories at Northfield Park and is third in win percentage (19.8 percent) among drivers with at least 100 starts at the track. He also is sixth in the standings at The Meadows.
Overall, Merriman has 50 wins, which is good for 18th place among all drivers in North America.
"I haven't come back the way I'm capable of, but I think it will come back," Merriman said. "I have to remind myself that I'm my own toughest critic. If I have a bad day, no one needs to tell me about it.
"My elbow, shoulder and right wrist feel fine when I'm driving horses, but when I make a long drive in a car, it feels like I've had a real powerful workout. So I haven't been pushing it like I used to. I'd rather just take care of myself and prolong my career -- at least for awhile."
-- Evan Pattak also contributed to this report
the USTA Communications Department