Trenton, NJ --- When the Career Day recruiters show up at Westfall High School in Ohio during the next two years, Hunter Myers probably won’t need to pay them a visit. He has had his future mapped out for quite a while now.
Myers, a 16-year-old rising junior at Westfall, drove his first Standardbred horse at age 5 and immediately fell in love. The Williamsport, Ohio, native is busy on the Ohio fair circuit and got his first win July 11 at the Jackson County Fair in Wellston. He added two more victories later the same day.
After going winless in his first seven starts, Hunter entered Monday with nine wins, 11 seconds and 10 thirds in 55 races. His horses have earned $21,313 in purses, and he hopes this is only the start of a nice, long driving career.
“I started off driving my first horse at around 5 or 6,” he said. “As soon as I started to grow up I said ‘I’m going to start driving horses. That’s what I want to do.’
“I’ve grown up in it, my dad is in it, my grandpa is in it. My dad owns some horses and trains some horses for his brother, Mark. I’d like to have a couple horses of my own but as I’m growing up driving I want to stick with the driving for a while. But I’d like to have one or two horses to tinker around with.”
Myers still remembers his first time behind a horse, which came while he was jogging a horse with his dad, Michael.
“We had this one horse, she was a nice trotter and easy,” Hunter recalled. “He took me around until the last two laps and stopped her. He said ‘She’s yours.’ I drove the last two laps and ever since then I’ve been going up. I jogged that horse, he bumped me up to another horse, then another.
“My first training trip was in a cart, a 2:40 mile. It was nothing extreme. My first bike training trip was a pacer when I was around 8. I was little nervous to get on the bike for the first time and get behind the horse. You’re sitting in a jog cart and jumping to a bike. There’s a big difference, but I kept my cool and as soon as I turned I said ‘This ain’t bad. It’s like a jog in the park.’”
Myers played baseball until the fifth grade and then decided to focus completely on driving. He is smart enough to use each stepping stone as a learning experience, starting with the matinees. He is also humble enough to let a horse show the way when necessary.
“The matinees gave me a lot of gate experience,” he said. “I had an old horse, (11-year-old) Singapore Gambler. He was my first matinee horse, he knew what he was doing.
“So it gave me the experience of being with a horse down inside of me, grouped up. And my horse more or less trained me. The horse told me, ‘We’re staying right here, and then we’re going back here.’ I could let the horse go.”
Once he got his qualifying/fair license, Myers could not wait to start racing at the fairs. And while he did not win in his first seven races, he finished second four times. That led to a mixture of frustration and optimism.
“I had to say I’m right up there, and I need a half a second and I’ll be all right,” he said. “At the same time, it bugged me sometimes when I thought about it. I’m right there, a little bit more oomph and he or she should win it. But I was happy with where I was.”
It finally came together while driving Uptown Dreamer, a horse his dad is leasing. In looking at the program, Myers thought he might finish second. The horse quickly got to the front and remained there, although a challenge emerged from the outside on the last turn.
“I was chasing (Uptown Dreamer) and tapping her, I was yelling at her, trying to get her faster,” Myers said. “I was doing everything in my willpower to get her faster.”
Once he got across the line, Hunter said “I was hootin’ and hollerin.’ I had a big old smile on my face. It took a while to get the smile off my face, I was so excited.”
He managed to refocus in time to win two more races on the day.
“I just knew I couldn’t have a big head when I went back out there,” he said. “I just said ‘Calm down, it’s a new horse, I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ That’s what I did, and sure enough I won again.”
As his career starts to build steam, Hunter credits his dad and veteran driver Jack Dailey as two of his biggest influences.
“Jack always told me ‘I can’t wait to get you on the track to race against you,’” Myers said. “He’s a big ball of fun out there when you’re racing against him. I always tell Jack if he sees something wrong to tell me.
“My dad is the one pulling me up and down these fairs. He’s taking me all over and helping me out. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here where I’m at.”
And he’s exactly where he wants to be -- taking dead aim on a career in harness racing.
by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Courtesy of the United States Trotting Association Web Newsroom