New Brunswick, NJ --- At Freehold Raceway, when a favorite makes a quarter pole move from third, he usually gets the top and the race evolves from there. But when the driver on the front end is Andy Miller and the guy making the quarter pole move is the new kid on the block, it’s more likely to turn out differently. Parked out at 5-2, after trying such a move with Really Ideal in the first race on March 24, the new kid, Aaron Byron, had to bite the bullet and ride it out.
“I was mad at myself more than anything because I should have left harder,” said the 22-year-old native of Barrie, Ontario. “When I saw the fractions I knew that I was in a bad spot but if you’ve never been parked, you haven’t driven too much.”
Ken Weingartner photo
Aaron Byron is having a successful campaign at Freehold Raceway.
Ken Weingartner photo
“I got parked in my first lifetime start in Canada,” recalls Byron. “You can’t let it get to you…you can’t think about that. If you do, it influences the way you drive in every race.”
“I like to study Cat Manzi because he’s an incredible driver, but John Campbell is my idol,” said Byron after the race. “And today I learned a little more about Andy Miller, too, I guess.”
Aaron Robert Byron is the son of Ontario regulars Stephen and Susan Byron. Stephen Byron is one of the top drivers at Georgian Downs.
“My dad is pretty much always in the top three in the driver’s standings there,” boasts Byron. “My mom and dad have a small stable they race and my dad gets a lot of catch-drives. He’s usually in just about every race.”
“Growing up I had two interests, harness racing and hockey, and in the end harness racing won,” says Byron. “I played hockey for 13 years and moved up to the junior minors, but I just wasn’t big enough to go beyond that level. I started playing hockey when I was five and I jogged my first horse when I was eight.”
While most drivers can tell you everything about the first horse they ever sat behind, Byron, when asked about his first time in a jog cart, had to think about it.
“I think it was a gray horse, but there were so many horses….yeah, it was a gray horse.”
At the ripe old age of 18, Byron left his family’s operation and went to work for Canadian mainstay Roger Mayotte.
“Besides my dad, Roger probably had the biggest influence on my overall horsemanship,” he recalls. “The way Roger hangs up a horse and gets one ready gave me a new perspective on racing overall. I stayed there for nearly a year and learned a lot.”
Soon after the stint with Mayotte, Byron returned home and got his trainer’s license by working again in his family operation. He also had an itch to continue on as a driver and he quickly headed in that direction.
“I had to go to Georgian Downs to do my “rated mile” drive for the judges. I drove a really good horse named Kentucky Rebel and I did a good job. After that I did my qualifiers and when I was done I had to find a trainer who would use me because I wasn’t about to get any of my father’s drives.”
Byron then moved on to Tony Tangreada’s barn.
“Tony’s a well-respected guy on the Ontario circuit and he had a stable of about 15 horses at Georgian Downs. He gave me drives but I didn’t do as well as I would have wanted,” laments Byron.
The 2005 record books show that Byron drove in 33 races and won five of them. His UDR was .253.
“Tony (Tangreada) gave me a great opportunity and I have a lot of admiration for him, but I had to move on -- plus I wanted to live closer to my girlfriend.”
2006 turned out to be a busy year for the young driver.
“I hooked up a job with Jim Raymer’s son Tyler at a training center in Peterborough, Ontario. We raced at Georgian Downs, Kawartha Downs and Western Fair in London, Ontario.”
By year’s end Byron had raced in 436 starts with a 36-38-45 tally and a UDR of .165. His percentage may have dropped a bit from the previous year but Byron was getting the kind of experience that one only gets from driving a lot.
“It’s tough when you start out and I had to drive horses who weren’t all that good -- but you have to drive the bad ones to get to the good ones,” commented Byron. “The best horses I drove were By A Length and Blissful Maddie. By A Length won for me in 1:55.1 on the half-mile track at Grand River Raceway and I won with Blissful Maddie in 1:55.1 at Georgian Downs.”
When Tyler Raymer moved his stable from Ontario to Freehold this year he asked Byron to come along.
“I wanted to make a go of it and I knew that a lot of opportunities were opening up in New York and Pennsylvania. I also knew that I would be up against some of the greatest drivers in the world -- they’re a cut-above down here,” said the gutsy Byron. “You get to be a much better driver when you drive with superior drivers like Cat Manzi or Andy Miller or George Brennan and if that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.”
While currently driving at Freehold, Byron doesn’t think that he’ll make a career there.
“I’m hoping to hit it at Pocono or Chester…maybe Tioga. I’d like to pick two of those tracks and try to get something going. Freehold is a beautiful track, the people are great and the drivers are superior, but I think my future is going to be at a casino track.”
As of April 2, 2007 Byron had 95 starts with a total of 11-15-9 and a UDR of .235.
“My driving style is aggressive but I am learning to be patient and that’s pretty much the most important quality you can have if you want to be a really good driver,” says Byron. “Like I said, aside from my dad, John Campbell is my role model and if you watch guys like him and Cat you learn a lot about driving a horse.”
Well, the next John Campbell has to come from somewhere, right? Maybe it will be a young, Canadian kid named Aaron Robert Byron. He sure seems to have the guts, the common sense and perhaps even the talent to achieve that lofty ambition. He definitely has a mature and levelheaded air about him despite the fact that he counts among his valued possessions a bobblehead doll of John Campbell.