by Garnet Barnsdale
It’s not often a low level conditioned dash at Monticello Raceway on a Tuesday afternoon (replay available here) creates more than a passing glance. This past Tuesday was a bit different though, as the son of a Monticello legend was making his driving debut at the “Mighty M”.
Brandon Parker, son of Billy “Zeke” Parker — who recorded the majority of his 11,308 wins at Monticello – was driving 25-1 shot Histoire Eternelle in his first race for a purse. The eight-year old Shanghai Phil mare out of the Bullvons Dream mare Eclatante was making her seasonal debut, having been driven to a second-place finish by the younger Parker in a moderate 2:03.4 on April 26. Histoire Eternelle also showed two vet scratches at the end of the season in the month of November 2016 on her card. With the question surrounding her readiness along with her being driven by a debuting reinsman, the 25-1 quote on this pacer seemed about right.
Of course, the 18-year-old teamster was nervous as he approached the gate, right? Not so much. “I wasn’t nervous until after the race,” Parker said. “I wanted to be confident and calm so the horse would feel the same way.”
You are probably thinking at this point that I am going to spring a “kid of a legend wins debut race” fairy tale ending on you. I’m not, but it was close!
After leaving fourth from post three, Parker sat with Histoire Eternelle through a :28.2 quarter, then he pulled her first up just before reaching the :59 half. After going a bit wider on the third turn than he might have wanted while pulling the earplugs, Parker engaged 1-5 favorite Don’t Tell Wayne and driver Jim Deveaux in a spirited :29.1 third-quarter duel. As the pair turned for home, it appeared as though Parker was getting the better of his rival, but pocket-sitter Tkr’s Metro Specs had dived into the passing lane and was charging hard. At the wire, trip was the difference and Tkr’s Metro Specs was a length in front with Histoire Eternelle having finished a strong second. Young Parker had won the battle but lost the war, but he wasn’t disappointed with the result.
“I was happy I finished second, but, of course, with it being my first drive I was going to make some mistakes,” he said. “I went home and watched the replay over and over trying to figure out things I should and shouldn’t have done.”
He also said he might have been feeling a bit of pressure considering his lineage. “My dad handles a horse very well and I wanted to show everyone that I have the chance to be just as good as him,” he said. “He told me that these aren’t qualifiers and you’re going to be going a lot faster and you are gonna have fewer friends when those wings fold. I told him: ‘I know dad, but you know I’m not afraid of speed (and I showed that in the 7th race).’ Indeed, Parker got hooked in an all-out duel in race 7 that resulted in a :54.2 half being carved out, before eventually finishing fifth driving 9-2 shot Steve Said.
Parker, who won a race at the historic track at Goshen driving his father’s gelding Wizard of Art when he was 16, says he always worked with horses when he was younger and he started jogging when he was 12. It wasn’t until he was 14 and started watching races from other tracks that he realized he wanted to become a driver full-time as a career.
“I had to go to summer school because I struggled in school and I would get out at 11 and sit on the backstretch with a program and watch all the races,” he said. “I learned how to read a program and try to figure out who was going to win each race, then I started watching Pocono Downs on my dad’s laptop and watching George Napolitano Jr. just inspired me. The way he’d put each horse in the right position to win and he would finish first or second every race made me keep watching him. Then I realized I wanted to be just like him.”
While that certainly is a lofty goal, Parker is hungry, driven and seems very level-headed. The betting here is that it won’t be long before the son of a Monticello legend will be creating a buzz of his own on the racetrack.