by Chris Lomon
Carson Conrad has had the date Sept. 18, 2020 circled in his calendar for a few years.
The teenager from Morristown, IN isn’t much different than most other 15-year-olds. He enjoys sports — more specifically, basketball and baseball — likes to play video games, and hanging out with his friends.
And, like many kids on the cusp of turning 16, he’s counting down the days until he can earn his driver’s license.
Only in this instance, Conrad is looking forward to holding the reins, not gripping the steering wheel.
“I can’t wait, to be honest. I hope the time goes by quickly,” he said.
The Conrad family’s tie to Indiana harness racing goes back generations. Carson, who made his debut matinee start at the Darke County Fairgrounds in Greenville, OH, at the age of 14, is the latest Conrad to sit in the sulky.
It marks the fifth generation of Conrads to pilot standardbreds.
Although harness racing is in his DNA, Carson, whohas already spent countless hours at his father Charlie’s barn, at Harrah’s Hoosier Park and on the Indiana county fair circuit,didn’t feel a sense of familial duty to join the sport.
Instead, it was very much his own choice, one he was only too happy to make.
“I started realizing about three or four years ago that I really liked horses and horse racing,” said Carson. “I think being around dad and learning really started to open my eyes. A couple of years ago, I wanted to start training – training the babies – and dad taught me how read a watch and how to have a feel for them. Before that, it was going around the barn, patting the horses – things like that. But then, the more I was there, the more I learned and understood the day-to-day process.”
He also came to appreciate that harness racing is, in many ways, a team sport.
An avid basketball fan and player, Conrad, who recently took up baseball, sees notable similarities between the hardcourt, baseball diamond, and racetrack.
“In the barn, you can’t think you can do it all. You need to have help, and you need to depend on others to make sure you get the best outcome. You have to lean on others. Paying attention and learning yourself, but also paying attention and learning from your teammates, that’s so important, too.”
Although the date of his first pari-mutuel race is to be determined, Conrad’s driving education is already well under way.
Any opportunity for him to hop in the race bike is a welcome one.
“My friend commented on Facebook yesterday, he said the best thing in the world is to wake up and sit behind a horse. I commented on that. I said, ‘Amen.’ I just love being able to do that. People just don’t know how smart these animals are. These animals are unbelievably smart, and they know what they’re doing.”
One horse in particular comes to mind.
“I built one of the biggest relationships in my life with my mare. She’s 4 now. From being 2 and now 4, I’ve built a really strong connection with her, and I’ve also learned so much from that bond. She knows me inside and out and I know her inside and out. She taught me to believe. As a 2-year-old, she had some problems, but as a 3-year-old, she came back and was just outstanding for us. She did really well last year. She was runner-up in a fair final, and won a lot of races for us.”
Ultimaroca, a 2-year-old son of Rockin Image (IN), bred by Alvin Fry, and co-owned by Conrad’s mother, Sarah, has also fared well.
The bay colt, trained and driven by Charlie Conrad, has three wins from four starts.
“He’s a really nice one,” said Carson. “Those are the horses you love to have.”
And the type of horse that make an aspiring horseman dream big.
“I want to be successful in harness racing. I want to be a catch driver, have my own stable, and make it a nice stable. Everyone wants to race in the big races, but you have the horses for that. Right now, we have a talented group of horses, and we want to build on that. We have a nice horse racing in New Jersey right now. Growing up, you never think you’ll have a horse competing in another state. But this one, Skyway Quinton [trained by Charlie and owned by Sarah], he’s my first sires stakes horse. He’s been good to us. He’s another horse that makes you happy. Every time I get that chance to sit behind a horse, it just keeps reminding me of what I want to do for my career.”
He’s thrilled to have found his calling at such a young age.
“I was talking to [driver] Joey Putnam and I told him I got my first set of colors not too long ago. Joey said, ‘It’s good to see where you’re at because I didn’t know I wanted to do this until I was 18 or 19.’ I can’t say what my biggest skills are in the bike yet, but I do know it’s where I want to be. When we train them down right now, I’ll handle one week with the group and dad will handle the group the next week. They all have to get the same amount of experience. I know that when I’m behind a horse right now, I’m really focused. My mind is on them for that whole time. When I cross the wire, it’s time to talk with my dad, to discuss how they did. We exchange what we learned. Like I said, it’s all about learning and education. And every day I wake up, I’m excited to get to the barn.”
In just over a month’s time, Conrad will have another place to be.
He won’t need to set an alarm to get him out of bed on that morning.
“September 18, that’s when I plan to take my driver’s test. I can’t wait for that day. I’m thinking about it a lot. I’ve actually been thinking of it for a long time.”