Terry Holton Youth Award winner Conley Newberry would love a career as a driver
by Chris Lomon
Sometimes, it truly is worth the wait. Conley Newberry certainly knows all about that.
Just two days after he had opened all of his Christmas gifts, spent a memorable holiday with his friends and family, the teenager from Beavercreek, OH (the second-largest suburb of Dayton) had yet another reason to celebrate over the holidays in 2019.
On Dec. 27, the Ohio Harness Horseman’s Association (OHHA) announced Newberry as the recipient of the Terry Holton Youth Award, named after the 2005 inductee into the Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Fame, and a winner of over 1,700 races in his career.
“He is knowledgeable and dependable working in the stable and is very interested in the future of harness racing,” Constance Polhamus said of Newberry.
Newberry, who worked for trainer Mike Polhamus’ outfit in Troy, OH, is still taken aback by the honor.
“It was really… it’s tough to find the right words. It’s nice that people thought that much of me to nominate me and to vote for me. It was unexpected. To hear nice words from other people, rather than just trying to convince yourself of them – that meant a lot to me.”
The Holton Award is given to a youth between the ages of 13 and 19 who has actively participated in harness racing during 2019 as a driver, trainer, groom, breeder, race office/publicity assistant, track maintenance crew or has provided outstanding service to harness racing.
Newberry, who started in the horse racing business at the age of 12, can check off a few of those boxes.
He worked with his father, driver/trainer Matt Newberry, and quickly graduated from doing odd jobs around the stable to cleaning stalls, harnessing horses and jogging horses.
“When I was in grade eight or nine, somewhere around that time, my father got cancer, so he couldn’t really tend to the horses. So, my uncle [driver/trainer John Newberry, the person who encouraged Conley to drive], I started work with him a lot, working in the barn, and that’s when I really fell in love with the sport and taking me to where I am now. I’ve fallen in love it even more since then. The best part of this all for me is driving, for sure.”
Last year, the now 18-year-old Newberry obtained his fair qualifying license, competed at seven fairs and picked up his first win.
The milestone victory came at Wapakoneta Park, a half-mile Ohio oval, on July 31, 2019.
Teaming with Catch Jesse, a son of Jailhouse Jesse (IN), the young driver and the veteran trotter went off as the 4-5 favorites.
Over a track listed as “good,” the pair crossed the wire 3 ¾-lengths ahead of their nearest rivals.
It was the 17th career victory for the well-travelled trotter, who has 149 starts to his name for owner and breeder Herschel Lincoln of West Milton, OH.
“When I had my first win, I had the best horse in the race by far,” said Newberry. “Catch Jesse was a :56 trotter back in his day, and we didn’t race him all year. We just got him ready for me to drive at the fairs. He could trot around 2:02, 2:03, maybe 2:01 on a good fair track. We ended up in a race where the other horses just couldn’t beat him. I could have fallen off and he still would have won.”
Newberry added, with a laugh, “I was told if I didn’t win I wasn’t allowed to sit behind another horse.”
He’s still in the race bike and he’s still dreaming big.
“I’d love to be a catch driver, that would just be a dream come true. I’d say the two people I look up to most when it comes to driving would be Chris Page and Tim Tetrick. Those are my two favorites.”
Sharing the same racetrack as his idols is still a ways away, but Newberry is committed to staying patient and staying the course, eager to educate immerse himself in the sport, heighten his skills, and remain open to helpful advice.
He believes all of it will help take him to where he wants to be.
“’You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.’ That’s what my dad told me. My dad told me you have to take things as they come and remain positive and even-keeled. You learn pretty early that you need that to be successful.”
Just as Newberry did during the days when he was competing with another bike, more specifically, the world of BMX Racing.
An accomplished rider – a Google search yields several impressive results both in state and national events – Newberry enjoyed his time competing around the U.S.
He’s looking to add some horse racing hardware to complement his impressive BMX trophy case.
“I don’t race any more, but I ride a lot of freestyle with my friends still. I really enjoyed my time riding and there are definitely some similarities between BMX and driving a horse. In both, you’re in close quarters. I’ve only driven in two races that weren’t at the fairs, and you realize just how in tight you are, just like it is with BMX racing. That’s definitely the way it is with bikes, so I think that’s helped me a lot in driving – being calm and comfortable when there isn’t much room on either side of you. With both, you just need to react to each situation as they come. You have to be ready to make a decision in a split second.”
It’s one of many aspects of harness racing Newberry, who points to trainer Ken Hurst as a big supporter, continues to dedicate his time to.
“I really love everything about this sport. I know I have to work hard in order to achieve my dreams, and I am dedicated to doing that. It makes me happy every day I get to be around the horses. I’ll just keep learning and reminding myself of what I want to achieve.”
He has plenty of people in his corner, including his father.
“We’re very proud of him,” said Matt Newberry. “I wish I was half the horseman he was on and off the track. The time he dedicates to it, his work ethic, and his commitment to wanting to improve – he’s doing everything the right way.”