The Mississippi native says, “If you want to succeed you have to put in the time. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
by Chris Lomon
His is a journey that already has hundreds of miles travelled, but thousands more to cover.
The racetracks near Zyler Maxwell’s home in Macon, a small, friendly town nestled in east central Mississippi, are rustic compared to many of their standardbred contemporaries scattered throughout the United States.
But those dusty dirt ovals in the Magnolia State hold special meaning for the teenager with big aspirations.
“I started when I was young, probably when I was 2,” said Maxwell, of his initial harness racing experience. “My mother’s cousin-in-law, he came to the house one day to see us. I used to always have horses when I was younger. He knew that I had my two horses, so he took me out to the racetrack, and I got to see how he was jogging the horses and training, everything that went on there. I basically fell in love with it that day.”
That love affair is still going strong.
“I think I was around 11 when I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to become a driver and train horses. We used to go to down to the county fair and race. I started jogging horses when I was 10 and then I started training not long after that. It was a lot of fun, and I just liked it.”
Now 16, Maxwell, who launched his driving career this year, is putting in plenty of effort to pursue his passion and hone his craft.
If affinity for horse racing were measured in miles, his love for the sport might very well be unsurpassed.
Nine-hour drives to Indiana are commonplace for Maxwell. Tiring treks, no doubt, but win or lose, well worth the time and distance put in by the horseman.
“It takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but I love what I do, so it doesn’t seem like work at all. I’ve been to a lot of tracks in Indiana, and I also have been to Oak Grove in Kentucky. I’ve been to Ohio and Tennessee, too. It’s so interesting to be able to see the different tracks and what they are all about. There is just one track here where I am that we race on, at the Shelby County Fair. So, when you get to places like Indiana and Kentucky, and see the different tracks, it’s so amazing. When you see how fast your horse can go on those tracks, it’s unbelievable. You get to see what kind of a horse you really have.”
Less than 20 drives into his career, Maxwell has already developed a close association with the horses he drives.
There have also been others over the years who have left a lasting impression.
Miss Red Jean, a bay pacing daughter of Rockin Snowman—Fox Valley Haughty, went winless from 12 lifetime starts, a second and two third her best results. But that matters little to Maxwell.
“She wasn’t the biggest horse or the fastest horse, but she was a horse I looked up to and she taught me a lot.”
Then there is Jingleslittlelady, a 2-year-old daughter of Luck be Withyou—Jinglejanglejingle.
Owned by Maxwell’s father, Pravi, the $5,500 purchase at the 2021 Hoosier Yearling Sale has been a nice addition to the barn.
The younger Maxwell and the bay have partnered to post a pair of seconds in recent races, including one in Cornersville, IN.
“She’s the first horse that I travelled with out of state. That’s something I always wanted, a horse I could go with outside of Mississippi. When we bought her, I started training her and we clicked right away. So, to see her race well, she is a horse that really stands out for me. She always tries for me, and we have a bond. It’s almost as though she’s a person. I really like her.”
He applies the same approach to every horse he associates with.
“The biggest thing I learned has been to do everything the best that I can, not just for me, but for the horse, too. You have to do right by them.”
Maxwell, a former standout baseball player, will also do right by himself.
Eager to start a full-time life in the sulky, he’s willing to maintain a patient hand to reach his ultimate goal.
Still, just as he did his childhood days, the thought of achieving his dream is never far removed from his thoughts.
“My short-term goal is to graduate from high school, and my long-term goal is to go straight into horse racing full-time. A lot of drivers I know, they have really helped me out. This is my first year on the road, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Every time I get in the race bike, it makes me want to do it even more. When I’m ready and able, it’s something that I want to do as my job.”
Maxwell will undoubtedly look the part when that day arrives.
He already knows what his driving colors will be. He’s known it for a long time.
“When I started out, I had Terry Skinner’s colors. He’s been like my teacher and my mentor. He has taught me so much about the horses. I really look up to him. I had orange and blue colors, which are his colors, but when I first started watching racing, I became a big fan of Montrell Teague and Wiggle It Jiggleit and Lather Up – he’s my favorite driver and those were my favorite horses – so I like his colors, red, black, and white. That’s what I’m going to go with. They’re so nice.”
Maxwell, who enjoys attending events in his hometown community and taking out his saddle horses for a trail ride, time permitting, will put up hundreds of more miles before year’s end, taking his horse show on the road.
As for those early morning drives and late-night returns to Mississippi, it’s no big deal for a young horseman committed to carving out his own path to success.
It’s a journey he’s happy to take.
“If you want to succeed you have to put in the time. And that’s what I’m going to do.”