by Chris Lomon
On most racing nights, Zach Vickerson puts in more miles than his horses.
Whenever he has a pacer or trotter in to compete at the 5/8ths oval in Plainridge, ME, the 22-year-old standardbred trainer is a man in perpetual motion in the leadup to post time.
“Oh, man. Before the race goes off, I can’t sit still. I’m walking, I’m pacing, my heart is beating faster… You would think the more you race, that would stop. But for me, every week is the same. That’s just the way I am.”
By the time the horses cross the wire, Vickerson very well could have traversed farther than one of his charges.
Yet, it’s a formula that works.
One look at his stat sheet suggests, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
After going 4-1-2 from 11 starts in his rookie season in 2021, Vickerson hasn’t fallen victim to the sophomore jinx.
Instead, the Maine native has had a dream season, racking up impressive numbers across the board, including wins and purse earnings.
Two big reasons for his success come in the form of a pacer and a trotter.
“Come on Raags, I paid $14,000 and he’s made almost $80,000 this year,” Vickerson said of the 5-year-old pacing son of Art Major. “He’s had a good year.”
Seeing his trotter, Big Al M, back on track after an injury is a source of pride for Vickerson.
The hard-knocking son of Anders Bluestone earned his lifetime-best speed badge of 1:53.3, at Plainridge, on July 22.
“The owner wanted to sell the horse and they ended up putting him on onGait. My friend Eric Davis had him in Delaware as a 2- and 3-year-old. I talked to Eric, and he convinced me to buy him. About seven starts in to having him in the barn, he tore a tendon, and I was pretty down. It was $25,000 to buy him, which was a lot for me to spend. He’s got a weird personality. He doesn’t really like anybody. When I first got him from Delaware, I couldn’t even get a bridle on him for a couple days. I couldn’t get near him. To bridle him up, you have to drop the cross ties and stand behind him. You can’t be in front of him. He’s one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure. But he’s a nice horse. I ended up patching him up in the spring and trotted that big mile at Plainridge. I’m really happy with that.
“There are no words to describe that feeling [of seeing a horse healthy]. You work night and day, and put all that blood, sweat and tears into this, and to see him come back and perform at such a high level, week in and week out, it just puts a smile on your face. There are some weeks where you work your butt off and you get nothing, so when they do well, you really have to appreciate it.”
Vickerson also appreciates having his grandfather, fellow conditioner Milton Vickerson, along for the ride.
“My grandfather and my dad, they had horses when I was younger. When I was 6 or 7, they got out of the business. Around when I was 15 or 16, I was going to the track, and I was always bugging my dad and grandfather to get a horse. At the end of 2016, I convinced my grandfather to buy a horse. Since then, it’s just taken off. We went from one up to seven horses as of now. It just kind of snowballed. It started out as something that was just a hobby, to loving it so much I wanted to do it as a job full time. It’s worked out so far and hopefully it keeps going well.”
A carbon-copy of his 2022 season would suit Vickerson just fine when he speaks of goals for next year.
He hasn’t taken any of the success for granted.
“This year has been unbelievable, a career year. Next year, I’d like to do as good, if not better. I love to win and when I don’t, I’m kind of sour, but that’s just my competitive side and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You are going to lose more than you’re going to win, so you have to remind yourself that you have to take things in stride. That’s not always easy. It’s about working hard the next day and next week to do better. My grandfather has always been my biggest help and biggest supporter. He’s always told me, ‘You take care of the horses, and they will take care of you.’ Care is the number one thing with these horses.”
When he’s not tending to his horses, Vickerson isn’t the thrill-seeking type, instead opting for a quiet life away from the racetrack.
“Going out with friends, watching football on Sundays if I get a chance. Just staying low key because I’m on the road three or four days a week, so any chance to relax, I’ll happily take it. Having hobbies outside of racing is no easy task.”
The same can also be said of reining in his pre-race jitters.
After listening to a wide range of music genres – from country to heavy metal, depending on the day – in the car on the way to the races, Vickerson is dialed-in on the task at hand.
And while he might wear out the soles on a few pair of shoes each racing season, the young horseman is happy to walk the walk whenever he sends out a horse.
“Every day I wake up, I’m happy because I get to work with the horses. Who can say they get to do that every day? Not too many people at all. And whenever I see my horse out there on the track, it brings out my competitive spirit. I really can’t stand still leading up to the start of the race. But that’s fine with me. It tells me just how much I love this sport and how much I love to win.”