No time for rest in Zeron’s magical season

From the Breeders Crown right back to racing the next afternoon, many drivers — including Scott Zeron — are often immediately on to the next track and the next race.

by Brett Sturman

A mere 12 hours following last Saturday’s (Oct. 28) Breeders Crown at Harrah’s Hoosier Park, Scott Zeron was one of the many top harness racing drivers back out and at it. In Zeron’s case, he joined Tim Tetrick and Todd McCarthy as drivers that raced at another Harrah’s property 600 miles to the east of Hoosier Park — Harrah’s Philadelphia.

Breeders Crown drivers David Miller and Andy Miller raced the next day too in Southeastern Kentucky at the newly opened track, Cumberland Run.

Racing the day following the Breeders Crown, in dreary late-October weather conditions combined with next to zero live attendance, the contrast in racing between the two days was stark. But still, when racing at Harrah’s Philadelphia went postward Sunday at a slightly delayed first post time of 1:15 p.m., it was Zeron who followed up on his prior night’s $672,000 Breeders Crown 3-Year-Old Colt and Gelding Trot win, with a win in a lower level claiming handicap race for $8,500.

Often overlooked is how top drivers such as Zeron are able to be at different tracks in such quick turnaround time where the race and environmental dynamics they’re going to, might as well be a world apart from where they just came.

“It’s probably one of the tougher things about the job,” said Zeron. “Now, I will say as a driver, it’s much harder being a groom or a trainer, and from a driver scenario we have it a little bit better overall. But going from high pressure races — winning or losing — but especially on the winning side, the enjoyment probably isn’t there as much because of the constant racing on any given next day.

“There’s still a celebration of major victories but you have to turn the page very quickly and get onto the next day’s events. Whether they’re stake races or overnight races, they are still commitments that you’ve got to be there for.”

As for why drivers keep the sometimes-frenetic pace that they do, Zeron said, “I think that at the end of the day everyone wants to be loved, everybody wants to be needed and wanted, and that’s kind of what keeps us going all year. We develop relationships with a lot of the trainers and especially owners, and that’s what we’re hired to do: drive horses.

“I don’t think it’s right to hand pick where you want to drive and casually say, ‘Oh, I’m sure I’ll be tired for Sunday so I’ll preemptively book off because Saturday is such a big day.’ You don’t do that. You’re obligated to a lot of those people. I was at Chester on Sunday for Linda Toscana and that’s my main client. So, if she needs me to be somewhere, then I’ll be there. That’s what I’m hired to do.”

Zeron’s sole Sunday drives for Toscano were for two 3-year-old pacing fillies in two splits of the $35,000 Liberty Bell stake. He won one of those with Odds On Hail Mary, and was second in the other with C Is For Cookie. While there was clearly not the same amount of pressure driving in those races as compared to driving in the Breeders Crown, there are still certain constants across all grades of racing.

“When you’re on a race bike, regardless of the magnitude of the race, you just feel comfortable and you go out there prepared,” Zeron said. “With nerves, obviously, it’s easier eating breakfast on Sunday than it is on Saturday. If you don’t win an overnight race this week there will be an opportunity again next week. But if you really think about it when it comes to the Grand Circuit — Tactical Approach as an example — he will ever have only one opportunity to win the Hambletonian, or the Kentucky Futurity. So, knowing those significant impacts on that given horse’s career, that’s what makes them so important. Now the trainer could win it next year, I could win it next year, but that horse, especially when you’re campaigning a champion, they only have that one opportunity and you have to be prepared.”

For Zeron, being in his element strictly as a driver comes naturally. Everything else that comes with that role is the far more challenging part.

“Everyone compartmentalizes it differently, but I think every driver would come to the consensus that driving in and of itself is very easy,” said Zeron. “It’s the dealing with politics and logistics behind everything that is a little more difficult. Right now, it’s still go-go-go, and for next week I’m booking commercial flights, private flights, the hotels and the rentals; it’s all constant movement.

“For me, I love being at home, as I’m sure most people do. But we get the same thing in the early portions of the year also, when it comes to the preparation of the horses. In a single day you may have to swing by for qualifiers at The Meadowlands, and then jump on a plane to The Meadows, and then literally fly right back to where there’s a concert at The Meadowlands and they’re holding up the whole race card so that we can get there on time because we have a plane full of eight drivers that are all in the first race. Those things can be quite stressful at times.”

One reason it’s been difficult for Zeron to reflect back on the year he’s had at times is because he still remains very much in the moment. He notes that once everything slows down is when maybe he’ll reflect back on it all, but right now things remain in a state of ups and downs, and constant fluctuation.

In winning a Breeders Crown on Saturday with Tactical Approach for trainer Nancy Takter, Zeron made sure to leave no doubt who the sport’s Dan Patch award winner will be as the best 3-year-old colt and gelding trotter. With a Breeders Crown to go along with his wins in the Hambletonian and Kentucky Futurity, Tactical Approach has clearly earned that distinction. With his latest maneuvering of Tactical Approach in the Breeders Crown, Zeron continued to aid his own cause towards what would be his first Driver of the Year award.

“I’d certainly be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” said Zeron, in reference to earning Driver of the Year honors. “It was after the Hambletonian where it just felt like I was positioned with a lot of very good horses. I won a lot of Grand Circuit races even leading up to that Hambletonian, like obviously the North America Cup with It’s My Show, other races like the Dexter Cup at Freehold and the Bunker Hill Trot at Plainridge [both with Khaosan Road], and it just felt like everything Grand Circuit-wise was going so well.

“And then to the same token Timmy [Tetrick] had Confederate, and Timmy’s just always a clutch driver, so it felt like he and I were in a bit of a race for a while. But then, when I won the Jugette [Ucandoit Blue Chip] and Little Brown Jug [It’s My Show], it felt like I was in a lead position. I may not have won as many Breeders Crowns as some of the other guys did, but as far as the body of work for the year, I’m super proud of the way it is.”

Pointing to the number of times he’s been close on prior occasions, Zeron said, “Not many know that I’ve been second four times when it comes to Driver of the Year between Canada and the U.S. In Canada you actually get nominated even if you lose, so I went to three awards dinners and was the bridesmaid in all three. And then one year in the States where it’s a ballot-type system, it was David Miller and I on the ballot, and that was the year David had Always B Miki in 1:46-flat.

“I’d be really honored to win it. Because no matter what, it may just be a trophy, but subconsciously, you will have been the best driver in all of harness racing in North America for that given year, and that’s pretty cool.”