Profile: Matty Athearn & Brett Beckwith

Parallel Paths – Matty Athearn and Brett Beckwith on course for success

story by Tim Bojarski

Although they both have strong ties to New England, drivers Matty Athearn and Brett Beckwith grew up in different parts of the country, and their involvement in the sport accelerated at different rates. But a friendship that began at a Maine fair ended up seeing two burgeoning stars help each other improve as they compete together on the track almost every day.

“I first met Brett at Windsor Fair in 2019, and once he started coming to Plainridge, we’ve become pretty much best friends,” said Athearn.

Beckwith was 16 at the time and in his first year driving fairs, while Athearn had already been driving for five years, competing in Maine and at Plainridge Park. Two years later, when Beckwith started driving at Plainridge as well, is when he and Athearn really started their friendly rivalry.

“I got to know Matty at Plainridge, and when he moved to Saratoga last year, we started hanging out more,” said Beckwith. “When we started carpooling to Plainridge from Saratoga each week, we became good friends pretty quickly.”

Plainridge became the proving ground for both over the last two years, and the competition there sharpened the skills of two of the more promising drivers in the sport today.


Athearn, nicknamed “Ice” for his notable calm on and off the track, was raised in Cumberland, Maine, and has lived there most of his life. As a third-generation horseman, he was in the barn of his parents, Mark and Gretchen Athearn, since he could walk and learned his early lessons by helping race the family stock at Scarborough Downs, Bangor Raceway and on the Maine fair circuit.

Athearn got his fair license in 2014 at age 16 and made his first driving start at Topsham. His first win came only two weeks later at Skowhegan behind a pacer named Turtle Soup, and he was on his way.

His first career move came when he started driving at Plainridge Park in 2016, where he steered mostly his parents’ stock. But the catch drives soon came as trainers could see the ability he had, and Athearn has been a mainstay in Maine and Massachusetts ever since.

At the conclusion of the 2022 season, Athearn moved to Saratoga to find more and better chances to advance.

“Maine just felt like a dead end because it wasn’t giving me any opportunity to further my career,” said Athearn. “I reached a status-quo point and I wanted to go where the drives were. I decided to move to Saratoga and it’s worked out really well.”

Athearn picked Saratoga because his uncle Jimmy Nickerson lives and trains there. The move paid off in short order as Athearn finished eighth at the Spa for wins (89) in 2023 and earned just over $1 million in purses while driving there when Plainridge was dark.


Now more centrally located, the 25-year-old Athearn also recently made a foray into the New York metropolitan area to try his hand racing against the best in the business.

“I wanted to race at the Meadowlands, so I went to Freehold to kind of get my foot in the door and make some connections,” he said. “This year, I picked up some drives at the Meadowlands from bigger trainers, and that meant a lot to me. I hope to progress from there.

“There is a very big learning curve at the Meadowlands. I struggled with patience for a while but eventually learned how to wait on things. The people down there are very welcoming, making it a great experience.”

Athearn’s decisions led to his having the best year of his life in 2023. From 1,855 starts, he posted 256 wins, 275 seconds and 263 thirds and earnings of $3.2 million, all of which were career highs. Anchored by driving Nickerson’s stable, he finished as the second leading dash driver at Plainridge with 148 wins and earnings of just over $2 million, making him only the second driver ever to earn in excess of $2 million in a single season at Plainridge Park (Bruce Ranger being the first).

“I just want to keep improving and plan on driving at both Saratoga and Plainridge full-time and hope to finish near the top of the standings at both,” said Athearn. “Maybe win a driving title. Driving on the Grand Circuit at some point would be my ultimate goal.

“I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given by all the trainers and owners who have given me drives, especially my uncle Jimmy for backing me up last year. And I’m also very grateful to my parents for raising me.”


Beckwith was born in Howell, N.J., but grew up in Saratoga and still lives there. He is a fourth-generation horseman, the son of Mark and Melissa Beckwith, and grandson of both Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Silverman and Massachusetts racing legend Bert Beckwith. Despite a pedigree like that, the young Beckwith had no interest in racing as a youth.

“I was more interested in playing basketball and video games and hanging out with friends when I was younger,” said Beckwith. “I really had no interest in racing until I was 14 when I started to gravitate to it. I began going to the barn and got a feel for everything, and it was over for me from there.”

In 2019, Beckwith started driving in amateur races at Yonkers at age 16 and also drove qualifiers at Saratoga. Two years later, in 2021, he enjoyed a breakout year, winning his first pari-mutuel start at Pompano Park with Amarettigone in January; scoring 69 wins at his home track, Saratoga; and making his first appearances at Plainridge Park, Harrah’s Philadelphia, Monticello, Freehold and the Meadowlands, where he won his first-ever race there, with Meadowbranch Ricky on Dec. 2.

For the last two years, Beckwith has been a regular at both Saratoga and Plainridge, but he continued to broaden his horizons—and his commute—racing at other tracks to get more exposure and earnings.

“As far as Freehold, I always thought it was an enjoyable place to race, so I started going there on weekends, and the Meadowlands was on the way home,” said Beckwith. “So, any work I could get was great because I was already there. This past year went really well.

“I’ve always liked the style of mile racing, and the Meadowlands is definitely one of my favorite tracks to drive at. You have to be patient in certain aspects, but you also have to really learn to read a program and study the races. I think if you pick your favorite drivers and learn a little bit from each one of them, it really helps you develop.”


Beckwith was driving the New York Thruway as much as he was horses last year as he spent at least four days a week on the road. That amounted to about 50,000 miles behind the wheel.

A goal-oriented individual, the 21-year-old Beckwith sets a standard for himself each year and so far has raised the bar each season. But he’s always looking to get better.

“This year I’d like to get a driving title, either at Saratoga or Plainridge,” he said. “Other than that I just hope to keep winning races, do a little bit better than I did last year.”

And what he did last year was something to behold. In 2023, Beckwith hit career highs in every category. In 2,675 starts, he had 453 wins, 352 seconds and 350 thirds with earnings of $4.4 million and a UDR of .286. He was the second leading dash driver at Saratoga with 227 wins and finished third at Plainridge with 122 wins. He also finished as the seventh leading dash driver in North America for 2023 and missed being named as the Dan Patch Rising Star Award winner by only one vote.

Beckwith quickly deferred his success to those who have helped him get to this point in his career.

“Both my parents have obviously helped me from the start, especially teaching me the ropes of the business and a ton about hard work and having work ethic,” said Beckwith. “I could not have gotten anywhere without them. I’m also grateful for everyone who trusted me to drive their horses.”

When there is any free time, Athearn and Beckwith like to hit the gym and have dinner with friends. But when they line up the following day, it’s game on and both are out to win. And it’s that competitive spirit that has seen them both succeed at a high level. HB


Tim Bojarski, past president of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at


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