Drew Monti makes the most of every opportunity
story by Tim Bojarski
Drew Monti has been a very popular catch driver in upstate New York since he first began competing there full time. The now 25-year-old third-generation reinsman has since won three driving titles while annually averaging 239 wins and just under $1.5 million in earnings.
During the winter of 2017, the Depew, N.Y., resident shifted his focus to The Meadowlands and made a cold call to expand his horizons and hone his skills. It paid dividends, as without any advanced offers of work, he made his presence known during his six-week stay. He won 18 races with 22 seconds and 18 thirds and earned just under $200,000 in purses. Upon returning home, he posted career numbers in every category by the end of the year.
Monti’s hot hand continued in 2018 as he dominated the tracks where he was present, winning the dash driving title at both Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs in convincing fashion while flashing a personal best .334 Universal Driver Rating (UDR).
In 2019 Monti was content to stay home and concentrate on defending his titles, but all his plans changed at the drop of a dime last spring.
“I got a call from Frank Antonacci last May asking if I had any plans to race at Plainridge Park over the summer,” he said. “Although it was a move I hadn’t really thought about making at the time, he said if I were there on a weekly basis, Lindy Farms would be able to give me some regular drives. It seemed like a great opportunity for me, so I decided to start going to Massachusetts every race day.”
So, Monti made his way to the Bay State on June 10 and scored his first win that first day. And although he didn’t start driving until two months into the Plainridge meet, he finished the year as the fourth leading driver with 89 wins, 61 seconds and 53 thirds out of 434 starts with $838,402 in earnings and a UDR of .324.
“Everyone at Plainridge was very welcoming,” he said. “It’s a great spot to race with a lot of good horsemen and definitely a little higher caliber of horse than at home. By the end of the meet I made a lot of great connections and it was a very positive experience for me all the way around.”
Although he generated excellent numbers during the meet, probably the biggest thing to happen to Monti was the experience he gained driving primarily 2- and 3-year-olds for Lindy Farms during the summer and fall. This was a departure from his steady diet of older overnight horses in western New York.
“I have driven young horses in the New York Sire Stakes for several years now, but not consistently,” Monti said. “Being able to sit behind a stable of young horses on a regular basis is probably the best thing to happen to me in my career to this point. It really gave me a big window of opportunity to see what this was about and to drive the same horses week in and week out and watch them develop. That’s pretty special.”
Most of the horses racing at Plainridge from Lindy Farms are eligible to the Massachusetts Sire Stakes program, but some also have dual eligibility in Kentucky. Dual eligibility provided Monti with the opportunity to drive at Red Mile. Starting in September, the Batavia-to-Plainville commute added another stop in Lexington every week.
“The logistics of racing at three different tracks in three different states in the same week for more than a month was the hardest part for me,” Monti said. “Driving is easy, but flying is a whole different story. Attempting to book flights that worked, getting canceled, bumped, running through airports to make a connection and Ubering back and forth to tracks to make post times was all very trying. But in the end, it was all worth it, as I feel I made a lot of personal advancement in the sport.”
By the end of the year Monti had won stakes races in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Indiana. And at one point the well-traveled teamster was listed as a top-four dash driver at Plainridge Park, Red Mile and Batavia Downs at the same time.
“When I was at Red Mile I met a lot of people I didn’t know before and was able to pick up a lot of drives,” Monti said. “And it was gratifying for me when I later went to Hoosier to drive that the people who raced at the Red Mile meet all remembered me. The game is small, but there are tons of people you don’t see every day, so it’s good to reach every corner of the sport and make connections that can help you in the future.”
After the five-month, multi-state whirlwind tour had finished, Monti’s production was stellar. He had collected nearly 170 wins and $1.5 million in purses while maintaining a presence at five different tracks. He eventually returned to Plainridge where he closed out the meet, scoring his 1,500th career victory on Nov. 21 behind Hailstorm Volo.
When the 2020 season began at the Meadowlands, Monti once again joined the driver colony. He wanted to keep his momentum going coming off a very strong year and felt it was the right move.
“The time was right to go back this year; I felt the opportunity for work would be there,” he said. “I really do enjoy it there and I did have a good meet the first time around. This year it’s worked out that the scheduling was right, and it’s been paying off for me right along.
“The first time I went to The Meadowlands, there was the excitement of ‘I’ve never been here’ and it’s The Meadowlands with many top drivers and trainers, where this time there was definitely a calmness about it. I just wanted to drive smart, do what I needed to do and capitalize on what came my way.”
Now that spring is here, the miles will once again start piling up on Monti’s odometer as he plans another stiff driving schedule.
“I plan to be at Plainridge on day one and drive there every day the entire meet,” Monti said. “All my clients up there have kept in touch with me over the winter and assured me there will be plenty of work. The purses are set to go up, the track is going to have a fresh surface and I look forward to continuing to drive for the Antonaccis. It looks like the place for me to be.
“However, I still plan to race at Buffalo and Batavia on Plainridge’s off days until fall and will continue to commute as needed. It’s really not that bad and the six-hour and 20-minute ride has become somewhat routine for me.”
The experience Monti has gained over the past year has given him a different perspective on the sport than when he just drove in western New York. As a result, he’s improved as a driver.
“The dynamic of walking in and out of a different driver colony each day is very interesting,” Monti said. “Even though I have brushed shoulders with many of these guys already, the situation changes from track to track, especially depending on whether it’s a high-profit card or competing young horses.
“And track size used to be a bigger deal when I wasn’t competing on more than one. But since I’ve grabbed the lines regularly over them all, it really doesn’t make much difference to me. I feel driving every day is more important than the size of the track you’re on.”
Monti looks to the future with a single goal: to become the best catch driver he can. Although he says he always plans to own and race several horses of his own, he wants to drive wherever he can receive work and be competitive at the highest levels. It really doesn’t matter to him where that might be.
“The one thing about this business is you never know what’s coming next,” Monti said. “Your entire life can change from morning to night on a phone call or from meeting someone new who gives you an opportunity. And it’s very important that you make the most of the chances you are given to push your career to the next level.”
Tim Bojarski, past president of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, is a freelance writer living in New York. The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.