Tyler Conner was born to ride – only it wasn’t racehorses that he had in mind. After injuries derailed his dreams of pursuing his first love, off-road motorcycle racing, Conner decided to get into the family business. His parents laid the groundwork for him to smoothly transition into the world of horse racing, and he’s beginning to open some eyes – landing his first graded stakes mount this Saturday at Delaware Park.
In this edition of Jockey Journals, Conner tells us about his background in racing, the people who have helped accelerate his growth as a jockey, and some of his goals.
I’ve been around the industry, basically, since I was born. My dad is a trainer and my mom was a jockey so I was always around the horses when I was young. My dad trained on a farm, so I used to always travel with him to the races. Going even farther back, my grandfather was actually Northern Dancer’s blacksmith. Horse racing was all I wanted to do when I was a kid until I started racing motocross.
Honestly, I never wanted to be a jockey until about two years ago. I never even thought I would ride a horse. I raced dirt bikes for 11 years and that’s all my life consisted of until now. I had a couple of pretty bad crashes the last two years I raced and broke my back twice. I had a few bad concussions, so I kind of had to face reality and find something else to do with my life. That’s when I figured I would try being a jockey. I figured I could do it since my mom did it and horse racing is in my blood. A lot of my skills learned from racing motocross definitely helped me when I started riding horses. It made the transfer really easy.
I got started at Penn National, where my dad trains now. He taught me how to gallop on some of his easy horses until I was good enough to get on the tough ones. Once I figured it out a few other trainers also let me get on some horses to help me learn.
My mom and dad are definitely the most important people in getting me started in horse racing. They’ve helped me a lot with learning how to ride and also race riding. Even though my mom was a jockey she doesn’t critique me too much. She helps me when she sees me doing things wrong but she also let’s me learn things on my own, which is nice.
Once I started riding races my agent Marty Salvaggio helped me a lot with technique and how to ride races. Even though I’ve raced my whole life it’s definitely different on a horse than it is a dirt bike (haha). Also, his brother Mark has helped me with riding and giving me tips here and there when he sees me making mistakes. So, they have probably have been the key people in my career so far.
My local role models are probably Trevor McCarthy, Sheldon Russell and Victor Carrasco. They all ride differently but I like the way they ride. We’re all similar in size too, so I try to take what I can from each of them and apply it to my riding. They’re all good dudes too and I’m friends with each of them.
My first win was cool. It was on a horse named Love Talk for Kim Graci. It wasn’t quite as exciting as I expected to be but I think that’s because I’ve won races before – just never on a horse. Winning races on a horse is much more rewarding though. I haven’t really had any big wins yet in my career. The two best days I’ve had so far were winning 4 races in one night at Penn on May 28, 2015, and then doing it again the other day at Delaware on the 29th on June. I get to experience my first stake this Saturday though, riding Cat’s Claw for Jonathan Sheppard in the Grade-3 Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes at Delaware. That will be the coolest thing so far in my career.
The best thing about riding is probably the people you meet and relationships you build, and obviously the money is great (haha). Traveling to new places is cool too. My days are usually pretty busy right now. Almost every Wednesday thru Saturday, I work at Delaware in the morning and ride Penn at night. So, I do a lot of driving. Now that Laurel is running again I’m usually there Friday’s and Sunday’s, as well. Usually, I’m at the track between 6-7 AM every day, depending on what I have to get on that morning.
When I’m not working or riding, I like to work on my cars. Since I can’t ride dirt bikes anymore I used cars as a replacement. I have two Subarus right now, so that’s what I do with my spare time – which I don’t have much of right now. I find it cool building cars, and learning how to work on them is always helpful.
My goals in racing would be to just be as good as I can be. Obviously, everyone wants to be the best but I would like to have a good career and make a good living doing it. I would love to be able to ride at the big tracks like Gulfstream or Santa Anita, tracks like that seem fun and the weather is great. I’m not a huge fan of winter racing but I definitely want to win stakes and get a chance to ride with some of the best.
This Jockey Journal was written by Tyler Conner. It was lightly edited for clarity. We thank Tyler for taking the time to share his story on Jockey Journals. You can also follow him on Twitter @Conner519.