Inside Track: Like Father, Like Son

Inside Track: Like Father, Like Son
Photo: Four Footed Fotos
Brandon Meier
Brandon Meier stepped into the winner’s circle, his mouth bloodied and teeth fractured. His grin was ear-to-ear, reminiscent of a boxer who had just survived a 12-round unanimous decision.

Only moments before, the 19-year-old apprentice jockey had fulfilled a lifelong dream by guiding 5-year-old mare Houseboat to a 4 1⁄4-length claiming victory May 11 at Arlington Park. It was the first mount of Meier’s racing career. At the start of the race however, Houseboat threw her head back and banged into Meier’s face, causing the mouth injuries that would later require several stitches.

It could not have been a more fitting scene for Meier, who is the son of veteran jockey Randy Meier. Still riding at age 53 and one of the most popular jockeys to ever ride in Chicago, Randy Meier is known as much for his enduring battles with injuries as he is for his 4,000-plus victories. By his own count, the elder Meier has broken 49 bones in his 36-year career.

Now, as he watched his son enter the winner’s circle for the first time, Randy could not help but think it was the perfect introduction to the world of Thoroughbred racing. Like father, like son.

“Everyone was saying to him, ‘You’re not going to take after your dad, are you!?’ ” laughed Randy Meier. “It was a great day. It is hard to put into words what it meant to me. I’d have to say it was one of the highlights of my life. What else can you ask for? He’s living his dream, and that’s what neat.”

Less than a month later, on Father’s Day, another neat occurrence took place at Arlington, as the father-son duo squared off in the same race for the first time. Though neither of them won, it was certainly a rare and special feat. Brandon said they both enjoyed the moment immensely.

“We both didn’t have the most live horses that day, but we hooked up at one point during the race, which was pretty cool. He looked over and said, ‘I’ll race you home.’ It was an unbelievable feeling to ride with him. He’s taught me so much about the game, and not just riding—how to deal with people, work ethic, everything that goes along with being successful. It was special.”

For many years, racing with his son was not something that was of particular interest to Randy Meier. Although Brandon showed a love of horses from the time he could walk, Randy tried to discourage his son from becoming a jockey. Not hard to understand when you consider the pain and rehabilitation the elder Meier has endured. Among the major injuries he has suffered over the years are a broken neck, a pair of broken legs, fractured wrist, and most recently, an arm that was shattered in three places, which required wires and pins to be inserted, only last year.

“Ever since he was a kid, I tried to keep him away from riding, but I couldn’t” Randy said. “I know what I went through with all the injuries and I didn’t want him to go through the same things. Finally, after he graduated high school, I made a deal with him. I told him if he went to college for a year and then decided he wanted to ride, he could.”

That is exactly what happened. Brandon attended school for one year and decided college life was not for him. So, with help from his father, he began galloping and then working horses for trainer Wayne Catalano. After nearly a year of readying his skills, Brandon was set to make his debut this past March. Only problem was, the “Meier injury curse” struck again.

“I was set to make my first start in Florida on a horse I had been working for Wayne for months,” Brandon recalled. “But in the final work before the race the horse had a heart attack and broke down. I wound up tearing some tendons in my arm and was out for a couple months.”

Brandon claims that the threat of injury is never a thought that crosses his mind. He says once fear creeps into his head, he knows it will be time to give it up. For now, the young rider is trying to learn as much as he can from his father and the other riders at Arlington, many of whom he grew up admiring. And so far, so good. Brandon is off to a tremendous start, finishing in the money in 46 of 105 starts through July 1, including 19 wins.

“I was hoping to get off to a good start, but this is unbelievable,” said Brandon, who lives with his father in the Chicago area. “I really owe a lot to (owner) Frank (Calabrese) and Wayne. They took a chance on me and now I’m bringing home longshots and everything.

“The experience of having practically grown up in the jocks’ room with my dad has made the transition easier for me. I’m more relaxed because I know so many of the guys in here—guys like (61-year-old Hall of Fame jockey) Earlie Fires. He always takes me aside and gives me good advice. It’s great to have a hometown base. I hope to be around for a long time.”

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