As Brett Birzer watched his father walk up to the fence at Prairie Meadows to congratulate him on winning aboard Apolitical Queen, fond memories of his childhood came to mind. Ever since he could walk, he was the one going up to congratulate his dad when he won, giving him a fist pump through the fence. Now, their roles were reversed on the race track.
Brett is a 19-year-old, third-generation jockey who practically grew up on the racetrack. His father Alex Birzer owns over 3,300 wins and has made over $57 million. Brett’s grandfather, Garald, also was a jockey and a trainer and his other grandfather, Dennis Good, was a trainer as well. His uncle, Gary Birzer, was a jockey for seven years but his career was cut short by a spill that left him permanently injured. And having a father as a trainer, Brett’s mom, Bonnie Lee is no slouch among horses either, and to say that Brett comes from a horse racing family would be a vast understatement.
According to his father, Brett was working in the barns almost as soon as he could walk and started galloping horses as soon as he could ride.
“Bonnie and I, and everyone else around Brett, we all started and grew up working around the barns. Brett’s no different. He learned how to work hard at an early age. He was always around horses and grew up in that atmosphere.”
Brett loved watching his Dad ride and everything else associated with the racetrack life. He inherited the urge to become a jockey mostly from his father.
“Growing up, I’d have to say my dad was my biggest hero,” Brett said. “I watched all of his races every day and at night I would call him and we would talk about them and everything that happened during his rides and we still do to this day, “My grandpa Good, (Dennis Good) taught me how to ride horses when I was very little. He always had me on the pony horse teaching me new things to try on the horses. He taught me to sense the movements, the gestures and even what the horse might be thinking, so I could try to guess what they were going to do before they did it. He let me gallop my first racehorse with my uncle Furrel, ponying me when I was twelve. My family has taught me just about everything I know about horses and horse racing and they’ve always supported me in everything I’ve ever done.”
Brett has a younger brother, Colby, who is 12, and a loving older sister, Jordan, who is 22, and he enjoys a solid relationship with both.
Brett started his career riding thoroughbreds but at 5′-7″, and there were concerns he might just be too damn tall to continue making weight. To complicate matters, Brett was an athlete in several sports and was bulking up pretty decently, as most young healthy guys do.
In a September 2018 article, I wrote about Brett’s father, proud papa Alex told me, “Brett rode for about a year. He probably spent more time in the hot box than any bug boy (apprentice rider) in the nation. He worked harder to become a rider than anyone I’ve ever been around. I was extremely proud of him for trying so hard and I’m still proud to this day. UNFORTUNATELY, MY SON OUTGREW HIS RIDING CAREER. He’s five-foot-seven and filled out a little bit.”
Now I’ve known Alex for a couple of years and he’s just a great and stand-up guy who would never steer anyone wrong, but it seems he was wrong on this one.
I asked Brett to explain how this comeback of sorts, all came about.
“I started riding thoroughbreds when I was sixteen. I got pretty tall for a thoroughbred rider, so everybody just kind of wrote me off and figured I’d never ride again. One morning, a few years ago, I worked a few quarter horses for trainer Alex Wessels and it was a crazy, adrenaline rush and I just felt I had to pursue it. Quarterhorse riders can weigh a bit more than thoroughbred riders, so that’s why I can ride em’.”
“Is your weight still a major issue?”, I asked.
“I’m 5′-7″, so yes, I have to watch my weight very closely. I try not to eat anything that isn’t beneficial to my body. When it’s hot outside, I go for long jogs and sweat pretty good when I work horses in the mornings.”
I don’t know a lot about quarter horses but I always assumed they were very high strung and while I had the kid around I asked him about it.
“People think quarter horses are high strung and really wild, but back at the barns lots of trainers lead them around in just rope halters! They do get higher strung for the races but they have to be. It’s not like in the thoroughbred races where if you have a bad start you have a chance to recover. We’re only going 250-400 yards in most races, so a slow start can really do you in. There can also be some amazingly close finishes. I’ve run 5th before, while only getting beat by a neck for the win, so every inch really counts in quarter horse racing.”
As of this writing, Brett’s new career of quarter horse racing stands at 18 winners from 109 mounts (17%) and most would agree that’s quite respectable. He also owns 14-second-place finishes and 15 thirds and that all totals up to being in the money 43% of the time and earning $265,596 so far in 2019.
As for future plans, Brett Birzer intends to head down to Remington Park for the quarter horse meet in the spring and he’s going there with full confidence.
“There are some really good jockeys down there and I know the competition will be tough but I’ll just do what I always do. I’ll show up every day and do the best I can. I’ll just continue to work hard and the rest will fall into place.”
I asked Brett if there’s anyone else he’d like to thank or mention in this article.
“I’d like to thank all the barns that gave me the opportunity to ride for them,” he said. “But there are two barns I’d really like to mention, Verle Bohner and Alex and Kirk Wessels. They helped get my name out there and put me on some really fine horses.
I’d also like to thank fellow rider, Stormy Smith. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot. And I’d like to thank my girlfriend, Hailey, for always being there for me, whether I had a good day or an ugly day. She’s always kept me level headed and I’m not sure she even knows what that means to me.”
“She does now, kid. Do you want to toss out one for the road?” I asked.
“Channing Hill once told me, ‘never let a win get to your head or a loss get to your heart’, and that one just always stuck with me.”
As for Brett’s parents, they couldn’t be prouder. “Bonnie and I are very proud of Brett. He’s always put in the time, work and effort and he fully deserves any success he gets,” Alex said.
Brett Birzer comes from some awful good stock. He’s a very smart and driven young rider, who I bet will be a complete and total force to be reckoned with come spring in Oklahoma.