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In Harness: Rising Star Kyle Swift Is Living His Dream

USTA/Wendy J. Lowery

Kyle Swift received the 2023 Rising Star
Award from the Upstate New York chapter
of the U.S. Harness Writers Association
and Batavia Downs.

(Courtresy of USTA Media Relations)

Hightstown, NJ — When Kyle Swift learned that he was going to receive the 2023 Rising Star Award from the Upstate New York chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association and Batavia Downs, it was a special moment for the 18-year-old driver. Not simply for the honor and recognition, but for being emblematic of Swift coming full circle to the career he dreamed of as a child.

“I grew up 20 minutes from Batavia and anytime I could go to the track, I was there,” said Swift, who is the son of driver Ray Fisher Jr. and trainer Ryan Swift. “I grew up there. Anytime I could put colors on, or get in the jog cart, or was able to sit in the seat in the winner’s circle, that was always really cool to me.

“When I got to go to the track, that was everything.”

It still is.

Swift got his first win in July 2021 in a New York County Fair Sire Stakes division at Batavia Downs. The victory came with Pink Delight, a 2-year-old filly pacer trained by his mom, two weeks after Swift’s 16th birthday.

After totaling nine fair wins in 2021 and 2022, he notched his first pari-mutuel triumph last July with Big Place, also trained by his mom, at Buffalo Raceway. When the action moved to Batavia in late July, Swift notched 15 wins there during the meet, good for 10th place in the driver standings.

“When I was a little kid watching my dad drive and my mom train, this was everything I wanted to do,” Swift said. “I always wanted to drive, but it was because I wanted to be the guy in the winner’s circle. Now, I want to be the guy that helps a horse develop, helps a horse become a better horse.”

So far this season, Swift has 15 wins in 115 drives. He notched 11 triumphs at Batavia, which tied for eighth at the oval, before Buffalo kicked off its meet on March 2.

“I was picking up a decent number of drives when I first started, but I’ve gotten real lucky with the horses I’ve been getting now and I’m driving more horses for the same people,” Swift said. “(Trainer) Candace Brandstatter, I’ve got to give her all the credit in the world. Probably one-third of the races I’ve won have been with her, so I give her a lot of credit as far as picking up work.

“When the sheet comes out and I’m driving for people I’ve never driven for before, and horses I’ve never sat behind but on paper look pretty good, that’s cool for a kid that’s really just started out. That means everything to me right there. I’ve been picking up six or seven or eight drives a night. I never thought I was going to pick up drives like that. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve gotten.”

Swift began developing a connection with horses when he was young, around the age of 6 or 7. One horse in particular at that time, Pacific Mariner, remains memorable.

“He trusted me and would let me do anything to him,” Swift said. “I still have pictures of me standing on a bucket cutting his hair and he just stood there and thought I was the greatest thing ever. That was really cool to me.”

As he got older and began working with the horses on a regular basis, his appreciation deepened.

“When I got my groom’s license at the age of 14, and got into it more, I learned a lot and really fell in love with the animal,” Swift said. “There is nothing better than the horses. It doesn’t matter if we have two or 20, I love walking in the barn and seeing them. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Swift’s dad has won 4,808 races and captured multiple driving titles at Buffalo Raceway. His mom has 553 victories as a trainer.

“They’ve taught me everything and always supported me,” said Swift, who also acknowledged his grandparents for their backing. “And I have to give credit to the trainers. There are always guys that are sitting on the bench, so when they choose you to drive, you’ve got to perform. There is always somebody that can take your spot. People are putting me down that I never thought would put me down.”

With just more than 400 career races under his belt, Swift knows his maturation as a driver is an ongoing process. But he already can see improvements.

“My dad told me that when you start driving everything is happening so fast when you’re out there,” Swift said. “He always told me the more you drive, everything will slow down. That’s what has started to happen. Everything has started to slow down. I’ve made mistakes before and now in a race I know not to do that again.

“Patience is the biggest thing I’ve learned. When I started out, I always wanted to pull the right line. If I had any pace at all, it was pull, pull, pull. But ever since winning for the first time by sneaking up the rail and through the passing lane, I’ve learned not to move if I don’t have to move. The main thing is to drive the horses to the best of your abilities and give them the best chance to do well.”

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