Hightstown, NJ — When opportunity knocked, Drew Monti answered. It led to the best season of the 25-year-old driver’s career.
Monti was amid what he called a “pedestrian” campaign at his home track, Buffalo Raceway, when he was presented an opportunity to drive regularly at Plainridge Park. It gave Monti the chance to make new, as well as strengthen previous, connections and drive in an increased number of stakes. By the end of 2019, his purse earnings were a career-best $2.24 million.
Prior to last year, Monti had driven in two races worth at least $100,000. In 2019, he drove in 11. He won a Massachusetts Sire Stakes championship with Odds On Orlando and competed in Grand Circuit events at multiple tracks.
He did not arrive at Plainridge until early June, but with the notable backing of Lindy Farms, posted 89 wins the rest of the meet. Only Mitchell Cushing and Drew Campbell won more races during that time.
Monti also enjoyed success at Red Mile, winning 13 of 75 starts (only Dexter Dunn won more among drivers with fewer than 130 starts at the Lexington oval) while still finishing third in the standings at Buffalo and fourth at Batavia.
“It was definitely my best year so far, including exposure,” Monti said. “It’s nothing even compared to what I’d gone through. Even just going to Plainridge for Lindy Farms and stuff, I feel like I made some big strides as far as taking it to the next level.
“It’s a great circuit at home, but if you really want to be in the game and do well, you have to get out there. Lindy really got me going. They got me out there and the rest of it snowballed from there. I’m very grateful to them for that.”
Monti has kicked off this year by driving at The Meadowlands and Buffalo. It is his first trip back to the Big M since the winter of 2017. He has nine wins in 86 starts at The Meadowlands heading into this weekend’s action, when he will have a total of 17 drives on Friday and Saturday.
“I talked with people about coming down and I’m glad I did,” Monti said. “I’m happy to be there. It’s been going pretty well, I think.
“It’s hard to pick where you’re going to go. You kind of go where you’re needed. Obviously, you’ve got to have enough work to make it worth your while. Anyone can say they’re going somewhere, but to actually compete and have enough work to make it worthwhile is the key.”
Monti, a Buffalo native, has won 1,532 races in his career with earnings of $9.50 million. In addition to driving, he helps his dad, Darrin, with the family’s training stable. The family ties make for difficult decisions when it comes to traveling.
“I don’t think it’s a secret, I love Buffalo,” Monti said. “I’m not saying I would be opposed to moving anywhere, but I like the area I live in and I’m very close with my family. That was one thing that was difficult for me. You can’t be everywhere all the time. You’ve got to make sacrifices. Sometimes it was with our own horses back home. I’d be watching our horses race and it was the first time I wasn’t the one driving them. That said, I can see the rewards.
“I’m very happy with the last couple years and the way things have progressed. I’d like to continue at that pace. I’m not one to really push things. I like to kind of let it come to me. (Early last year) I was a little bummed because I wasn’t doing that great at home. I was winning races, but it was just very pedestrian. It’s funny; it just shows you how things can change.”
Monti, who so far in his career has won two driving titles at Batavia and one at Buffalo, hopes to have a schedule similar to 2019 this year.
“I’m planning on going back to Plainridge, I’m planning to be available for stakes, Grand Circuit, stuff like that,” Monti said. “I’ll still make appearances at Buffalo as much as I can. It’s hard to say because things can change so quickly and unpredictably. It’s hard to plan exactly what you’re doing.”
Because you never know when opportunity will knock.