Trenton, NJ — Bryant Sears came from a harness racing family but was not quick to discover his own passion for the sport.
That began to change a dozen years ago. Bryant decided the corporate world wasn’t for him, especially since jobs were hard to come by after he gained an Associate degree from Bristol Community College. He had helped his dad, John, around the stables while growing up but had no desire to pursue the sport until he almost had to.
“It was something I grew up with, it was in my family,” Sears aid. “My dad and uncle did it, but I really didn’t have too much of an interest in the harness racing business growing up. I was around the horses but never really enough to have full interest and get my trainer’s license and all that.
“But when I graduated, the economy wasn’t the greatest, and I was having a tough time finding jobs with the way the economy was at the time. That’s when I fell back into harness racing. My dad had a few horses at the time, and I started helping him out.”
Over time, Bryant began to take more of an interest in the sport, which led him to get his trainer’s license prior to the 2018 season. He won seven of 77 races his first season and seven of 55 this past year. Nearly all his races have been at Plainridge Park Casino due to its 15-minute proximity to his Norton, Mass., home.
The key to Sears’ change of heart came in 2015, when he purchased a then 5-year-old pacer named One Eyed Alley Cat for $1,500. The gelded pacer turned into a successful reclamation project for Bryant.
“He belonged to the guy I was working for and he kind of gave up on it,” Sears said. “He really couldn’t stay flat. The owner had a bigger stable, I was helping him out, not doing the training but mainly the grooming. He knew I wanted the horse and wound up selling it to me.
“A couple weeks later, the horse that couldn’t win went out and won, and he went on to have a good year. I got him when he was 5; he’s 9 now and I still own him. That’s basically what got me into the business. I had no interest at all. He’s done really good for me; he’s won me some money. He’s paid for himself and he got me into wanting this.”
Sears was always into sports, having done track, basketball and football in high school, along with, of course, ice hockey in an area that lives for it. The desire to keep moving helped lead him back to the stables after college.
“I like to stay active and do a lot of sports,” he said. “Everything fit in towards that with harness racing. That’s seven days a week.”
After purchasing One Eyed Alley Cat, Sears became more focused on training and took his horse down to Florida’s Pompano Park to learn more about the business. While Bryant gained an education, One Eyed Alley Cat won two races to help pay for the trip. He returned home, promptly earned his trainer’s license, and a career was born.
“I’m the only one doing it,” said Sears, who has a brother and a sister. “My brother was interested; he grew up in the business too. He was full-time for a little bit, but he never pursued the training. My sister was never interested at all, so basically, I’m the only one in the family keeping the tradition alive. And I didn’t want to do it, that’s the funny thing about it.”
Bryant’s first training win came at Saratoga on April 7, 2018, with One Eyed Alley Cat and, for now, it still ranks as his biggest and most memorable. He has also gotten an owner to train for in New York’s Raymond Ferguson, thanks to some cyber work by his brother, John Jr., who was looking for training opportunities for Bryant.
“It’s pretty difficult to get horses to train when you’ve never really had any,” Sears said.
During his search, John Jr. noticed that Ferguson had a horse named Fernleigh Rebel N that was not doing too well.
“The owner was trying to get out of the business, the horse was nothing that he wanted him to be and he was on his last straw with him,” Sears said. “My brother told him to give the horse a try with me training him. He got beat the week before I got him. It was almost like the owner needed me and I needed him. I started training him and he’s been doing well for us. He won in (1:)52(.2) this year and that’s the fastest I’ve had as a training win.”
Ferguson also claimed a horse named Cruzing Hill that Bryant trained, and the two won good money with him before he was re-claimed.
Sears is currently training three horses — his own, Fernleigh Rebel N and another Ferguson horse, Nathaniel. Ferguson is looking to purchase horses, which would fit nicely in Sears’ plans as he hopes to be training “six or seven every week” by the spring. Bryant is open to working for other owners if the opportunity presents itself and would also like to buy another horse.
“I love the business,” he said. “I take care of the horses like they’re my kids. Like I said, it’s seven days a week. It’s just like everything else, you’ve got to put in what you want to get out of it. You put the horse on the track, and you hope he can get you a good piece of the pie.”
And while Sears knows he is not at a bigger name track, he is more than content to call Plainridge home.
“I think it’s pretty bright up here for us,” he said. “We’ve got a five percent purse increase and we’ve got better drivers here than previously. For a place where the minimum purse was 1,100 or 1,200 (dollars) a few years ago, it’s almost going to be like a capital for harness racing before you know it. It’s not the Meadowlands, but it’s drawing lot of good horses and good owners.
“The future is bright.”