Sometimes, original game plans can take an unexpected left turn. Just ask Tyler Jones.
It wasn’t that the world of Standardbred racing didn’t interest him – it most certainly did – but the son of veteran horseman Dustin Jones had always set the table for another full-time career path, one far removed from the realm of the pacers and trotters he had dabbled in starting in 2016.
After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University, the younger Jones, who earned his criminology degree from the southwestern Ontario school, accepted a job offer in the government sector, specifically, a youth-protection services role, in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
After three years, the last two as a case worker, he started to question whether this was the life he wanted.
The more he ruminated, the clearer the answer became. Horse racing, for Jones, had evolved far beyond just a hobby.
One day, he can’t quite remember the exact date, he found his life’s calling.
“In Quebec, there were lockdowns. At the time, we could race at Rideau but not at Trois-Rivieres. Throughout the winter, I always paid attention to what my dad’s horses were doing. Racing at Rideau, it was somewhat of a pastime. When things started closing for Covid, I was either working or racing because I couldn’t do anything else. I realize I was drawn way more to racing than I was to my job. That’s all I was thinking about, racing horses.”
Soon after that life-altering epiphany, Jones had to convince others, including his father, that he was up to the task and committed to his craft.
He treated it like he would a job interview.
“Dad and some of his owners were getting ready to make that move back to Ontario from Florida, in early spring of 2021. Discussions were taking place as to who was going to get the drives on their horses. I just used that opportunity to present my case for the drives. I had to convince my dad that I was serious about doing this. If I wanted to present my case, I had to do it in the right way. My dad talked to a couple of owners, and we had a few discussions from that and the next day, I packed up my stuff.”
Back in Ontario, Jones began working alongside his father, where he was a devoted student of the game, sincere and eager in his willingness to listen and learn.
That dedication soon paid off on the racetrack.
After a 34-win campaign in 2021, Jones has followed it up with a breakout campaign, a year that has yielded several highlights and career-best marks.
With less than a month left on the 2022 calendar, the now 29-year-old is closing in on an impressive accomplishment, one he had set out to achieve over the winter in the Sunshine State.
“Reaching $1 million in earnings, that was a goal I set when I was racing this winter in Pompano. I was able to have some success at Mohawk this year, which helped contribute to that goal. I’m definitely close. I have one more month to bang out around $75,000 that I need. Hopefully, I can get there. We’ll see. The fact that I’m approaching it means I’m moving towards something that I had set out to do. I’d be happy and pretty proud of that.”
Jones has had other reasons to celebrate.
A big moment came when drove his father’s Tactical Planner in this year’s $600,000 Breeders Crown championship for two-year-old female trotters at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
There were other highlights too.
“That was phenomenal, especially to be in a Breeders Crown race with my dad’s horse. Another thing I wanted to achieve was to win two Gold Series races. I was able to win one (with then three-year-old trotting filly You Will Be Queen) in 2021 and also won with (two-year-old pacing filly) Momentary Control in the Gold final this July at Mohawk. I was able to drive for a lot of different trainers in Ontario Sires Stakes events this year, which was a huge step forward for me.”
For Jones, the big picture is viewed through the lens of focusing on the small elements.
“Just tracking your success and the things you need to work on, I think that goes a long way in keeping you focused and grounded as well. The things that you can improve on today are the things that can help you tomorrow. Every time I go to the track, I’m learning something or working on something to help improve myself. I want to take every little bit of information and every experience seriously, to help me get better.”
Sharing racetracks with some of the best in the business has also been a game changer for Jones.
Whether it was in Florida or Ontario, lining up behind the starter car and seeing the who’s who of the standardbred racing to his left and right, has helped Jones heighten his skills and confidence level in the sulky.
“At Pompano, I raced against David Miller and Wally Hennessey, who have over 25,000 wins combined, so that felt like a big accomplishment to me. Driving so many different types of horses at Mohawk, and going up against juggernaut drivers and trainers, it helps you raise the bar for yourself. I’ve had that discussion before with people. I’m racing against the best in Canada, and I’ve also had the chance to race against Dexter (Dunn) and Yannick (Gingras). If you’re not coming out of there with having learned something, you’re not doing your job. That’s my approach. I’ve been learning and watching every day I race. The little details are so important. The way a race unfolds, the way you read a program – all of it matters.”
Homework has once again become a staple in Jones’ life.
“I’m definitely doing more studying than I ever did in school,” he quipped.
Not that he’s complaining.
Jones is finally where he feels he belongs, taking a one-time hobby and making it a full-time job, one that fuels his competitive nature.
Something that’s found in his DNA.
“Both my parents and my sister were always involved in a lot of different sports. I come from a very large family, a lot of cousins, so it was a very sports-oriented upbringing. My mother has seven brothers, so she comes from an ultra-competitive household. My dad, being on his own at 18, and racing horses, he had to learn a lot on his own after working for Dave Wall. He made himself that very competitive person because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to succeed."
“I played every sport I could in high school. Hockey was the one that stood out. I’m a competitive person. Being in an office, you don’t have that. It played a big decision into making the move to racing as well.”
When he isn’t at the racetrack, Jones leads a relatively quiet existence.
Sports continue to be a cornerstone in his world.
“I like to spend time with my girlfriend. We’ll go out to dinner. I’ll play hockey too. We play on Tuesday nights in Guelph. I also like baseball and softball, but I gave up on golf. It’s too frustrating for me. My life revolves around sports. If I’m not playing it, I’m watching it.”
It all adds up to a contented life, personally and professionally.
Swapping a navy three-piece suit for his green, white, and black driver colours has been a perfect fit for Jones.
“There’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to work at to get there. I’m already looking forward to 2023. My dad is hooking up the babies to the cart, so he’s already thinking about next year and so am I. I don’t have anything written down or in my mind, but I definitely want to see more of what I was able to do this year in 2023.”
Just what one would expect from the man who ultimately found his plan.
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms