by Victoria Howard
Although Melissa Beckwith spent many weekends in a barn as a child, she never had a yearning to follow her father, Hall of Famer Jerry Silverman — one of harness racing’s leading Grand Circuit trainers for over five decades — into the business.
But Melissa’s brother Richie did and went on to have a successful career in the sport as a driver/trainer.
Patriarch Jerry Silverman made quite a name as one of the sport’s top trainers with the huge success of his horse, Romeo Hanover p, 3, 1:56.1, a Harrisburg yearling he picked out for $8,500 who became a Triple Crown winner.
But Jerry’s success didn’t end with Romeo, for many Silverman trainees followed, such as, Die Laughing, p, 3, 1:51.1 ($2,164,3860), Glowing Report p, 5,1:49.2 ($2,095,144), Hit Parade p, 2:1:53.4 ($806,303), Saccharum p, 4,1:53.3 ($805,295), Masquerade p, T 1:53 ($598,542) and Fame p, 2,1:55.3 ($502,942).
Jerry also trained a filly named Must See p, 2, 1:52 ($487,122) who is the dam of the 2009 Pacer of the Year, Well Said.
Jerry was the first trainer in the history of harness racing to develop two $2-million pacers.
His legacy continued when both of his children, Richie and Melissa, would eventually carry on the name with much success.
“Although I was involved in some aspect in the sport when I was younger, I really didn’t go all in until I met and married my husband, horseman Mark Beckwith,” Melissa said.
Melissa’s husband Mark is also no stranger to the game for he was the leading trainer at Rosecroft Raceway in 1994 and leading driver at Yonkers in 2002.
With 5,876 wins and amassing $33,259,786 one of Mark ‘s fondest memories was winning the Bert Beckwith Memorial Pace [named after Mark’s father] at Plainridge Racecourse.
“Although my dad taught me a lot about horses and the business, my husband Mark probably taught me the most,” said Melissa.
Regardless of who she credits her success to, she was taught well, for from the years 2011-19 Beckwith won an unheard of nine consecutive championships.
Though the Beckwith’s have started more horses than almost anyone else in the 15 years they have raced at Saratoga, they put forth a dominant stable year in and year out.
The year 2022 was an exceptionally good one for Team Beckwith as they took home honors for Horse of the Year with Sea Shadows, while another stable star, trotter Angel Nation, amassed three open’s after joining their stable.
And on June 11, 2022, Melissa set an all-time-record when she sent out four winners on the race card from her stable.
So, it should come as no surprise that Mark and Melissa’s son, Brett, chose to make harness racing his career like his grandfather, mother, uncle, and father has done, for it is deeply rooted in Brett’s DNA.
The Beckwiths have a lot to be proud of but the thing that excites them the most is seeing their son, Brett, continue to shine.
And Melissa is one proud momma.
“My son Brett is 20 years old and was the second leading driver at Saratoga in 2023,” Melissa said. “At first, Brett wasn’t keen to follow our choice of careers but that all changed when he visited The Meadowlands one night.
“Although my son watched many races growing up, it was the smile on his [grandfather Jerry’s] face as he watched the races that I think changed my son’s mind about getting involved.”
It all began on May 16, 2019, when 16-year-old Brett took part in the North American Amateurs Drivers Association trotting event at Yonkers Raceway.
Call it beginner’s luck but young Brett was victorious in his very first race. It was an $8,000 non-wagering race. Brett got away third with Dark Pool and after they took the lead, the $135,000 Harrisburg purchase sailed past the wire winning the race by 5 lengths in 1:56.
“I would say that everything we have won while we’ve been in harness racing — all the big races, setting new records and developing champions — nothing has excited us more and made us prouder than to see our son continue our legacy and be successful,” Melissa said. “Brett has such a great attitude, on and off the track. He has certainly made us proud parents and my dad Jerry, one super proud grand pap.”
Although the Beckwiths’ 24-year-old daughter Carly is not involved with the horses, she is also a huge animal lover.
“Carly has been involved in doggy daycare ever since she graduated from high school,” Melissa said. “Today she is the manager of Park-9 Dog Bar in Massachusetts.
“Mark and I are just as proud of Carly, as we are of our son.”
Besides training horses, Melissa is part of the promotions committee with the Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association (SHHA).
“At Saratoga we are busy trying to promote our sport and attract new fans,” she said. “I feel harness racing tracks should join in to do more promotions and social media.
“And women have come a long way since dad was involved, but I still feel they are not getting enough recognition. I can name so many women who are overlooked, but thanks to Victoria Howard for honoring and bringing much deserved recognition to all females in the sport and giving them time to shine.”