Marcus Swiontek became interested in horse racing really by chance. He grew up in Jordan, Minnesota, just 14 miles down Highway 169 from Canterbury Park, yet the racetrack was never on his radar. Marcus happened to be flipping through TV channels on a Saturday afternoon in the mid-2000s and stumbled across the Kentucky Derby. “From that moment I said ‘Hey, I’m going to do that,'” he recalled during a 2017 interview.
His professional race riding career began in 2011 aboard a thoroughbred at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. He gravitated more to the quarter horse side of the industry over the years at Remington Park, Prairie Meadows, Canterbury, and Phoenix earning a living race riding and galloping in the mornings.
Swiontek won the Gopher State Derby in Shakopee on Zoomn On Bye July 7. He suffered an ankle injury three weeks later during a race and has not ridden since. “I got on my first horse three or four days ago,” he said, admitting that the time away left him a bit muscle sore now as he strives to get back in shape galloping for trainer Sandi Gann.
All along though Marcus has had a plan: prepare for his next career and be ready without delay. That career would be as an airline pilot. He studied in Minnesota, at Flying Cloud Airport, just across the Minnesota River and up the bluff from Canterbury, earning his student pilot license in June of 2017 and his private pilot license in March of 2018 while still race riding. Last month he made another stride toward the goal, getting a commercial license. He will still need additional coursework and 1,500 hours of flight time before the major airlines or cargo haulers come knocking. Marcus explained that those hours for many pilots, come through flight instruction, teaching others to fly. He can begin doing that in Phoenix in short order.
The racetrack still has an allure that is hard to walk away from. But unlike many athletes, Swiontek has an exit strategy taking him seamlessly from one world to another. “I’d love to [return to Canterbury] this summer,” he said, but time and circumstances will dictate. For the time being however he can have one foot in both worlds, flying and instructing while also preparing for opening day at Turf Paradise January 4.