Day At The Track

Wilder back after a winter of learning

05:06 AM 30 Mar 2021 NZDT
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Mike Wilder, harness racing
Mike Wilder and family after winning his first Adios Pace
Chris Gooden photo

After a new experience, harness racing driver Mike Wilder is ready to return to the familiar.

Wilder spent the winter with father-in-law Dan Altmeyer at Spring Garden Ranch in Florida, where he helped prep 2-year-olds for their upcoming campaigns. Wilder is now back home in western Pennsylvania and ready to drive this week at The Meadows.

The trip to Florida to train young horses was a change for Wilder, who has won 8,388 races in his career and in 2020 finished second in the driver standings at The Meadows for the fifth time in the past seven years.

Altmeyer Wilder Racing had 11 2-year-olds and nine 3-year-olds in training at Spring Garden Ranch. Wilder and his wife Heather are among the owners of 17 of the horses.

"I always wanted to try my hand at it a little bit, just turn another page in my career," said Wilder, who turns 49 on April 10. "Not that I'm going to stop driving, I'll go back to the grind there, but I'm just trying to evolve into being an owner-trainer more, at least four months out of the year (in Florida). Then I'll go north for eight months and race.

"This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment type thing, we talked about it for several years. We finally just took a shot. It was a thrill for me; I can't say enough about it. I'm going to do it again."

Wilder, who began driving at matinees at the age of 14 and got his first raceway win at 18, enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere - not to mention the weather - in Florida.

"It was different, but it was a good different," Wilder said. "Not that we didn't have a schedule, but there was no hustle and bustle about it like when you're racing. That's part of the game, but this was a real good change. You just went to the barn and enjoyed what you were doing with the youngsters."

Wilder said the most enjoyable aspect of his time off was learning with the 2-year-olds.

"Everybody has different ways of doing it but watching Dan Altmeyer do it was really neat," Wilder said. "I asked him a ton of questions. (When racing) I kind of get the 2-year-olds when they're almost finished off. You don't see what it takes to get them to that point. It's a lot of patience and a lot of positivity too.

"Patience is the big word. You can't be anxious with these guys. You never want to get frustrated or get in a rush. Some of them naturally come along pretty good and some of them you need to slow down with. This was a whole new learning experience for me. It was pretty neat being a part of watching these 2-year-olds evolve into racehorses."

Wilder's familiarity with the stable's young horses could be beneficial when they begin racing later this season.

"Not that they won't throw you a curveball, because they will, but I'll know most of these pretty well," Wilder said. "If I see them doing something out of character, I'll pretty much know real quickly. If I don't, Dan will. That's the neat part to be around them all the time. If you see something good or bad you can talk it over."

Wilder called his time in Florida "the fastest four-and-a-half months of my life."

"It's amazing how fast it went," Wilder said. "The weather is nice, the people around you are nice, everybody's got a smile on their face. I enjoyed myself, obviously, and things go fast when you're enjoying yourself. I couldn't believe it was time to go home.

"It just was a heck of a ride."

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA

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