by Evan Pattak, for The Meadows
Mike Wilder collected career win 7,000 Tuesday (June 21) at The Meadows when he piloted 13-1 longshot Step Closer to victory in the 13th race.
“This means a lot to me,” Wilder said. “There are a lot of guys with more wins, but 7,000 is a good number. The way I look at it, it represents a lot of hard work and dedication. I’m very thankful and blessed to have people give me great horses to drive. I get a lot of work and a lot of chances, so I’m very fortunate.”
A native of Springfield, Ohio, Wilder began jogging horses when he was 8 under the tutelage of his stepfather, David Ritter, who trained Standardbreds at the Shelby County Fairgrounds. Wilder was a phenomenon at Lebanon Raceway, where he won 13 driving titles, and he captured two driving championships at Scioto Downs before moving his tack to The Meadows in 2001.
He’s never worked anywhere but the racetrack — except for a brief stint as an electrician.
“My biological father is an electrician, so I tried that out for about three months,” he said. “I never got shocked, and I never set anything on fire, so I must have done a good job. It didn’t take me long to see that harness racing was what I wanted to do.”
For Wilder, harness racing is a family affair. He works with, and drives all the horses for, his father-in-law, veteran trainer Dan Altmeyer. Wilder’s wife, Heather, handles marketing and public relations for the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA) and received the 2013 Lew Barasch Breakthrough Award. Their children, Scarlett, 14, and Lauren, 13, often can be found in the paddock; Scarlett coordinates jog cart rides for patrons during MSOA “Family Fun Nights.”
Wilder regards that family involvement as a considerable asset.
“There are a lot of positive vibes,” he said. “Our hearts are all in this sport. They’re in different parts of this sport, but it’s all for harness racing. It’s quite an honor to go to the barn and sit with Dan every day. He’s a great trainer — look at the great horses he’s developed.”
At 44, Wilder intends to keep driving but can see a day when he might shift to another role.
“You’d love to do this forever,” he said. “Obviously, you’re dreaming if you think you can. You can’t put a number on it, but I would love to drive until I’m 50. When I see the time has come to slow it down, I’ll try to be a trainer. Dan said anytime I would want to pursue that, he would help me get started.
“Who wouldn’t want to follow in Dan’s footsteps? My kids will be in college, so I can do the Florida thing in the winter and get away from the snow. If I’m financially able to do that, it would be a great lifestyle.”