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Horse Racing: Milestone Meadows win satisfies Ohio driver

Sunday, July 13, 2003

The 2,998th and 2,999th victories came easily and early for Mike Wilder during The Meadows card Tuesday. But then came four second-place finishes.

"I was thinking, 'Boy, these guys are really making me work for it.' " Wilder said. "When it happened, it was really a relief."

In the 12th race, he scored a one-length victory with Motorbel NZ and picked up his milestone win: No. 3,000.

"Normally, that third win would be easy to come by, but when you're going for the 3,000th win, it's hard," he said.

Wilder, 31, drove in his first matinee race when he was 14 and in his first pari-mutuel race when he was 18 and just out of high school in Springfield, Ohio. But he said he didn't start driving seriously -- in virtually every race on a card -- until he was 25 and racing at Lebanon Raceway or Scioto Downs, depending on the season. So he piled up many of those 3,000 wins in the past six years.

He got interested in harness racing as a youth when his mother met and married Dave Ritter, a trainer based at the Shelby County Fairgrounds in Ohio.

"I never knew anything about horses [until then]," Wilder said. "I took to them. I loved them. He drove and trained and it looked like a fun thing to do. I told him I was interested. He said, 'It's a tough life, but if you're serious, I'll help you.' I said, 'I'm serious.' Everything came together. I met a lot of nice people who gave me horses and helped me right along."

Wilder moved his tack permanently to The Meadows in 2001. One reason for the move was that he had married Heather Altmeyer, the daughter of Dan Altmeyer, a leading trainer of 2- and 3-year-olds at The Meadows who uses Wilder as his driver. He also wanted to settle down in one spot.

With 3,000 victories in the bank, he's looking to win at least that many more before he retires.

"I think I'm good for another three or four thousand as long as I don't get hurt," he said. "If I stay healthy, I think I can drive another 10 years."

Decline continues

Here's why The Meadows favors the legalization of slots: The Washington, Pa., track continues to show significant declines in handle, according to the latest minutes from a Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission meeting.

At the May 28 meeting, Drew Shubeck, the Meadows' general manager, reported that total handle for April was down 9.4 percent compared to the same period in 2002.

Declines also were recorded at the track's four off-track betting facilities. New Castle was down 10.7 percent; Moon, 8.5 percent; West Mifflin, 9.2 percent; and Harmar, 17.4 percent.

Early-bird wagering

The Breeders' Cup once again is offering advance wagering on the World Championship races Oct. 25 at Santa Anita Park.

There will be two three-day weekend wagering periods for the Classic, Distaff, Sprint and Turf: July 25-July 27 and Aug. 29-Sept. 1. A three-day wagering period for the Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Filly & Mare Turf and Mile will be Sept. 19-21.

Bits and pieces

ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale and University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino co-own a 2-year-old colt named It's Awesome Baby. ... Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," has written a story about her 16 years of living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for this month's issue of The New Yorker.

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412 263-1228.

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