by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Trenton, NJ — Kato Young does not have the most common first name around, but it is recognizable due to some other famous folks with the same moniker.
“You know, I’m not really sure where that came from, I get a different story every time I ask about it,” Young said with a laugh. “I think it’s the Green Hornet, where his sidekick was named Kato. My dad said something about Tupac back in the day, that his best friend was named Kato. It’s hard to tell (the true story).”
And then of course, there was famed O.J. Simpson trial witness Kato Kaelin, which brought another chuckle from Young.
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard that,” he said. “I try to forget about that one.”
Conversely, he will never forget June 17, 2018. Nor will he want to.
That was the day — five days after his 22nd birthday, in fact — that Young gained his first driving win by guiding 3-year-old gelding trotter Heavy Duty K to victory at the Pickaway County Fair in Circleville, Ohio.
It was Kato’s first drive of the year after making 15 in his rookie season. He was sitting behind a horse that he owns and is trained by his boss and mentor, Steve Carter.
“I had the six hole so that was the far outside post, and I left out of there really hard,” Young said. “We got parked all the way through the quarter, but I finally cleared as soon as we passed the quarter. From there on out, he was out front by three (lengths) the whole time.”
As he came across the finish line, one of the first things crossing Kato’s mind was that Kenneth Young was there to see it.
“I was pretty excited,” he said. “It was Father’s Day and that’s what made it even better, that my dad was there for it. He was pretty much the person that got me on the way. He bred the horse (Heavy Duty K) and gave it to me and we went from there with it.”
Kenneth trained a few horses at local county fairs when Kato was little, and the son became interested as he grew up around horses on the family farm in Chillicothe, south of Columbus.
“I was just like a little kid walking around the county fairgrounds, going to the track and stuff like that,” Young recalled.
But when his dad strayed from the business, Kato drew disinterested. Somewhere around age 16, he regained it when Kenneth’s interest reignited and he bought a horse. Soon after, Kenneth bred Heavy Duty K for his son.
And while it’s an interesting name, its origin is not exactly memorable.
“To be honest, I don’t know why I named him that,” Young said. “It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing.”
Young went to work with Carter around age 18, and then enrolled at Columbus State for two years before focusing solely on horses. Two years ago, his dad offered to send him to the U.S. Trotting Association’s Driving School. Kato got his license soon afterward and has continued to work with Carter.
“Steve’s been a huge influence,” Young said. “He’s taught me pretty much everything that I know. I don’t have my trainer’s license, but I do train a little for Steve.”
Young embarked on his driving career in 2017 and in 15 starts had four second-place finishes and one third. His first drive was with a horse named Ufpfortydevensgirl, trained by Terry Thompson Jr., and it proved to be quite memorable even if it did not produce a victory.
“Coming around the final turn, Terry started screaming at me to pull the horse,” Young said. “We were three deep in the last turn and she cleared the two horses inside of me but she couldn’t catch the horse that won the race.”
It was the start of what ended up being a satisfying rookie season.
“I was pretty happy with the way things turned out,” Young said. “I wasn’t driving top quality horses so I really didn’t expect a whole lot, but I was happy with what I had.”
When Young speaks, it almost sounds like he’s ready to fall asleep in mid-sentence. He takes that same laid-back attitude into the sulky with him.
“I’m pretty relaxed,” he said. “I try not to stress about too much.”
He certainly is not stressing over his immediate future. For now, he is content working with Carter and getting drives when he can. He has yet to formulate any long-term plans.
“I wouldn’t say (driving) is a goal,” he said. “For now it’s something to do in the summer, driving my own horses every now and then, that’s probably about it. Honestly I’m not really sure yet what I want to do. I’m still young, I have a whole lot of life ahead of me.”
Plenty of time to make the name Kato recognizable all over again.