Dan Ater, 66, dies

Columbus, OH — Dan Ater, a longtime U.S. Trotting Association director and member of the Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Fame, died May 24, 2021. Mr. Ater, a native of Clarksburg, Ohio, was 66.

Dan Ater died May 24, 2021. USTA photo.

Mr. Ater spent more than four decades in harness racing, accumulating 1,697 wins as a driver and 1,686 victories as a trainer. He won driving titles at Lebanon Raceway, Scioto Downs, Northfield Park, and Balmoral Park. Most recently, he captured the 2018 training title at Miami Valley Raceway. In 2017, he was second in the trainer standings at Miami Valley and Scioto Downs.

He trained his stable at his 51-acre family farm in Clarksburg. Among Mr. Ater’s top horses were Western Resolve, Firm Belief, Capital Request, Cruzin Inya Jammys, Mystique Cruiser, and Dancin Yankee.

“I’ve always had good owners,” Mr. Ater said in a November 2017 Hoof Beats magazine profile by Steve Montemarano. “You’re only as good as the people around you.”

Mr. Ater’s favorite horse might have been female trotter Sandys Victory. He purchased the mare at the age of 5 for $8,200 at an auction in November 2016. During the ensuing four years, she won 31 races and $338,255.

“I waited my lifetime to find this one, so I doubt I’ll find another one,” Mr. Ater said in a 2018 interview with the USTA’s Ken Weingartner. “I’m just thankful I got her. She’s been a life changer. We’ve had nice horses, but I’ve never had one that I own myself. She’s just helping things out.

“It takes a good horse to get you over the hump. I hope every trainer, or every owner, has that kind of horse because I know how much hard work you put into it.”

Mr. Ater, who was inducted into the Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2016, battled cancer for years. He was first diagnosed with prostate cancer and in 2001 tests revealed pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave Mr. Ater five years to live. More than a decade beyond that diagnosis, Mr. Ater established career highs as a trainer with 150 wins and $1.53 million in purses, his first million-dollar season, in 2017. The following year, he won 110 races and $1.42 million.

But statistics mattered little to Mr. Ater.

“Some people have better numbers,” Mr. Ater said in Hoof Beats. “I just try to help others.”

Mr. Ater’s son Kyle, who followed his dad into racing and has won 2,175 races as a driver and is also a trainer, is among those who benefited from his guidance.

“He’s definitely my role model,” Kyle said in a July 2020 interview with Harness Racing Update’s Chris Loman. “He’s the one who taught me that nothing is easy, and you’ve got to work for what you want. That’s what I live by.

“He’s taught me so well. I’m sure there are a lot of people who wish they had someone like that in their life.”

Mr. Ater had four children, with Kyle joined by Nick, MacKenzie and Daniel.

In addition to serving as a USTA director, Mr. Ater was a director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, a Deerfield Township trustee, and Ohio Farm Bureau member.

In 2018, Mr. Ater was recipient of the USTA President’s Award. “If any of you have a son or daughter in the industry, and you can give them one piece of advice, it should be to be more like this guy,” said USTA President Russell Williams when presenting the award to Mr. Ater.

“Racing is a book of dreams,” Mr. Ater said in 2017. “The story of my life.”

Arrangements will be posted when available.

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