Ohio move pays off for Widger

Ken Weingartner

Hightstown, NJ — Sam Widger was no stranger to success in Indiana in recent years, but this season the longtime driver took to calling Ohio home when it came to racing. The change has worked out well, with Widger setting a career-high with $4.25 million in purses.

Prior to this year, Widger spent some of the early parts of recent seasons racing at Ohio’s Miami Valley Raceway while Harrah’s Hoosier Park was on its three-month winter break. This year, Widger finished sixth in wins at Miami Valley with 91, two victories behind Tyler Smith in fifth. In the previous two years, Widger was 10th in the standings.

Widger was no worse than third in wins among drivers at Hoosier Park from 2016-2022, which included a stretch of four consecutive second-place finishes behind the track’s perennial leader, Trace Tetrick.

Sam Widger has set a career-high in 2023 with $4.25 million in purses. Conrad photo.

This year, he raced at Hoosier only for several weeks after it opened in March. When Miami Valley wrapped up its season in May, Widger decided to focus on Ohio and began driving at Eldorado Scioto Downs.

“I raced the last several years at Miami Valley when they were off at Hoosier,” Widger said. “I like time off here or there, but three or four months is too long for me to go without driving horses; I love it so much.

“This year, I had a good meet (at Miami Valley) and thought I would go to Scioto and see what happened. The money is good, and I had some momentum going. I think it’s hard to switch between tracks. I would have gotten drives at Hoosier, I wasn’t worried about that, but I thought I’d just go ahead and stay out here and see how it went.”

Widger finished the Scioto campaign with 125 wins at the track, good for fifth in the standings. He currently is sixth at Hollywood Dayton, with 51 victories.

“It’s worked out really well,” Widger said. “I’ve met a lot of new people and got to put some faces to names. The driving is a little different here, but that’s OK.”

The Ohio ovals are all five-eighth-mile tracks; Hoosier is a seven-eighths.

“You just have to adjust,” said Widger, who competed for two decades on the Chicago circuit before heading to Indiana. “That being said, I loved (Illinois’) Maywood Park, the half-mile racing. The best horse doesn’t always win, the draw is a lot. I like the smaller-track racing.”

Among Widger’s top moments this year were winning an Ohio Sire Stakes championship with 2-year-old female pacer Daisy’s Star at 30-1, an OSS consolation final with 2-year-old male pacer Racing Rebel, and a Buckeye Stallion Series title with 3-year-old female trotter Vintage.

“I picked up Daisy’s Star late; I drove her twice before the final,” Widger said. “She showed up big. I’ve always picked up some horses late in the year that were contenders. It’s just kind of worked out for me over the years.”

Widger, who got his first career victory in 1986, has visited the winner’s circle 7,597 times in his career and earned $71 million in purses. This is his third consecutive year with a career high in purses, following his $3.83 million in 2021 and $4.16 million in 2022.

“I’ve been very blessed to be able to do what I love and get good horses,” Widger said. “Thanks goes out to all the owners and trainers for supporting me over the years and using me and believing in me.”

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