When Ross Wolfenden was growing up in New Zealand he dreamed of driving in the United States.
His father Peter Wolfenden was a hero there through the deeds of New Zealand’s greatest pacer – Cardigan Bay.
It was something he wanted to do – and now more than four decades later Wolfenden has been the leading driver in Delaware for several years.
“I came here (USA) with Dad when I was a kid and realised everything was much bigger and faster in the States. I thought to myself I want to do that one day. That dream always stayed with me, and now I’m married to an American lady, and living the dream,” the 50-year-old Felton (Delaware) resident said.
Wolfenden relocated to the United States in 1993 and had a good look around the country before taking up driving seriously a couple of seasons later.
He scoffed at being told he was New Zealand’s most winningest driver.
“You can’t compare me to Tony Herlihy and Maurice McKendry who have won 3,000 races. I race five days a week and could race seven if I didn’t have a family.
“In New Zealand they race one and two times a week if they are lucky. There’s a lot more racing opportunities here. If I was back in New Zealand I would be nowhere near 3,000,” Wolfenden said.
As at Sunday January 26, Wolfenden had driven 5,746 winners from 41,327 drives. He’s also ran second 5,746 times and placed third on 5,933 occasions.
His career earnings stand at a whopping $52,097,215.
His best year since taking up driving in the United States in 1993 came in 2010 when he reined home 405 winners. Stake-wise 2007 was his best season when he cracked $4.2 million in purses.
As for his training stats, Wolfenden has only trained 15 seasons since 1994, winning 98 races from 361 starters. His career earnings there stand at $561,911.
His legendary father, Pukekohe based Peter won 1,762 races throughout his New Zealand career. Wolfenden junior never ever thought he would surpass his number of race wins and still believes he hasn’t.
“What Dad did was amazing because he could have driven a lot more, but didn’t. You can’t compare the two countries. I’m very proud of what my father did in the sulky. Yes he was and still is a legend down there.
“And many people up here still remember him from those Cardigan Bay days. That’s an honour,” Wolfenden told HRNZ from his Delaware home.
The USA ‘Wolfie’ has won just over twenty $100,000 races, and has driven six winners at a meeting eight times.
In May 2012 he astonishingly won eight of the 13 races on offer at Harrington Raceway – the last being the best horse he has trained, the now 10-year-old Camotion – Run With The Tiger (Albatross) mare, Keystone Rhythm.
“She’s a lovely mare and won the Mares Invitational several times. She’s gone a bit lame at present. I want to keep racing her, but if she doesn’t come back I’ll breed from her.
“She’s from the Albatross line so I think she will leave some nice foals,” said Wolfenden.
‘Wolfie’ has won the last four Harrington driving titles and been in the top three reinsmen at Dover Downs for several years.
His biggest win came in 1998 behind Soul Of The Matter in the $150,000 Battle Of Freehold Pace.
“I’ve never really driven at the big tracks. I did however drive at the Lexington Red Mile one day and won behind the Mark Harder trained Pleasure Chest. That was 2001 and we went 1:50.5.
“I came to Delaware in 2003 simply because they were the first state to implement the slots. I live just eight minutes from Harrington and 20 from Dover Downs.
“It suits me nicely here. Sometimes when I was driving in New Jersey it would take me three hours in peak hour traffic to get home. When Riley was born I soon wised up to that. I’m now getting much more sleep,” Wolfenden said.
Riley (13) is his only child. He met his Pennsylvanian-born wife Ingrid while driving in California in 1994.
Asked if he had any ambitions left in the sport, Wolfenden replied:
“I want to keep driving and win 6,000 races. I’d also like to own a good horse because that way there’s not so much work and the money is easier to make,” he said.
In New Zealand Wolfenden drove from 1986-1992, winning 50 races from 725 starters and amassing $444,250 in stakes.
“If I had my life over again I think I would have probably settled in Australia, simply because it’s a lot closer to home.
“Racing never stops over here and sadly because of that it’s been seven years since I last seen my parents. I would give anything to get back there and see my family and do some fishing.
“I’d love to catch a big snapper and get someone to show me how to smoke it,” Wolfenden added.