Peter Wrenn says there never was any doubt he would pursue a career in harness racing. His father, the late Howard Wrenn, was a horseman in Michigan and Peter’s older brothers Gary, Ron and Mark all followed in their dad’s footsteps.
But Wrenn also recognised that making a career in racing was not simply a birthright.
“I never knew if I’d be successful enough to make a living at it,” he said recently after getting career win number 7,000. “Nothing is preplanned. It just fell into place and I was able to get the job done.”
Wrenn, 44, became just the 20th driver in harness racing history to reach the 7,000-win level, accomplishing the feat behind pacer Spellbinder at the Calhoun County Fair in Marshall, Michigan, on August 15.
Wrenn is enjoying his best year in terms of victories; his 419 triumphs so far this season rank fourth among all drivers in North America and he needs only nine to top his personal best, set in 1992.
He has $1.9 million in earnings and should surpass $2 million for the first time since 1997.
“I’ve been lucky to have great people behind me,” Wrenn said.
“You’re not going to be successful without live mounts. I’ve had a lot of good owners and trainers behind me. I’m in shape and focused and they have enough confidence in me to do well, and that feels good. Good horses, good owners and trainers -- the whole puzzle comes together that way.”
Wrenn got his first win in 1978 and by the mid-1980s was regularly winning driving titles at Saginaw Valley Downs.
Later, he added championships at Hazel Park and Pompano Park before moving east and winning the 1994 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly pacers with Yankee Cashmere. In 1995, he won the Goldsmith Maid with Elke Frazer, beating stablemate Continentalvictory by a nose.
The following year, Wrenn drove Personal Banner to victory over Moni Maker in the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old filly trotters -- handing Moni Maker her only loss of the year. He also won they with Allison Hollow, upsetting , and captured the Jugette with Paige Nicole Q.
Yet, some of Wrenn’s most cherished moments were the result of his long association with the free-for-all pacer Hi Ho Silverheel's. Wrenn drove Hi Ho Silverheel's to 13 of his 43 career wins, including the 1997 Graduate and twice in the Freehold Cup (1996 and 1997). Wrenn and Hi Ho Silverheel's hit the board in 25 of their 31 races together.
“I have such a passion for Hi Ho Silverheel's; he was a great horse,” Wrenn said.
“He had so many problems and overcame a lot. He was an athlete, and any time you overextend yourself you’re going to come out with this or that. But he was never out of the game when the bugle played; he was ready. I’m not saying he was the best, but he was one of my most favorite horses.”
Since returning to Michigan, Wrenn has won driving titles at Hazel Park and Northville Downs. He won the 2003 Motor City with Bobnoxious and the 2004 Rose Red with Rainbow Blue. His top triumph this year came with Artriverderci in the Hoosier Cup.
“My hat’s off to (trainer) Rene Laarman,” Wrenn said about the Hoosier Cup victory. “He sent a horse that was good to go, and we were able to accomplish the task. I enjoyed that a lot.”
He also enjoyed getting win number 7,000, which came on his wife Melanie’s birthday with a horse they own.
“When I was young, I dreamed of winning a lot of races; that was your goal,” Wrenn said, adding with a laugh, “I’m sure I was dreaming of hitting 500 home runs, too. To really accomplish it, I never thought I would do something like that.”
Wrenn and his wife have three children: Courtney, 12; Billy, 10; and Tyler, 5. The kids help around the barn with the family’s 25 horses, but Wrenn has no idea whether they will follow in his footsteps.
“I don’t force them,” Wrenn said. “They keep us running and are busy playing sports. If they want to get into racing, fine; if not, that’s fine, too. We’ll let their path go however it goes.”
As for himself, Wrenn has no plans of finding another path.
“I’ll take aim for 9,000 (wins) now,” he said. “I’m young enough to go at it; I’m not slowing down. You get up and do your job and hopefully there’s good work for you to take care of. I’m enjoying every bit of it right now.”
y Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications