The quiet and unassuming Sam Widger has clawed his way to among the top drivers on the Chicago circuit, picking up is 3,000th career dash winner in Balmoral Park's final race on Wednesday night. The likeable 44-year-old Illinois native didn’t rest on his laurels very long, winning four more races on Maywood Park’s Thursday card.
"I'm not much of a goal-oriented guy. I just try to be content with where I'm at and what I have," said Widger. "I've certainly have looked at some of these milestones but I've never set goals to achieve them."
t took Widger almost 20 years to get to the 2,000 plateau in dash winners and in less than two and one-half seasons Sam has added 1,000 more, with personal highs of 458 winners in 2006, 381 in 2007, and already 170 this season.
Through the years I've tried to take the drives from the people who were there for me when I wasn't winning a lot of races but lately I have shifted a little bit away from it," continued Sam "This past year I've been trying to choose some better horses to drive. It's a tough business and the bottom line is if you win races they are going to use you. We (drivers) get hired and fired all the time and that's okay with me. I do take that to heart. It's all part of the business."
idger first pari-mutuel drive came back in 1985. Through 1996 he drove horses that never won purses of more than $315,000 in a single season. Nevertheless Sam paid his dues through those years before his "breakout" season in 1997.
I started off slow. I didn't have a family name like some of the others, so I had to do it the hard way," said Sam.
"I had been driving 3 or 4 nights a week and then I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to drive Juxtaposition and things kind of took off then in the back half of '97. She won the Orange and Blue on Super Night and that win was my catalyst. A lot of people started to notice me when I was having a lot of success with Juxtaposition. She's absolutely one of my favorite horses.
Another favorite of mind is Booze Cruzin, who has been a joy to drive this past year. He was so strong coming out of his three-year-old season and he's come back just as strong this year. That (1:49) mile at Balmoral last weekend was just tremendous. I'm excited about driving him in the Dan Patch at Hoosier on Saturday."
s one of ten children, Sam got his start in harness racing working for his father—trainer James Widger—at Moline in 1982.
idger resides in Beecher, Illinois with his wife Nancy and their five children.
Mike Paradise, Maywood Park