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USTA Driving School opens
Thursday, June 02, 2016 - by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications

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Delaware, OH --- Don Tiger has visited the winner’s circle as a racehorse owner, but he would like the chance to make it there another way -- by driving himself.

Tiger, a 45-year-old from Canonsburg, Pa., is among the 33 participants in the 17th annual U.S. Trotting Association Driving School, which got underway Wednesday (June 1) at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in central Ohio with a welcome dinner and keynote address from trainer George Teague Jr., the owner of harness racing’s 2015 Horse of the Year, Wiggle It Jiggleit.

The school runs through Saturday and offers students a mix of hands-on learning and classroom sessions culminating with the administration of the USTA's trainer and/or driver exam. Participants came from 11 different states plus the Canadian province of Ontario, with Ohio producing the most attendees, with 15. Tiger is among three participants from Pennsylvania.

Driving School students Don Tiger (left) and Kato Young (right) with USTA Director and Driving School Instructor Steve Oldford.

“I’m kind of a hands-on owner; I like to go to the barn a lot,” said Tiger, a mortgage banker/financial planner who has owned horses since the early 1990s. “I jog my own horses and I just got to the point where I really got a desire to come here and try to become an amateur driver.

“The first day here was great. It’s really exciting. I’ve met a lot of good people already.”

Among Tiger’s 11-horse stable is 10-year-old male pacer Sam Hill, who won 10 of 27 races and banked $107,210 last season at The Meadows, with Tiger donating 20 percent of the gelding’s earnings to charity. He also co-owns Toddler Tantrum, who was a stakes-winner last year at age 2.

“I’ve had a nice run,” said Tiger, who started going to the races at The Meadows as a teenager. “I love it.

“I think people are missing out on harness racing in general. I try to bring a lot of people into the game myself. I think being an amateur driver is maybe going to take me to the next level. I don’t have any desire to be anything special, but I think it’s exciting. I don’t have any thoughts of competing with Brian Sears or Aaron Merriman or Dave Palone; those guys can do what they’re doing. I just think it’s kind of fun.”

Tiger is not alone. Kato Young, a 19-year-old college student from Chillicothe, Ohio, has been working as a caretaker in the stable of trainer Steve Carter for two years and now has his eyes set on passing the driver exam.

“I didn’t start out jogging horses, but after some time (Carter) started to get me out there more and doing more training trips,” said Young, who followed his father, Kenneth, as well as an uncle and grandfather into the sport. “Earlier this year he put me in the race bike for the first time and it’s something I immediately fell in love with. It was one of the best things ever. It gave me the itch.”

USTA/Mark Hall photos
Driving School student Andy Altobelli (right) and trainer George Teague Jr.

Andy Altobelli, a 63-year-old pharmacist and pharmacy owner from York County, Pa., also has enjoyed success as an owner and is attending the Driving School with thoughts of getting more active around the stable and on the track. Altobelli partnered with longtime friend Jim Clarke Sr. on his first horse just five years ago. That horse, female pacer Coffee Addict, has won 25 career races, including a division of the Keystone Classic, and earned $487,804.

“I love horses and I love to learn about everything involved,” said Altobelli, who now co-owns five horses. “My partner and I are trying to do a better job with the horses we have. We have good people around us, (trainers) Norm Parker and Bruce Saunders, and we’re real pleased with what’s happening with our horses. We’re looking to buy another one come November and see where it takes us.

“I would like to see if I have an interest in driving and maybe in a smaller way training. I’ll be 64 and I’m looking down the road a little bit as a hobby for me. I think I would enjoy it. We’ll just see what happens. I’m a competitive person, too, and I like the competitive nature of racing. It takes very good technique and understanding of how to do that, which at this stage of the game I definitely don’t have. But it’s something I would like to progress with.”

Altobelli grew up in New Jersey, but spent time as a teenager helping out at his grandfather’s dairy farm in Bedford County, Pa. In 1985, Altobelli bought his own farm in Pennsylvania and raises beef cattle in addition to working as a pharmacist. His interest in harness racing was fueled in part by living near renowned breeding facility Hanover Shoe Farms, as well as his own interest in breeding and genetics.

“We need to promote the industry and promote the breed and I think more people will get involved and enjoy it,” Altobelli said. “And that’s the name of the game.”

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