By Ken Weingartner for USTA — Last year was the most active of Ridge Warren’s driving career, and it resulted in several highlights, including new marks for wins and purses, his 1,000th lifetime victory, and the 1,000th triumph for a family member that perhaps was the best moment of all.
Now he is looking forward to seeing what 2023 brings.
The 34-year-old Warren has been driving since 2007 but averaged fewer than 500 starts per season prior to relocating from Illinois to western Pennsylvania in 2020 and making Hollywood Casino at The Meadows his home track. Since then, Warren has averaged nearly 1,500 starts per season, and in 2022 he set career highs for starts (1,856), wins (200), and purses ($2.29 million).
He ranked sixth in victories at The Meadows last year with 155. He also began driving at Pocono Downs at Mohegan Pennsylvania, where he just missed a Top-10 finish.
“I really put in the time last year,” Warren said. “I did seven days a week last summer for maybe four or five months straight. I was going full tilt, just spreading my wings a little bit more and giving myself an opportunity to grow.
“It was pretty awesome; I was really fortunate. The 1,000th win was a nice milestone, and then to see my numbers continue to increase, it really makes you feel nice about putting in the work. So, I’m excited to see what this summer has to offer.”
Warren is the son of driver-trainer Todd Warren, who has more than 5,200 wins in the sulky and 1,010 as a conditioner. Todd got his 1,000th training triumph last June when Ridge drove Eye OfA Tiger AS to victory at Oak Grove. It was one of only two training wins last year in which Todd didn’t sit in the bike.
“My dad was one away and had a trotter he thought could win,” Warren said. “He drives fulltime himself, but he asked if I wanted to drive, so I flew down to Oak Grove and got the win. That was the highlight of last year, and probably my career, to be honest, just to be a part of that with him. It was pretty cool.”
The win came less than a month after Ridge got his 1,000th driving triumph at The Meadows.
“Winning is the joy,” Warren said about what he most enjoys about racing. “And I really enjoy getting the opportunity to sit behind nice horses. I’ve gotten more opportunities now to sit behind real nice horses, well-bred horses. It makes it that much more fun.”
Warren, a Michigan native, got the driving bug as a teenager and started in the sport by helping with his father’s stable. He got his first driving win with Prairie Zeke, trained by his dad, at Maywood Park in December 2007, just four days before his 19th birthday.
He enjoyed success on the Chicago circuit, but as opportunities decreased in Illinois, he began to explore other career options. Soon, he was racing on a part-time basis at Hawthorne while running several small fitness centers.
“I learned a lot about small business, and I learned a lot about working in a normal job, going in and running meetings and stuff,” Warren said. “It was different. But I’ve always loved being around the horses, and I’ve always loved driving. I realized I really wanted to be in the bike more and wanted to give my shot at fulltime and put my effort into it.”
In 2020, the time was right. Warren was ready to get out of the fitness center business following the coronavirus pandemic and had a friend who frequently suggested Warren try racing at The Meadows when Hawthorne was on hiatus. In addition, Warren’s girlfriend, Erin, had just gotten a job in Pittsburgh.
“The stars kind of aligned there,” Warren said. “The gyms offered me an opportunity to get out and go our separate ways. I thought this is the best time for me to try this. So, that’s what I did.”
So far this season, Warren is sixth at The Meadows with 25 wins. He plans to keep a schedule similar to last year, racing at The Meadows as well as Pocono Downs.
“Last year, I stopped going to Hawthorne and started going to Pocono,” Warren said. “I had a couple trainers that wanted to use me, so I did it. I was pretty happy with the results.
“There are a lot of guys on the East Coast. You kind of have to go where you think you can fit in. I thought I could drive with these guys, I just needed a shot. That’s really what you need in this business, an opportunity.”
Warren plans to make the most of his opportunities and continue to improve as a driver.
“You have to be willing to learn,” Warren said. “I’m a visual learner, so I watch people and see how they do stuff, and then try to apply it and try to get better. I’ve learned to be able to help a horse throughout a mile more by being out here and watching different drivers. If a race didn’t play out the way I thought it was going to, I definitely go back and watch the replay to see what I could have done better.
“I don’t want to take a step back. I want this year to be as good, if not better, than what I’ve done in the past. I want to continue to move forward.”