Photo Credit: Chris Gooden

Driver Hugh O’Neil doesn’t have a lot of free time these days, but what free time he does have, he spends around his favorite thing – horses.

The soft-spoken Hugh, with a slight brogue hails from Scotland, and is loving his time here in the United States. “At home in Scotland, my parents have a breeding farm, and we also train and race a few. It’s nowhere near the scale it is here, though,” he laughed. “So I contacted Mike Wilder during the summer last year to see if there were any jobs that he knew about if I could possibly come work for him. And he said yes, there would be a job in Florida with him.”
Hugh made the trip over in November and began working with Mike and Heather Wilder and Dan Altmeyer with their family business. “So I came over in November and started working with Altmeyer Wilder, and I worked for them until I came back here in May. I wasn’t able to continue to work for them due to the rule that you can’t work and drive against, so I just kind of went on my own. Mike and Heather just did phenomenal for me! They helped me to meet people and introduced me to people who let me drive. Mike introduced me to a lot of trainers from the fairs, which got me a lot of drives, and it’s just kind of took off from there.”
With Mike’s encouragement and seal of approval, and introduction to trainers like Mitch York and Rich Gillock, a lot of doors started opening for the young driver. “They’ve been a huge help to me, too,” he said.
“Driving at the PA fairs is a lot like home!” he said enthusiastically. “The Fair racing here is a very similar style.”
Hugh is appreciative of the fans at the fairs, as well. “Even the last-place horse, as he crosses the line, they’ll still cheer for it! People that have never seen harness racing before they’re at the fair, and they come over to watch. Then like most people, they fall in love with it as soon as they see it!”
Hugh drove Little Lady J (A Rocknroll Dance- Monet’s Lilly) for trainer Michell York and the barn of David Brickell to a blistering 1:57.3 at the Gratz Fair in September, the fastest of the two-day event. “I was really glad to get her at the fairs. I was aware that I was probably not going to get in the final, but that was fine with me because to get a chance to sit behind horses like that, even at the fairs, I was more than grateful.”
“I drove a few for Mitch, and he trusted me with driving a lot of his nice horses. He said to me one day ‘are you going to Gratz?’ And I wasn’t sure because I knew my parents were coming over then. He said ‘Oh, I was going to put you on ‘Lady J’. I told him I’d be there! I went, and she was just phenomenal! She’s one of those horses that, she’s so smart because, the way she races is, she waits for the horse to come and just does enough that the other horse can’t pass her.”
Having his parents there to witness the win and the record was especially memorable to Hugh, and they enjoyed their time both watching the exceptional racing and the fun activities at the fair.
Hugh will be driving two in the finals on Friday; a two-year-old pacing colt named Blue Ashes (Heston Blue Chip – Ashlee’s Star) for Joseph Karrat; and a three-year-old pacing filly BeShe Can Fly (Betting Line – Tidewaterdragonfly) for Jessie Orbin. “Blue Ashes has been getting better every week. I think he should be close. There are some really nice colts in there, though. It’s a tough division there. Joe changed a few things on him, changed his shoes, and he’s been a lot better lately.”
“Jessie’s filly (Bet She CaFly), she raced phenomenal all year. She had some tough draws, and she’s had some horses in races with breaks, and she’s never had an easy race ever. I think she’ll be really good. Jessie has been a huge help to me. He put me on a lot of horses and put a lot of trust in me, and he’s just a new trainer trying to make it. He’s trusted me to drive horses here at the Meadows.”
Hugh is on a three-year U.S. Visa but has applied to stay here longer. “I applied to stay here for good! I made the move for good.”
He is appreciative of all the opportunities he’s had since he has been here and continues to count his blessings. “If it wasn’t for Mike and Heather Wilder, I probably wouldn’t be in the position I’m in, because, with the people they’ve introduced me to, it’s been a huge help. They’ve opened a lot of doors for me in ways they probably don’t even imagine. I want to thank all the trainers, too, who put me up and helped me this year.”
The passionate and hard-working 29-year-old has got a bright future here and many more opportunities to shine.
It will be an exciting night, for sure, at the Meadows on Friday! Post time for the 2022 Pennsylvania Fair Sire Stakes Championships is 5:10pm, with live streaming and FREE PP’s available at
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