04/25/2016 3:04PM

Harness: Kurt Sugg enjoying the ride at Northfield Park


Kurt Sugg is having the time of his life. Not only is the 46-year-old Ohio native approaching a driving milestone he never considered possible just several years ago, he enjoys going to work every day. In fact, Sugg hardly considers what he does as work.

“I’ve never had a job,” Sugg said, laughing. “I’ve been very fortunate. I’m third generation (in harness racing); I’ve grown up doing this. It can be a grind, but to go to work, I don’t even look at it like work. You win a race and it’s enjoyable. It’s just something I love to do and I can’t imagine doing anything but this. I guess if I wasn’t doing very well I might look at it a little differently, but the way things are, I’m really enjoying it.”

Sugg, who jogged his first horse at the age of 9 for his father, Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Famer Ivan Sugg, entered Monday needing 12 wins to reach 3,000 for his driving career. Nearly 80 percent of those victories have come since the start of the 2007 season, when Sugg decided to stop spending winters in Florida and race regularly at Northfield Park.

“It’s pretty special,” Sugg said about the approaching milestone. “It’s something I never thought I would attain at one time because earlier in my career I raced my own horses and went to Florida in the winter. Since I stopped going to Florida, I’ve become sort of a regular at Northfield Park, though. I pick up quite a few drives each night up there.

“It’s actually something I always wanted to do but the opportunity didn’t present itself with my training just colts for the most part and going to Florida. But now with staying in Ohio fulltime I’m able to do it and really enjoy it.”

This year, Sugg ranks third in wins at Northfield Park, with 101. The two drivers ahead of him --- Ronnie Wrenn Jr. and Aaron Merriman --- have both won national dash championships. Merriman again leads North America with 279 wins this season and Wrenn is third, with 208, just two victories behind second-place Alfie Carroll.

Sugg’s 101 triumphs rank No. 22 in North America. Over the past two weeks he has been winning at an 18-percent clip and since early March has been hitting at 16 percent.

“I can’t complain about third (at Northfield) when Ronnie Wrenn and Aaron Merriman are one and two,” Sugg said. “Being behind them is OK in my book. Aaron and Ronnie pick up a lot of the live drives there, so it makes it a little difficult, but I’ve got some loyal trainers that stick with me and provide me with opportunities to get the wins.”

He added, chuckling, “It probably is a little easier to drive there because you know what horses you have to beat. You just have to look for Ronnie and Aaron and those are the horses that you want to get behind and they’re going to drag you to the top where you can have a shot. If you see them out there, you know they’re not on a long shot.”

Despite competing in a tough driver colony, Sugg finds an atmosphere of camaraderie at Northfield Park. In fact, when Sugg won six of 10 drives at Northfield on April 19, rival Merriman took to social media to shine a light on Sugg’s accomplishment and praise him.

“I love racing at Northfield,” Sugg said. “We’re all good friends and we all get along real well. Obviously there are a few times when things might not go well on the track and we’re upset for 10 or 15 minutes, but we’re all friends and we get over it. I’ve never raced anywhere that has kind of the family atmosphere it is at Northfield.”

In addition to driving, Sugg trains a 15-horse stable. He is coming off a career-best year for driving purses, with $2.27 million in 2015, and nearly reached his best for training purses, with $492,348 last season. For his career, Sugg has won 865 races as a trainer.

Among the top horses from his stable last year were Ohio Sire Stakes finalists Nobles Finesse and Mickey Moose; he also drove Ohio Sire Stakes champion Count On Kami for trainer Marty Wollam. Past stable stars for Sugg include world champions Dunkster and Blastaway Sahbra.

“My dad taught me everything about training that I know,” Sugg said about his father, Ivan, whose accomplishments include conditioning 2003 Horse of the Year No Pan Intended. “At least I learned a little bit from him; I don’t think I have all the knowledge he has.

“I enjoy training. I’ve trained for over 20 years for Dean Davis and he’s provided the opportunity with well-bred horses. I’ve been very fortunate to have some real nice horses. I was hoping to reach the half-million-dollar mark (last year) and I just didn’t quite get there. Maybe this year.”

If he does get there, it might take work but it won’t be a job.

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com