Day At The Track

Lind's Secret route to the Hambletonian

06:20 PM 27 Jul 2008 NZST
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Staffan Lind Staffan Lind & Celebrity Secret
Staffan Lind
Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications Photo
Staffan Lind & Celebrity Secret
Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications Photo

A lucky bet triggered a career change for Staffan Lind, one that would lead him to pack up and move his family from Sweden to the United States and put him in a position to win the 2008 Hambletonian.

The 43-year-old Lind will harness Celebrity Secret in the $1.5 million Hambletonian and Celebrity Tribute in the $750,000 Hambletonian Oaks, both on August 2 at the Meadowlands.

Lind was a college student, preparing for a career as a construction engineer, building roads in his native Sweden, when he and his friends made a wager.

"We were actually in college, a bunch of guys who bet every Saturday on the horse pool they have there, the V65 [pick six]," recalled Lind who is from Vasteras, which is one hour west of Stockholm.

"We managed to win one week, and we didn't know really what to do with the money so we bought a horse."

"We didn't know anything," he said. "We had him with a trainer, and he did pretty good in the beginning. He started to tail off and wasn't paying his bills so we decided to bring him home and train him ourselves. So, of course, they appointed me to be the trainer."

That was around 1981, according to Lind, who was training horses as a hobby while working as an engineer.

"My wife [Marie], who had riding horses as a kid, she actually brought along the know-how and basics of horses," he explained.

"I really had a great interest and followed all the racing. I went to all the big races. We slept outside the gates [of Solvalla Racecourse] for the Elitlopp to get the best seats. At all time, we'd have one or two horses.

"We'd go out at night after work and weekends," he noted. "We'd jog horses with flashlights. That's how we had to do it. That's how we started."

Pretty soon the horses were taking over the Linds' lives and their stable had grown to 20 horses.

"So at one point in time, we decided to go for it," he recalled. "We had been to the United States several times on vacations. We liked it here and felt this was the place we should go."

That was 2001 and by 2003 they had met Sam Stathis and become the private trainer for his Celebrity Farms.

In the fall of 2006 one of the yearlings that had caught Staffan Lind's eye was a son of Yankee Glide out of the unraced American Winner mare, Aimee's Promise, named Secret Handshake, who would be hip number 200 at the Lexington Selected Sale on October 5, 2006.

The colt was a $75,000 purchase and renamed Celebrity Secret.

"Kentuckiana Farms was the breeder of the horse," Lind noted.

"And I remember when after we bought him, they told me how much they liked the colt and they were following him, calling me and asking me how he was training down. I told them he was training very well but that I wanted to bring him along slowly and let him mature.

"So by the time we qualified him in Lexington, he looked very good and they liked the horse," he said. "After the Breeders Crown [in which he finished second by a length to Deweycheatumnhowe], we got a lot of phone calls about buying him.

"I wanted to keep him in the barn so I asked them, quite frankly, if they wanted to buy in," Lind added.

Kentuckiana's Ken Jackson purchased a 25 percent interest on November 1, 2007.

"He has pretty much perfect conformation and the bloodline is that, too," said Lind. "The dam is a sister to the dam of Lindy Lane [Lindiliana]. Yankee Glide is obviously a good stallion. So they pretty much have the whole package [for a stallion prospect]."

There was a lot to like about "Secret" that went beyond his pedigree.

"He really wasn't the most developed horse at the sale," Lind recalled. "There were horses that looked like race horses already. He had very nice conformation. When I asked them to show him in the field, I immediately could see that he had a tremendous gait. That's what I liked about him. There were a lot of people who liked him."

Celebrity Secret and the other Lind trainees - 17 at this point -- are based in Middletown, NY on a 125-acre farm adjacent to the property owned by trainer-driver Ray Schnittker.

Who would have expected that little corner of Orange County in New York's Hudson Valley, near the Wallkill River in the foothills of the Shawangunk Mountains, would turn into the epicenter of American trotting?

Schnittker trains Celebrity Secret's arch nemesis, Deweycheatumnhowe, the Dan Patch Award-winning Two-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year in 2007, and Make It Happen. Both colts advanced to the Hambletonian Final this year.

"Last year the first three colts in the Valley Victory came from here," Lind said, referring to Middletown, which is not far from the Cradle of Harness Racing in Goshen, NY.

The first time the two colts met was in the eliminations for the Valley Victory at Woodbine on October 20, 2007. Dewey won that contest by a length and a half over Secret. A week later in the $692,692 Valley Victory Final, Dewey won again with his stablemate, Make It Happen, second. Secret was third by six lengths.

A few weeks later, they met again with the outcome pretty much the same - Deweycheatumnhowe was first and Celebrity Secret was second in both the elimination race [November 16] and $650,000 final [November 24] of the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands.

Celebrity Secret would wrap up his 2007 campaign with four seconds and one third in eight tries, earning $281,026.

One way to finally put some wins on Secret's card was to avoid Dewey for a while.

The Yankee Glide colt strung together four straight victories at the Meadowlands between June 4 and July 4, including the $175,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes Final and his elimination race for the Stanley Dancer Memorial.

But winning the other Dancer elim was none other than Deweycheatumnhowe.

The outcome was no surprise - Dewey won the $350,000 Dancer Final on July by three lengths over Secret.

They are on a collision course again in the $1.5 million Hambletonian next Saturday.

As luck would have it, Celebrity Secret drew into the first of the three $70,000 eliminations for the Hambletonian, the most prestigious event for three-year-old trotters.

Sent off as the betting favorite in the second race on Saturday night [July 26], Celebrity Secret, driven by Tim Tetrick, was locked in on the pylons, managed to shake free late and was nipped at the wire by Atomic Hall in a 1:54 mile. The margin was a nose.

Deweycheatumnhowe, in the fifth race, the second elim, drew off to a six and a quarter length victory in 1:52.3. The unbeaten son of Muscles Yankee has now won 14 in a row.

"We're not undefeated so we don't have as much pressure," noted Sam Stathis, a 46-year-old New York City businessman who runs "multiple businesses" including an electrical contracting company called Polo Electric and a new technology company called Theometrics from his headquarters on Hudson and Canal Streets.

"We're very competitive but Ray's done a great job," Stathis said, referring to Schnittker. "If I ever lose to anyone, that's the guy I want to lose to. We‘re not ashamed to lose to Deweycheatumnhowe, but we're not coming here to lose. We want everything to go our way and have a better day. Secret has another gear. We haven't seen it yet, but you will next week."

Stathis and Lind have had quite a bit of success already. To date, Lind has harnessed 46 winners who have earned nearly $1.6 million since 2004. He is well on his way to topping 2007 when his trainees earned just shy of $600,000.

Celebrity Master would carry the stable's first Hambletonian hopes in 2005 but finished seventh in his elim and did not advance to the final.

Celebrity Sweedie, who was third in the 2006 Hambletonian Oaks, retired with earnings of $410,910, finishing in the money in 16 of 26 starts.

This year, Lind and Stathis find themselves not only with Celebrity Secret in the Hambletonian but Celebrity Tribute in the filly companion event, the Hambletonian Oaks.

Tribute shares the same sire as Secret - Yankee Glide - and, like the colt, is out of an American Winner mare and was bred by Kentuckiana Farms. Her dam is Winning Tribute.

At two, Celebrity Tribute posted two wins, two seconds and one third from 10 starts and in 2008 she has one win in seven tries - in the $49,000 Elegantimage at Mohawk on June 13. Lifetime, she has banked $116,993.

Breaking stride has been her problem. She seems to prefer pacing over the gait for which she was bred - trotting.

"It sounded kind of crazy when I told [Sam Stathis] it was the best $27,000 he ever spent and the horse would only pace," Lind recalled. "I'm actually sure she would pace at least a 1:52."

Celebrity Tribute has tested her trainer's patience, but he has kept her on the trot. And she advanced to the Hambletonian Oaks Final as the richest fourth-place finisher from the three Oaks elims.

Celebrity Secret has thrown in his share of miscues as well, but they seem to have been resolved by outfitting him with trotting hobbles.

"The colt is very good-gaited, naturally- gaited," said Lind. "But when we started out, he made mistakes in the races because he didn't know better. He gets excited from the sounds of other horses moving in front of him. It made it hard for him to stay focused so I decided at that point to put them on. It was late in the season.

"Then I trained him without them all winter, and he was very good," he explained. "We raced a couple of times without them in the spring, but he wasn't himself. When we put them back on him again and I warmed him up, he was back to his old self and he won very easily at that point.

"I think you have to draw the conclusion that once you've used them, it's hard to take them off," he added. "Celebrity Secret has them real loose. You can't even feel them in the race bike that he has trotting hobbles on. It's not like he needs them to coordinate the legs. If you have a split second something happening in the race, it might help to correct them. But my experience is that if the horse wants to make a break, they can anyway."

Lind and his wife, Marie, are the parents of son, Christian, 16, and daughter, Frida, 14. Marie is an active part of the stables success and, while she once cared for both Celebrity Secret and Celebrity Tribute, , she has settled on Secret has her primary project.

Her faith seems to have been vindicated.

"From the day I broke him, he has had the physical ability to do whatever is necessary," Staffan Lind noted. "It was pretty much the mental part that came around. He has developed. He only raced eight times last year which isn't too much compared to some of the other horses. He's really put the game face on now. He wants to race; he wants to win."

Now he just has to get by Dewey.

Carol Hodes

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