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Trenton, NJ --- Harness racing driver Mattias Melander doesn’t consider himself to be a master at driving in slop. “It doesn’t matter too much for me,” he said. “Of course everybody loves when it’s a good track. But it’s just another day.” Well, that’s not necessarily true. At least it was not on May 5, when the 20-year-old gained his first two career victories on the rain-drenched track at Freehold Raceway. After going 0-for-31 in starts over his first two seasons, the Swedish import drove 13-year-old trotter Captain Primeau to an easy win. “I had post three, it was a rainy day, but he had a good post,” Melander said. “I wanted to get in the lead and try and get him there as good as possible. I got the lead and it could not have gone better. We just got the lead and never got interfered with from that point.” For Mattias, it was the end of an aggravating drought. “It got a little frustrating,” he said. “But I took my time and it finally came. It meant a lot. I’ve been here almost a year and a half and I’ve been waiting for that win. It felt great.” And not just for himself. As an assistant trainer for Jimmy Takter, Melander is friends with Captain Primeau’s co-owner/trainer Conny Svensson, who is Takter’s blacksmith. Svensson owns the horse with his wife Anneli. “I was mostly happy for Conny,” Melander said. “I know how happy he gets. But it was a little bit of relief for me.” It was only the fourth time Mattias had driven Captain Primeau, but he was familiar with the horse from being around him and from talking to Svensson about him. Later that day, Melander drove Wygant Princess to victory. The 6-year-old trotter is owned and trained by Mattias’ big brother, Marcus, and is the horse Marcus got his first Meadowlands victory with. “That’s basically the only horse I’ve been racing besides the couple times I drove Captain Primeau,” Melander said. “To get her to win was great. I know how much she fights. I was happy for her to get her win too.” Marcus, who came to America from Stockholm before his younger brother, works with his family at the old Stanley Dancer stables in New Egypt, now renamed Melander Stables. While Marcus would stay up all hours to watch live reports on American harness racing, Mattias was a bit more subdued. But he still loved horses since the family always had them. When the Melanders moved to the U.S., Mattias stayed behind. He attended high school for one year before going to work at his uncle’s stable at age 16. “I just felt that’s what I wanted to do my whole life,” Melander said. Marcus initially worked for Takter and when Mattias came over for vacation he would visit the East Windsor, N.J. stables. “Marcus always followed it more than I did, but when I went back home I obviously started following him and Jimmy more closely,” Melander said. After a few trips to Takter’s farm, it was decided that Mattias would come over and work for the Hall of Fame trainer. “My family had had been wanting me to go over and work with Marcus and work for Takter,” said Mattias, who does farm work for his family after completing his day. “It took me a while to eventually get here, and once I got here I started working the day after I came. Working for Takter has been a really great experience for me. It’s probably the best teacher you can have.” In what ways? “Just the way he trains his horses,” Melander said. “All his opinions, everything like that. You just learn a lot when you’re there.” Since they work with most of the horses, Mattias has done some training of Dan Patch Award-winner Ariana G, among numerous others. “We switch around a lot, so we get to know all the horses, and we pretty much drive all the horses in the stable,” he said. Mattias would like to be both a driver and trainer and is hoping to get more drives. At the moment he is mostly driving qualifiers. He says he’s still developing his style. One thing is certain, however. His current job has accelerated his progress. “I moved to work here with Takter, so I think (my career) has been going much further than where I thought I would be at this time,” he said. “So, that’s good.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Between running their own breeding business together, along with their own separate real estate companies, Marvin Katz and Al Libfeld don't really have time to work themselves into frenzied anticipation for the harness racing season debut of their prized female trotter. That being said, Katz has not completely pushed Ariana G's 3-year-old season opener Friday at the Meadowlands to the recesses of his mind. "Both Al and I are very busy in our own business," Katz said. "We've experienced it enough to not think about it too much, and we haven't. We're very involved at this time of the year on the breeding side of things with foals; matings are going on, we're making preparations for the yearling sale. That really takes a lot of our time and attention in addition to our professional careers, which are demanding." However. . . "I can't help but say I've been thinking about her returning and looking forward to it for sure," Katz continued. "She's a very special horse so we're excited and looking forward to that. She has unlimited potential. She's a very exciting horse. I think in the eyes of many she's a very special horse as well." She was special enough to win the 2016 Dan Patch Award for best 2-year-old filly trotter after winning nine of 11 races and earning $743,967 in purses. Trained by Jimmy Takter and driven by Yannick Gingras, Ariana G won the Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly trotters, the Jim Doherty Memorial, the Peaceful Way Stakes and New Jersey Sire Stakes championship. In March, Takter told Hoof Beats magazine "I don't think I ever had a better 2-year-old trotting filly." Bred and owned by Katz and Libfeld, Ariana G opens her campaign in a division of the New Jersey Sire Stakes with Gingras back in the sulky. She will start from post No. 3 and is the even-money favorite on the morning line after prepping with two qualifiers. In the first she went 1:56 with a last quarter-mile of :27.1 in finishing second to Magic Presto, and in the second on May 6, she won in 1:55.1 with a :27.2 last quarter. "She was well in hand doing that," said Katz, a Toronto resident who watched replays of both races. "Yannick didn't pop the earplugs or anything like that. So she's still got very good speed. "She also sat in the pocket around the top of the turn and she really accelerated. Her ability to turn on her speed when she starts accelerating is very dramatic. Yannick has commented about that in the past and that was certainly evident in her qualifier." So far, everything looks good to go with the filly. "From what Jimmy Takter said, he's totally pleased with the way she's come back," Katz said. "He's very excited and we're looking forward to her performance." What is interesting to note, is that the last three female trotters to be named the Dan Patch Award winner at age 2 -- Broadway Donna in 2015, Mission Brief in '14 and Shake It Cerry in '13 -- and four of the last five (Check Me Out in 2011) all came back to win the award at age 3. Takter has had three trotting fillies -- Shake It Cerry, Pampered Princess (2006-07) and Passionate Glide (2005-06) -- win Dan Patch awards as 2- and 3-year-olds. Katz feels it's not just a coincidence, noting that when outstanding horses have such a head start in ability early in life, it is tough for the next level to close that gap in just one year. "In the case of trotters in general, particularly if you have horses at the level that are winning Dan Patch Awards and so forth, all things being equal there's going to be improvement between the 2-year-old and the 3-year-old year, just because of the maturity, strength and experience," Katz said. "When a horse is really at the top of their class it's very difficult for an inexperienced horse to make up that much ground that quickly. "There's exception to every rule, of course, but typically, the horses that were the dominant 2-year-olds will be among the dominant 3-year-olds. Horses like Ariana G and horses that had very high speeds as 2-year-olds, if there's improvement they're up near record performances at that point if the normal maturity process takes hold." And while Ariana G's connections are certainly hoping for big things and have her staked in everything, they aren't making any bold plans or predictions past this weekend. "We'll go one race at a time, see how she goes on Friday night," said Katz, who with Libfeld was named 2016 Dan Patch Breeders of the Year. "Hopefully it's a good first outing for her and we'll go from there. I would hope we go through the New Jersey Sire Stakes program and get through the two races and the final, and then see what happens." * * * Nine Hambletonian-eligible male trotters will be in action Friday at the Meadowlands as the New Jersey Sire Stakes season gets underway. There are two divisions of NJSS for 3-year-old male trotters, with a total of 13 horses. The first division, a six-horse group, includes Hambletonian eligibles Fly On, Southwind Woody, Long Tom, and Deacon Tony. The second includes Hambletonian eligibles King On The Hill, What The Hill, New Jersey Viking, Southwind Cobra, and Signal Hill. What The Hill, from the stable of trainer Ron Burke, won last year's New Jersey Sire Stakes championship for 2-year-old male trotters and the Peter Haughton Memorial. ROAD TO THE HAMBLETONIAN A look at open stakes for 3-year-old male trotters and state-restricted stakes featuring Hambletonian eligibles Date - Track - Event - First - Second - Third May 6 - Freehold - Dexter Cup - Lord Cromwell - Gustavo Fring - Southwind Cobra Hambletonian eligible in bold. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent  

Trenton, NJ --- Co-owner Frank Baldachino was already excited to watch his million-dollar mare’s seasonal harness racing debut this weekend, and events from the past week have ratcheted that excitement up a few extra levels. Coming off a breakout campaign in which she won the 2016 Dan Patch Award for best older female trotter, Hannelore Hanover starts her 5-year-old season Sunday in the $86,400 Miami Valley Distaff for older female trotters at Miami Valley Raceway in Ohio. Hannelore Hanover won last year’s Distaff in a track-record time of 1:52.3. She will not, however, line up behind the gate as the record-holder as 4-year-old Kestrel set the new standard of 1:52.1 at Miami Valley on April 29. Thus, the two most recent record-holders will go at it Sunday on the track they own. “What was shaping up to be maybe not the most dramatic and dynamic race of the season could be really interesting and really exciting this Sunday for everybody involved,” said Baldachino, who owns Hannelore Hanover in partnership with trainer Ron Burke, the partnership of Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi, and J&T Silva Stables. “We thought Bee A Magician and Mission Brief would be back this year, but unfortunately they both got hurt and they’re both retired. Kestrel kind of stepped up. They talk about the next man up. This will be the next mare up.” The central New Jersey resident sees some similarities between the two trotters. “If you look back at her 2- and 3-year-old seasons in Ohio, she (Kestrel) has a lot of the same characteristics that Hannelore had,” Baldachino said. “She looks like one of the best ones out there in Ohio at 2 and 3. And she’s come back pretty well after an extended vacation at 4. She set that track record pretty handy on the front end.” And while that lends to some nice build-up for the race, the bigger anticipation will be how Hannelore Hanover looks in her first start of 2017. If it’s anything like last year, look out. In 2016, the mare won 17 of 20 races and finished second twice to earn $1.11 million. She finished one vote behind Marion Marauder for Trotter of the Year. For her career, Hannelore Hanover has earned $1.42 million, hitting the board 38 times in 41 starts, with 26 victories. That wasn’t really the plan when the ownership group ponied up an extra $2,000 to purchase the Indiana-sired horse for $32,000 at the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale. Then again, it’s always nice when a plan doesn’t work out in this kind of way. “She kind of caught us all off guard,” Baldachino said. “Not the fact she was a good horse, but of the way she did it. Me, Ronnie and Mark all knew she was a nice horse. We thought as a 3-year-old she was Ronnie’s second-best trotting filly behind Mission Brief, so that says a lot right there.” Her performance said even more. Last year’s victories included several against the boys, such as the Hambletonian Maturity, Baldachino’s personal favorite since it came at his home track at the Meadowlands, and the Centaur Trotting Classic. She also won the Breeders Crown, the Armbro Flight, TVG Series Mares championship, Fresh Yankee and Muscle Hill. In further competition against the boys, she won an elimination for the Maple Leaf Trot and finished second in the final. Baldachino felt her “total coming out party” was when she equaled the world record of 1:51 while setting the Canadian record at the Armbro Flight at Mohawk. “She ran away and hid from that field in (1):51,” Baldachino said, adding about driver Yannick Gingras, “He could have gone faster if he had to. Right then and there I knew we had something really special. And the Meadowlands race (Hambletonian Maturity) kind of just reiterated that.” Talk about exceeding expectations. And when asked, Baldachino didn’t mind talking about that at all. “I thought she’d be a nice horse, maybe dabble around in a couple of Grand Circuit stakes for the mares because you did have Bee A Magician, you did have Mission Brief, you did have some really top quality horses you had to race against. “We knew she could compete against those types but whether she could win was another story. She didn’t only win but she usually devoured the competition and won pretty handy. We’re really looking forward to this year. We think there’s a lot more things to come. She’s bigger and she’s stronger.” Baldachino feels Hannelore Hanover at age 5 is entering her peak years. “We think this should be the year she should come full circle,” Baldachino said. “If we see a little improvement from 4 to 5, you could be seeing some world-record performances and some performances no trotting mares have ever seen before. “She’s bigger; she’s a real big, strong filly. She’s long gaited, just put together great. You couldn’t ask for a more put together female trotter than what’s there.” The mare is eligible for every major trot race for both boys and girls this year, but was held out of Saturday’s Arthur J. Cutler Memorial because Burke wanted to start her out with a few girls-only races. By making herself eligible for the boys’ races this year, Hannelore Hanover has saved her owners close to $110,000 in supplement money that they had to pay last year. “That will probably make our decision a little easier to drop her in against the boys, if she’s in top condition and racing well,” Baldachino said. “(As to) how much she will race, we’ll take it one week at a time and one start at a time. If she comes out of Miami Valley good and sound and healthy, she has Miss Versatility next (first leg at Mohawk on May 22). “We have a lot more Grand Circuit stuff between Mohawk and the Meadowlands and Hoosier. I’m sure there will be some 4-year-olds that come out of the woodwork this year that were good last year. And we’ll play it by ear. One week at a time; one race at a time. But she’s in everything.” In addition to her North American stakes, Hannelore Hanover is under consideration for Sweden’s prestigious Elitlopp at the end of May, but Burke said it was “50-50” whether he would accept an invitation for the mare. “I’m leaning toward no,” Burke said. “It puts the Armbro Flight a little bit in jeopardy and that’s a very important race to her. But I do appreciate it because you don’t get these opportunities all the time to go over there and have a chance to be competitive. And I think she would be very competitive. I won’t say no, but 50-50 at best. I love the idea, but it’s a matter of making her schedule work.” For now, the focus is on Sunday. Hannelore Hanover drew post three in the field of seven and will have Gingras in the sulky. “Yannick said she’s qualified super both times,” Baldachino said. “We expect her to race really well in her first start. She’ll be ready. We’re not going to gun her by any means; it’s her first start back. “She’ll be ready with whatever she has to line up on the gate with. We expect her to race real well. The two horses to beat are the ones inside of us, beside her. It looks like she drew a good spot to stalk, hopefully come on late or a quarter-pole move and maybe play catch me if you can. That might be the way to go. But you leave that up to Yannick.” That has certainly been a winning formula so far. Following is the Miami Valley Distaff field in post order with listed drivers and trainers. The race is No. 9 on Sunday’s card, with a 4:45 p.m. estimated post time. PP-Horse-Sire-Driver-Trainer 1 - Churita - Airzoom Lindy - Trace Tetrick-Matt Rheinheimer 2 - Kestrel - Triumphant Caviar - Josh Sutton-Chris Beaver 3 - Hannelore Hanover - Swan For All - Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke 4 - South Side Hanover - Cantab Hall - TBA-Paul Fusco 5 - Flowers N Songs - Deweycheatumnhowe - Jim Pantaleano-Rich Gillock 6 - Barn Girl - Cash Hall - Aaron Merriman-William Bercury 7 - Charmed Life - Majestic Son - Louis-Philippe Roy-Rene Allard by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ --- To say that Marta Piotrow took the standard route to becoming a harness racing trainer would be your standard false statement. It’s a little more complicated than your basic “My family was in the business, I just always loved it and wanted to do it,” story. To start with, it took the 33-year-old Poland native seven years to go from her initial horseback ride to riding regularly. Her goal growing up was to be a veterinarian or mounted police officer and that altered when she developed an interest in teaching and breeding. Before fulfilling final graduate requirements for a Master’s in Animal Science at Michigan State University, she landed a position managing broodmares and foals while teaching equine science classes. It was at that point she developed an interest in Standardbreds, but before going full speed ahead into training she worked to achieve higher pregnancy rates at Allerage Farms in Pennsylvania. That lasted until 2016, when Marta got her trainer’s license and took on training as a fulltime profession. In 19 starts last season her horses took four seconds and three thirds. On Jan. 5, Marta hit the win column for the first time when her horse, Doc, won at Monticello Raceway. Five days later, Winbak Prince won at Monticello, giving her two wins in a row to start off the 2017 season. “I was really happy to start the New Year with my first start being a win,” Piotrow said. It was the culmination of a long haul. Marta’s parents both rode English and hunter jumpers in Poland, and her first ride on a horse came when her mother was pregnant with her. Once born, she climbed atop one on her own at age 7 and quickly fell in love with it. At 13, her father, a successful automotive mechanical engineer, was recruited by General Motors and the family relocated to Detroit in 1997. “The adjustment was easy for me,” Marta said. “I jumped two grades and was lucky enough to have a private English tutor when growing up to learn the language. All I had to do was pick up the accent, which came natural with age.” With her interest in horses already piqued, Marta decided to forego criminal justice and attended Michigan State to major in animal science and equine science and management. “I developed an interest in breeding horses and potentially teaching,” she said. “So instead of working toward a veterinary future I was offered to stay on for a Master’s in Animal Science with a focus on equine reproduction.” Before obtaining her degree, Piotrow took a job at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., as an assistant Standardbred Manager. It involved some classroom instruction and broodmare management of the Standardbred facility on campus. She managed broodmares and foals and helped Manager Fred Hofsaess with stallions and yearlings. Marta was promoted to manager when Fred retired. She taught courses in stable management, mare and foal management, stallion management and yearling management, “some of which I had developed and expanded and added to the new teaching curriculum.” While working at Delaware Valley, Marta took a personal interest in the breed she needed to understand for teaching purposes and breeding, which were Standardbreds. Hofsaess recommended some training centers for her to look into, which she pursued and began working with folks in their barns and on the track. She also began to paddock horses at nearby Harrah’s Philadelphia. “Shortly, I adopted a Laag Standardbred broodmare and went on to buy my first yearling in partnership and everything started to come together from there,” Piotrow said. “More involvement was more knowledge and more love for the sport. I was not lucky enough to grow up in this business, I had to work extra hard for anything I needed to learn, whether it was work for no pay or low pay in the beginning, I didn't care. I sucked it up to get better and stay involved and learn.” Marta was mentored by some top trainers, as she started out with Nancy and Marcus Johansson and moved on to Trond Smedshammer, who taught her about training young horses and developing more skill on the track. In 2015, Meadowlands boss Jeff Gural was looking for help at his Allerage Farms in Pennsylvania. Gural wanted someone with experience to achieve higher pregnancy rates with foals and yearling prep. It was not the easiest of choices. “I was a good fit and it was also a good fit for me at the time personally but I had to give up training for Trond, and that was a tough call,” Marta said. “I just started to be comfortable there, Trond was great to work for and I was learning a lot.” She eventually took the job and remained there from January 2015 to June 2016. She now owns and trains two horses -- Winbak Prince and Doc -- in a partnership with her boyfriend, driver Anthony Napolitano. They are stabled at Anthony’s farm in Nescopeck, Pa. “I’m starting small but looking to grow in the business,” Piotrow said. “I no longer work at Allerage, but Jeff had been very supportive of me while I was there and encouraged my continued involvement.” Marta qualified Winbak Prince twice in 2016 as a driver and said, “You can certainly look forward to me driving a little more in 2017. I love to drive.” Napolitano usually drives their horses but is taking the winter off. Thus, Michael Merton was in the sulky when Doc gave the trainer her first win at Monticello. “He was just coming off a decent second the week prior,” Piotrow said. “He drew the three hole, a much better post for him on a half (-mile track). Michael gave him the perfect trip and Doc was good until the end, finishing strong. This little horse has been really good to us so far. He is hard working and tough and has been showing a lot of class.” In looking toward the future, Marta said she hopes to drive her own horses one day, but added with a laugh, “I will leave the owners’ horses to the professionals.” At the rate she is going after the circuitous route she took, Piotrow has become a pretty classy professional in her own right. And this journey is just beginning. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Sam Cohen isn’t your typical high school student when it comes to working a part-time job. He’s not flipping burgers or selling movie tickets at the Multiplex. Actually, he isn’t even making any money, though the work he does is priceless. He’s loving every minute of it and a lot of harness racing horses in need are getting a huge boost thanks to his effort. Cohen has become the face of Halters for Hope, a non-profit organization that supports Standardbred adoption groups through the buying and selling of halters once worn by famous horses. “It’s been really awesome,” Cohen said. “I’ve been meeting a lot of new people that basically have the same goal as me, wanting to help horses and people that love horses. I just love interacting with people like that.” Halters for Hope was started in 2009 by Sam’s father, Standardbred owner Andrew Cohen, and Moira Fanning of the Hambletonian Society. With Sam’s help, they ask for donations of used halters from famous horses and sell them. The purchasers then write out a check that goes directly to a rotating list of Standardbred adoption groups. “My dad just wanted to figure out a way to rescue Standardbreds and help the ones that had been rescued,” Cohen said. “He came up with the idea when he had some old halters from his dad (Edward), and he thought, ‘Wow these are really cool, maybe I can do something with this,’ and it just kind of came to him. “He’s always been interested in horses, he grew up in Montreal. His dad owned racehorses. I think he wanted to do it because my mom (Laura Riese) has owned horses. I think horses really run in the family and he really cares about them.” The Cohens live in Greenwood Village, Colo., a mere 10 minutes from Denver. When the program began, Sam was just 10, so his dad laid most of the foundation. But he asked Sam to come with him when he was making his pitch. “He showed me the ropes, basically,” Cohen said. “I was confused because I didn’t understand why people would want so much for halters of horses. All these halters were so much money, I was really amazed. As I’ve gotten older and gotten more into the harness racing scene I thought ‘Wow this is really cool.’” When Sam entered Cherry Creek High School as a freshman, Andrew began to give him more responsibility. Now a senior, Cohen is in charge of maintaining the Halters for Hope Facebook page, while also writing letters to the trainers, owners and breeders to see if they would be interested in selling halters. “I started typing them up in ninth grade,” said Cohen, who is a member of the CCHS chess team and tennis team. “I get good grades in English; I can write.” In his correspondence, Sam introduces the organization as a good cause, promising to get the money from the sales into the right hands. “We just give a lot of background on ourselves and on our cause,” he said. “Most trainers and owners really like it, so they’ll contribute in any way they can.” Cohen sends the actual letters or e-mails, and each one is personalized. Andrew and Sam both research whom they might want to contact. “Some of the people he knows, and he can get me some information on them,” Cohen said. “But if there’s a really nice halter out there, I’ll research that person, research that area and just see if I can get to know anything about them before I write to them.” Cohen also handles follow up thank you notes to donors. And who are the main targets? “Horses that are finished racing and have had an outstanding career,” Cohen said. “Those are more profitable for the non-profits.” Since the program began, Halters for Hope has sold approximately 50 halters and raised around $10,000. The halters have ranged in price between $150 and $400. Some of the more famous halters that have been sold or are available for sale belonged to Matt's Scooter, Loyal Opposition, Continentalvictory, Father Patrick, Somebeachsomewhere, Bettor's Delight, Mr Muscleman, Forrest Skipper, Camtastic, See You At Peelers, Bunny Lake and broodmares D Train, Rich N Elegant and Hattie. The full list of what halters are available can be found on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/haltersforhope/. Cohen said they try to spread the funding around with the charities, and do some due diligence to ensure the money is well spent. “We’ve been working with a bunch of people to make sure these are legitimate organizations that we’re donating to. We’ve worked with the USTA and with Moira to make sure we are sending money to the right organizations.” Cohen said that in the future, they might expand the inventory, but for now they are happy to stick with halters. “It’s definitely going better than we could have hoped,” Cohen said. “We didn’t know how passionate people were who want collectible halters, how much they’re willing to pay and how much the horses in need, need that money. It’s just a good feeling.” Sam’s duties may be curtailed slightly by next fall, as he is currently applying to colleges in Colorado and on the West Coast, and hopes to end up in Oregon. “I like the rain,” he said. And although his endeavors in harness racing right now are limited to fundraising and operations for Halters for Hope, Cohen is not completely ruling it out for stepped-up involvement later in life. “My dad has been trying to get me interested all my life,” he said. “It kind of runs in the family. I don’t want to say I won’t be interested. You never know. Doing this definitely piques my interest because I love horses and I see all the good that this does. And I like watching the races with my dad, especially when he gets into it, it’s really funny.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Clay Craib is turning into the self-made harness racing man. “When I say my last name is Craib, everyone’s like ‘Where were you raised at?’” he said. “I say I was raised in Anderson (Indiana) but I wasn’t raised in this business. I’m kind of making my own name for myself.” Unlike so many other drivers and trainers in the sport, the 21-year-old didn’t have a father, or grandfather, or uncle or cousin or mother or sister who had any ties to harness racing. He’s a guy who just loved horses as a kid and always wanted to race Standardbreds. His dream is slowly coming to fruition. On Nov. 17, Craib got his first driving win with Pan Full Of Money at Hollywood Dayton Raceway. It was his first success in 33 attempts after getting several thirds. “I was stuck there on third for a little while and couldn’t get past it,” he said. “But it kept building my confidence up, that’s for sure. Each time I got done racing a horse, I would go back and watch and see where I messed up. I would see if I should have moved him a little later or sooner for the stretch drive. I try to watch and learn by all my mistakes, basically. “I learned where to get away and where not to be. In my last start I was a little too aggressive.” Craib has been aggressively pursuing this career since boyhood, although the closest he got to the track was when his parents took him to Hoosier Park. “When I was 6, 7 years old I remember running up and down the fence when the horses were coming across the wire,” he said. “One night, it was the very last race of the night. I just happened to ask Andy Miller for his whip, and he threw it over the winner’s circle. I still have it!” Craib did not live on a farm, but grew up within an area that had plenty of Standardbred farms and he would visit them frequently as he got older. “I would just ride horses,” he said. “Barrel horses, rodeo horses, stuff like that. I just always liked horses. I was working with them, I was young still and I wasn’t training them at the time. I just kind of started out doing leg wraps, and cleaning stalls and stuff like that. I guess they saw I had a desire and wanted to do it and just gave me a little more leeway.” When he was still in high school (he was home schooled), trainer Walter Haynes invited Craib to work with him during the summer. Haynes was impressed by the youngster’s dedication and the two eventually bought a horse together that they raced at county fairs. “He asked me if I was a gambling man,” Craib said. “I said ‘Sure’ so we bought a horse. He said ‘I’ll start showing you some stuff and see if you can do it.’ That’s how it all started. I wasn’t getting a paycheck, but I helped him with his horses and he didn’t charge me stall rent or feed bill or anything like that.” The horse -- Bens Beach Boy -- was a 2-year-old pacer bought from trainer Steve Carter. Craib jogged and trained him, Haynes drove him and “he was actually the first horse that made me some money.” Several more owners started letting Craib take care of their horses and at a certain point he decided, “Well heck, if I could do it for them, I could do it for myself.” Owner Marlin Fry also liked Craib and allowed him to jog his first horse, Norma Rockwell, who is now the mother of Indiana Sire Stakes winner Nora Rockwell. Craib then became friendly with owner Jerry Schwartz, who he had bought a yearling from. Schwartz was impressed with the job Clay did with the horse, and started sending him more to train. “That took time out of working for other trainers,” Craib said. “I felt ‘Well, here’s the real world. Time to put on the big boy boots.’” Craib got his training license and driver’s license in 2015. He started driving in some qualifiers near the end of the Hoosier Park meet, but not as many as he wanted. “It kind of took me a little while,” he said. “And then a couple people asked me if I wanted to qualify some horses for them. I did, and I just took my time and tried to do my best at it.” This past season Craib drove the four horses he trained -- two of which he owns. He finally experienced “a feeling I never had before” when Pan Full Of Money came through. “I just wanted to get a good trip,” he said. “The bunch she was with, it looked like she had a good shot. I really didn’t want to get locked in, but we got to the half and the guy came over first up and I couldn’t move so I just kind of sat chilly and rode it out. A little before the three-quarter pole there was a little opening that opened up, I just swung her three deep and she did the rest, I was just the passenger.” Craib will continue to train his horses and hopes to continue racing in Ohio. It has been a slow, steady process and he’s encouraged by how it’s going. “It’s hard to find an owner you can train for at my age, not being raised in the sport,” he said. “Honestly, I figured I’d still be working for someone instead of being on my own and doing it myself. I’m definitely happy with how it’s going.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ --- Christian Lind was long uncertain about being a harness racing driver, but it took just one race to convince him the sulky is the place to be. Winning a debut race out of post nine will do that for a guy. The son of trainer Staffan Lind, all but one of Christian’s 32 rookie drives came with his dad’s horses. The first was on July 19 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, when Lind and 3-year-old female pacer Rock Me Baby started from the nine hole and triumphed at odds of 15-1. Welcome to the show, kid. Feeling no pressure because of the draw, the 25-year-old Lind’s hopes were to just make a good showing, maybe work his way up toward the front. “I was sort of thinking OK, maybe finish in the top four or something, then move on to the next one,” he said. Instead, he ended up savoring that one. We’ll let Christian tell the tale. “I left a little bit and saw that everybody was leaving on the inside, I sort of just drifted,” he said. “I ended up fifth through the first turn. On the backside I pulled my horse and the horse in front of me pulled out in front of me and I just rode off that until the stretch. “I pulled three wide at end of the turn and just went by them down the stretch. She felt amazing.” A pleasant surprise? “Yeah, especially out of post nine,” Lind said. “I was just elated at that point; I didn’t see it going that way necessarily. I was very happy but very surprised.” He also had an awakening about what he wanted to do with his life. “Before that first start I was kind of wishy-washy -- is this something I want to do or not?” Lind said. “It’s a lot of pressure, especially racing for my dad. I want his horses to do good. “But I sort of proved to myself I could do it just by winning that first race. I thought after that, maybe I have a chance of doing this full-time and I was looking forward to racing after that.” Lind was not done surprising himself. During a late-October night at Pocono, three drivers each won twice in the first six races -- George Napolitano Jr. (8,138 lifetime wins), Marcus Miller (2,610 wins) and Lind, who entered the night with three wins. He stood tall with the big boys, driving his dad’s trotter, Promise Delivered, and pacer, Mr D’s Dragon, to victories. Lind finished his first season with a 15.6 percent win rate, garnering five victories in 32 starts. Four were at Pocono and one at Lexington’s Red Mile. He also had five seconds and one third. “I thought I knew how to drive horses, but to win a race, that’s a little different,” Lind said. “Before I started I felt I probably had a good chance, but when you get in there you see it’s tough enough to finish first, second or third. So yeah, I was surprised that I got a few wins.” For a while it seemed unlikely Christian would follow in the footsteps of his dad, who bought his first horse with the money he and some buddies won in Sweden’s V65 (akin to the Pick-6). Growing up in Vasteras, an hour west of Stockholm, Christian was a soccer player. The family moved to Florida when he was 9 and by then Staffan’s profession was harness racing. Christian continued to play soccer in high school but issues with heel spurs made it nearly impossible to walk after games, so he gave up the sport. Upon graduation, his family needed help at their stable so Christian volunteered his services. He planned on working there only as needed but, before he knew it, Lind was still working there and began training horses. “In the beginning it was a little trying on me to wake up every morning right after high school to come help in the barn and all that stuff,” Lind said. “But starting to drive and train horses you really do fall in love with it. I thought I should help out until they got more help but it just turned into me sticking around.” The family goes back and forth from Florida to their Celebrity Farms Stable in Goshen, N.Y. In Florida, where they will be until April, they are stabled at the Palema Trotting Center. This year, something clicked inside of Christian. “He’s been working with us since he left high school and he’s trained a lot of horses, but it wasn’t until this year that he really wanted to start to drive,” Staffan said. “So far he’s been doing real good.” Lind had qualified more than 10 horses at Pocono and got his license in early July, a week before his first race. He got his training license around the same time but right now he is focusing on driving. “I’d been training horses since I started, and I’d spent a couple years in the bike where I’m comfortable enough with it,” Christian said. “It’s a big difference (racing) but I feel like I got used to the actual driving of the horses very early on.” Leading up to his first race, Lind said he got tremendous encouragement from his dad, who was stoking his confidence. “He was telling me I could do it and he was giving me a lot of encouragement,” Christian said. “He’s been a tremendous help. Ever since we started doing this, he’s worked super hard and sort of instilled in me to also work hard. He’s especially doing it now that I want to do this.” Staffan has been extremely impressed by his son. “He is very calm and cool; he never gets too excited,” said the dad. “So far he’s been handling the horses good and putting them in position in the races.” One of the main things Staffan would like to see is his son to start driving for other trainers besides himself. “He had some opportunities to drive for Tony Alagna out in Kentucky and hopefully he can pick up some more drives,” Lind said. “If he had the opportunity I’d tell him to drive for someone else if he could. It’s the way you broaden your horizons and get contacts. He can always drive my horses whenever he wants to, but if he can get an opportunity he should take it.” Christian understands his dad’s thinking and realizes he is just looking out for his best interests. He knows that the more trainers he drives for, the more drives he will get. “Instead of two drives a night, it will be more than that, I’ll get more used to it and hopefully turn it into a career,” Lind said. “He’s just thinking of the opportunities it would give me. Of course, if he needs me, I’ll drive for him.” Lind is uncertain about training, as he feels it’s stressful. He wouldn’t mind owning a horse, saying “It’s always a little more fun when you’re driving a horse you have a stake in.” The bottom line is, after wavering about being in harness racing, Lind’s complete focus is now on being a driver. And he will probably be a little more aggressive after a lot of near misses. “I got a bunch of fourths this year,” he said, referring to six fourth-place efforts. “It’s a little bit frustrating but you just get used to it. “In the beginning you just sort of get into the rhythm how other people drive and you fit yourself into that. You don’t want to be in the way and you’re just trying to get by.” He also got five firsts, which were enough to make him yearn for the sulky. Come to think of it, one win was enough to do that. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ --- Forget about holiday protocol, harness racing trainer Bob McIntosh is jumping right over Halloween and American Thanksgiving. “It will be a little bit of Christmas if we get the right trip,” said McIntosh, referring to his horse L A Delight in Saturday’s (Oct. 29) $500,000 Breeders Crown for 3-year-old female pacers at the Meadowlands. McIntosh is the trainer and co-owner and co-breeder, along with C S X Stables and Al McIntosh Holdings Inc. He is once again teamed up with driver John Campbell, as the two have won five Breeders Crowns together. “John and I have been together for, I don’t know how many years, 30 years or more I guess,” McIntosh said. “I’ve got confidence in John and I’ve got confidence in the filly.” Their most recent win came with Thinking Out Loud, another McIntosh homebred, in 2014. Their first successes came in 1992 with Artsplace and So Fresh. They won with Immortality the following year, and took first with Western Shooter in 2001. And while McIntosh feels every win is special, two Breeders Crown triumphs that jump out to him did not involve Campbell as the driver. One was his first Crown win with Sunset Warrior in 1986, who was a longshot going in. The other came in 1997 with Artiscape, who was co-owned by Brian Monieson and George Segal's Brittany Farms. Monieson had cancer that year and it was the last time he got to see Artiscape race, as he passed away a short time later. “That brought a tear to my eye when I saw Brian in the winner’s circle,” McIntosh said. “It was karma. Good things happen to good people. Brian was a great owner and a great guy.” McIntosh would love nothing more than to create another great moment and feels he has a horse capable of doing so. L A Delight, by Bettor’s Delight out of the Western Hanover mare West of L A, has won nine races and $540,276 this season, hitting the board in 13 of 16 starts. She has earned $1,073,403 in her short career. “She’s had a great season,” the trainer said. Campbell drove her to the win in the Jugette at Delaware on Sept. 21, which McIntosh felt, “was the ultimate.” “She’s in against those top fillies and beat them,” he said. “Any time you win one of those big races, it’s always great.” He also felt it was “pretty sweet” that she went undefeated in the Ontario Sires Stakes. In her Breeders Crown elimination last weekend she got away last but managed to rally to a second-place finish despite some fatigue. “I think she raced as good as she could in the elimination, she got a nice trip,” McIntosh said. “She spent 15 hours on a truck going down there, but that’s the way it goes. I think she’ll even be better this week.” L A Delight drew the eight hole, which doesn’t have the trainer too thrilled. But with the Breeders Crown’s all-time winningest driver in the bike he doesn’t discount the McIntosh-Campbell magic being conjured once more. “We didn’t draw where I wanted to, we’ve got some good fillies on the inside of us, but I’ll leave it up to John to figure out the trip,” McIntosh said. “John is Mr. Dependable. The more there is in the purse the better he drives. With big money he’s a great driver. He’s one of the best big money drivers. “If the trip comes up favorable I think we can get the job done with a little luck -- a lot of luck. I have great respect for the other fillies too. She’ll figure it out, I guess. But who knows? If she finishes in the top three I’ll be happy.” McIntosh said his horse is very laid back, unassuming and easy on herself. But that changes once she is on the track. “I trained her down as a 2-year-old, by then I had two or three better than her,” he said. “Then she got behind the starting gate, she showed she’s a warrior and wanted to win. She has a big time desire to win. “She’s just perfect. No lameness issues, no nothing. I would say she makes us all look smart. Some of them are a little tougher to get where you want them, but she’s been just picture perfect.” McIntosh enters the race second to Jimmy Takter in Breeders Crown wins and wouldn’t mind getting closer. “I was leading for a long time, but he got me,” McIntosh said with a laugh. “But I’ll settle for one more -- this year, anyway.” Should it happen, feel free to stop by the McIntosh stable for a celebratory eggnog. For Friday’s complete Meadowlands/Breeders Crown card, click here. For Saturday’s complete Meadowlands/Breeders Crown card, click here. For more information go to www.Hambletonian.com or www.playmeadowlands.com. Follow Breeders Crown news and updates on Twitter @Breeders_Crown, using #BCrown16 and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BreedersCrown. Fans can also go to http://harnessracingfanzone.com/, the Place for Harness Racing Fans to See, Share, Connect and Play. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Harness racing trainer Trond Smedshammer is going against his philosophy not once, but twice this week. So far, it seems to be working out. Smedshammer has qualified two Purple Haze Stables horses for the $600,000 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old filly trotters, as Chezatter and Hillarmbro will both compete in this Saturday’s final at the Meadowlands. “We usually don’t race 2-year-olds at this time of year, but this filly has been good all year,” Smedshammer said of Chezatter. “Hillarmbro is just good. She’s not as experienced as Chezatter, but she’s good. The breed has changed a little bit the last few years; they get to their speed so quickly.” Chezatter, a filly by Explosive Matter out of the Malabar Man mare Chez Lucie, has hit the board in nine of 10 starts, with four firsts and four seconds. She has won $175,062 and has had David Miller in the sulky for eight of her last nine races. Smedshammer has driven her other races. “This filly is very talented, so I didn’t see a reason not to give her a chance,” Smedshammer said. In the Oct. 21 Breeders Crown elimination. Chezatter sprinted from the pocket down the stretch to overtake Ariana G for first place in a career best 1:53.4. Smedshammer was not surprised at her late burst. “Not with that kind of trip,” he said. “I thought if their positions were reversed in the Doherty, she might have gone by then (in a second-place finish). She just loves to chase down horses. She’s been good all year.” Hillarmbro, a Muscle Hill filly out of the Dream Vacation mare Armbro Emma, has not been good all year, but has certainly come on strong after the first month. Her first two races produced one fourth, but she won her next three, took second in Bluegrass and International Stallion Stakes divisions at Lexington, and was third in her Breeders Crown elimination. The filly has earned $50,187. “She just needs to learn a little bit,” said Smedshammer, who has been Hillarmbro’s only driver.” She’s gotten a little bit too aggressive. She wants to beat horses, but she wants to beat them right away. She’s got to learn to cool down a little bit.” Smedshammer said he was happy with her in the elimination, despite the face she did not steer completely straight in the stretch. “I had to keep checking her a little bit and it was tough for me to go by,” he said. “But she had a lot of trot and she’ll be good (in the final).” Thats All Moni was the other elimination winner, even lthough driver Tim Tetrick didn’t feel the race worked out the way he thought. “But that’s horse racing,” Tetrick said. “She’s got enough talent to go with anybody. She just has to get the right trip. I think she’s going to get better every start.” Trained by Jimmy Takter, Thats All Moni is a daughter of Cantab Hall out of the Pine Chip mare Mom's Millionaire. She has hit the board in each of her 10 career starts with five wins and earnings of $220,773. She lowered her mark to 1:54.1 with the Breeders Crown elimination victory. Another driver who didn’t get the elimination race he was expecting was Charlie Norris, who managed to get a game Treviso into the final when she finished second to Thats All Moni. “I had to use her pretty hard in the second quarter to get to the lead, but she hung in there,” said Norris, also the horse’s trainer. “It wasn’t much of a last quarter, but being off a couple weeks, she fought back at the wire. She raced really well, I thought.” By Muscle Massive out of the Taurus Dream mare Valbonela, Treviso has won five of 10 starts with two seconds and a third for $149,569. She won divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion Stakes before taking second in her Breeders Crown elimination. “She was very good in Lexington,” Norris said. “She’s minding her manners now and she seems pretty good. I re-rigged her a little bit and she seems to be fine. She’s driving two fingers in the race. I couldn’t ask for anything more, she’s absolutely perfect to drive.” In looking at the final, Norris is cautiously optimistic. “Both of Trond’s fillies are tough, they’re on top of their games,” he said. “Jimmy (Takter) has got a couple nice fillies (Thats All Moni and Ariana G). It’s tough. It’s going to depend on the draw and the first three-eighths of a mile. “I feel really good going into the final. She trained good the last few weeks and hopefully we can get one more good week out of her.” by Rich Fisher

After looking like a mere shadow of herself two weeks ago, this harness racing lady appears to be back in form entering the $250,000 Breeders Crown Mare Pace final Friday night at the Meadowlands. Lady Shadow, an O'Brien Award winner in Canada at ages 3 and 4, entered the Oct. 9 Allerage Mare Pace in Lexington with eight firsts and a second in her previous nine races before finishing eighth. After some tweaks by trainer Ron Adams, Lady Shadow rebounded last Friday to win her Breeders Crown Mare Pace elimination by 7-3/4 lengths in 1:48.4 over a track rated "good" because of rain. "She raced huge, she's back to her old self," Adams said. "She looked very strong, the plugs were still in, and I was very happy with her." The 5-year-old is one of the favorites heading into the final, where she will face a field that includes Frost Damage Blues, also an elimination winner, stakes-winning Solar Sister, and 2015 Breeders Crown 3-year-old filly champion Divine Caroline. Lady Shadow finished fourth in last year's Mare Pace. According to the trainer, it didn't take much to get Lady Shadow back on the right track for last week's elimination. "We made a few little changes to her daily routine," Adams said. "She tied up on us in Lexington and she was just no good. We've made some changes to her routine and training schedule to try to prevent tie up and it seemed to bounce her right back to her old self. "She's been iron tough all year. I like her attitude and her willingness to race." Lady Shadow, driven by Yannick Gingras, feels right at home at the Meadowlands. She has won all three of her starts there this year, including the Lady Liberty and Golden Girls. Adams noted that she enjoys big tracks such as Mohawk and the Meadowlands. "She gets to use her speed to her advantage," he said. "On the smaller tracks she gets jammed up in the turns a little bit. Here she gets to stretch her legs and just kind of roll along. That's what she likes." What she likes most of all is to compete. She has won nearly half of her 53 career starts, posting 26 victories to go with eight seconds and three thirds. Her career earnings are $1.36 million and this year she has won $630,981, which leads all older female pacers. "When she shows up at the racetrack she's all game, she's here to race," Adams said. "She brings it every week. She had a good year last year. She went some big trips and kind of had a little bit of bad racing luck in between, too." Co-owned by Howard Taylor's and Richard Lombardo's BFJ Stable, Ed Gold, Carl Atley and David Kryway, the group purchased the daughter of Shadow Play and Lady Camella in the summer of 2015. Adams, who took over training Lady Shadow in June 2015, couldn't have been happier. "I followed her whole career," he said. "I knew she was a nice mare. She just got better, bigger, stronger, and came back even better this year." In the first elimination race, Solar Sister won but was disqualified and placed fourth for interfering with Sassa Hanover, who went off stride nearing the wire. Thus, Frost Damage Blues, who finished second by a neck, was declared the winner after going 1:51.1. Divine Caroline was placed second and Sassa Hanover third. Katie Said got the last spot in the final by finishing fifth. Frost Damage Blues, driven by Brett Miller, has won five of 10 starts with two seconds in winning $58,063. In her elimination, she was seventh with a quarter-mile to go and stormed home in :25.2. "She raced great," trainer Tom Fanning said. "She came from a bit of a tough spot, but that's kind of how she likes to race. Every time we've taken her out of her game it's been a little disappointing. We just do what she likes." Fanning is hoping Frost Damage Blues, a 4-year-old daughter of Western Ideal-Art Matters, can buck a trend on Friday night. "Her year has been good but she's been a little unlucky," he said. "She seems to get rough trips in the finals and it hasn't worked out for her. Maybe here it will work out. It worked out (in her elimination) so that was good. She's a nice mare. She tries hard. I think our mare can finish off a mile as good as any of them." Solar Sister has hit the board in 12 of 15 starts this season, with four firsts, four seconds and four thirds for $347,922. Trainer Gregg McNair hopes the 4-year-old daughter of Mach Three-Cabrini Hanover is coming around after two thirds and a sixth in her previous three races before the elimination. "She hasn't raced that good her last three starts, but here I think she raced a little bit better," McNair said. "She raced better than she had been racing. She came up real flat at Flamboro (finishing third in the Ellamony on Oct. 1). Two starts ago, the trip didn't work out for her. But the race we were really disappointed in was Flamboro." For the most part, though, the trainer is happy. "She's been a good mare," McNair said about Solar Sister, who was Canada's 2015 O'Brien Award winner for best 3-year-old filly pacer. "We really haven't over-raced her. She's raced pretty good down here; she seems to like the Meadowlands." Trainer Joe Holloway had Dave Miller drive two mares into the final with Divine Caroline and Bettor Be Steppin, who finished fifth in Lady Shadow's division. Divine Caroline was the U.S.'s 2015 Dan Patch Award winner for best 3-year-old filly pacer. Both horses are familiar with the Breeders Crown, having been there at ages 2, 3 and now 4. Last season, Divine Caroline (Rock N Roll Heaven-Loving Caroline) and Bettor Be Steppin (Bettor's Delight-Two Steppin' Sally) combined to win 13 races and earn $1.13 million. "This year has been a disappointment, but it's a tough transition from 3 to 4," Holloway said. "Both made the final, so that part's accomplished. I thought they raced good. "Steppin had to back up and I knew I was just going for a check. Caroline, she's improving each time a little bit; I'm a little bit optimistic with her and hope for a bigger check. Maybe Steppin can grab a check too. We'll just have to see how the race goes." Finishing behind Lady Shadow in her elimination were Bedroomconfessions, Regil Elektra, and Skippin By. Following is the field in post order for the $250,000 Breeders Crown Mare Pace. PP - Horse - Driver - Trainer 1 - Divine Caroline - Rock N Roll Heaven - D. Miller - Holloway 2 - Lady Shadow* - Shadow Play - Gingras - Adams 3 - Katie Said - Well Said - S. Zeron - Takter 4 - Frost Damage Blues* - Western Ideal - B. Miller - Fanning 5 - Solar Sister - Mach Three - D. McNair - G. McNair 6 - Skippin By - Shadow Play - Callahan - Burke 7 - Sassa Hanover - Rock N Roll Heaven - Gingras - Burke 8 - Regil Elektra - Mach Three - Bongiorno - Armer 9 - Bettor Be Steppin - Bettor's Delight - D. Miller - Holloway 10 - Bedroomconfessions - American Ideal - S. Zeron - Alagna by Rich Fisher USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

In four days Scott Zeron will attempt to become the youngest driver to win a harness racing Triple Crown, for either trotters or pacers. Throw in the fact his horse's owners are paying a hefty supplemental fee of around $50,000, and that could make for a lot of pressure as Zeron gets set to drive Marion Marauder in the Kentucky Futurity at Lexington's Red Mile on Sunday (Oct. 9). But a laidback, understanding group -- consisting of trainers Paula Wellwood and Mike Keeling and owners Marion Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling -- have made things easy for the 27-year-old Canadian since this journey started at the Hambletonian and continued with the Yonkers Trot. "They're not hanging over me going, 'This is the end all, be all, we want this,'" Zeron said. "Heading into the Hambo they told me, 'It's a long year, we've got a lot of races to race,' and not saying, 'Listen, this Hambletonian is all we want, it's all we care about.' That would make it pressure filled. They just want the horse to race well. "(Pressure) varies for every horse and every trainer. The connections I'm driving for are just the nicest, greatest, most appreciative people you could ever drive for. I know that they're confident in me, without a doubt, and I'm confident in my horse. I really think it hasn't been a pressure filled year." It has been nothing but an enjoyable year. Having a horse as talented as Marion Marauder also helps calm the nerves. "This is the kind of horse that both the connections and myself have never been able to be a part of, so it's all taken in stride," Zeron continued. "The nerves would be different if I had a horse that broke every other week, things like that. But this horse is a true gentleman and the connections are just a pleasure to drive for." The last Trotting Triple Crown winner was Glidemaster in 2006. He became the eighth horse to sweep the Hambletonian, Yonkers Trot, and Kentucky Futurity. Marion Marauder won the Hambletonian in August and Yonkers Trot in September. Since then, his connections hedged on attending the Kentucky Futurity, with the original plan to skip the event. Ironically, it was after Marion Marauder was beaten by Bar Hopping at the Canadian Trotting Classic in his most recent start that thoughts began to differ. Mike Keeling had wanted to hit the Red Mile all along, and he finally convinced the rest of the group it was the right thing. "As far as I know, right after the Canadian Trotting Classic, they didn't want to have a five-week break until the Breeders Crown elimination; it was just a little too long," Zeron said. "We went over the list of who we felt could be going to the Futurity, and the rule is that if there's 12 they go straight to the finals." The draw is not until Thursday, so it will not be known until then whether there is just one race. If not, the eliminations and final will both be contested Sunday. "I think for them it was a matter of praying we don't go two heats, only in the best interest of the horse not having to go two heats twice in the year," Zeron said. "And I think, if you ask them, it was a case of Marion feeling really well the last two weeks, and they just wanted to race him." Zeron admitted he would have been disappointed, but understanding, about losing his shot at history. "For sure, but I would have supported whatever decision they made," he said. "The Breeders Crown is another one I haven't won. If we go straight to the final, the plan will work out brilliantly." Marion Marauder has won nine of 12 races this year and earned $1.25 million. His victories include the Hambletonian, which also contested eliminations and the final on the same day, Yonkers Trot, Goodtimes Stakes and a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial. He finished second in the Canadian Trotting Classic and Colonial. The driver admitted he could never script a season like this. "When things are going right, they're just going right," said Zeron, who has been the horse's lone driver since the middle of his 2-year-old season. "If you really break it down, Marion has been a phenomenal animal for me. "Those two major critical (Triple Crown) stakes we had coming into the Futurity, we won by a nose and a head. The roles could have been reversed either way. I'm grateful to just have a horse like him to take me on this kind of trip. He's a pleasure to drive. He makes me confident when I'm out there with him. I just have to put him in a spot to have a chance to win the race. That's really my only job, he does the rest." Marion Marauder is coming off a three-week layoff since losing the Canadian Trotting Classic and Zeron feels it was a necessary respite after an extremely busy schedule. "He was coming off a stretch of (racing) five consecutive weeks," Scott noted. "All the races prior to that, he had layoffs. He had three weeks between the Stanley Dancer and the Hambo. He's always had nice comfortable breaks except for those five weeks straight. By the end of it they just wanted to assess the way he came out of the Trotting Classic, and I think he's been more than feeling well which is why they made the decision to come to Kentucky." Zeron, who has finished second in the Futurity twice, would supplant Trond Smedshammer as the youngest driver of a Trotting Triple Crown winner. Smedshammer was 37 when he trained and drove Windsong's Legacy to the Triple Crown in 2004. On the pacing side, George Sholty was 33 when he guided Romeo Hanover to complete the Pacing Triple Crown in 1966. William Myer drove Romeo Hanover in the Cane Pace with Sholty winning the Little Brown Jug and Messenger. Although seeking his first Futurity win, Zeron has won the Tattersalls so he has had some success in big 3-year-old races at the Red Mile. He is already the youngest driver to win the Little Brown Jug (with Michael's Power in 2012) and the second youngest to win the Hambletonian. As a Canadian, he still yearns to win the Canadian Trotting Classic, but a win on Sunday would take away the sting of that setback. "It would take ALL of the pain away from that, no doubt," Zeron said. "I would forget about the Trotting Classic by winning the Futurity and getting that Triple Crown." The list of drivers to be part of a Trotting Triple Crown-winning campaign includes Hall of Famers Joe O'Brien, Ralph Baldwin, John Simpson Sr., Stanley Dancer (twice), Howard Beissinger, and Campbell. To join that list at all would be impressive. To be the youngest man on it makes it even more notable. "It's a big deal for me," Zeron said. "I'm here for the whole Grand Circuit two weeks. It all leads up to that last day. I'm excited about it, I'm confident my horse can do it. "It's a lot for a horse to do. But hopefully we draw well, hopefully I drive well and the horse is on his game." One thing that's not on is the pressure. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

Trenton, NJ --- The fact that harness racing driver Chris Presley got his first driving win last month is not nearly as impressive as the fact that he lived through college long enough to gain such an accomplishment. Growing up in Michigan, the 21-year-old Presley was raised in what he termed “A Michigan family,” meaning they all root for the university that plays football in Ann Arbor. Chris, however, spent two years at Michigan State -- where they eat Wolverines for breakfast. “I had Michigan stuff and they hated it,” he said. “I always walked the streets in caution. I never wore yellow on campus, but I really wanted to.” After participating in Michigan State’s animal science program, Presley earned a certificate in equine studies last year. He quickly got his driver and trainer licenses and headed for Bowling Green, Ohio, where he started working with Billy Farmer. Since Ohio State is Michigan’s most hated rival, Chris once again found himself in enemy territory. “I can’t stand Ohio State,” he sighed. “Everybody around here loves it. I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He was in the right place on Aug. 12, when he drove 3-year-old pacing filly Angela Nichole to victory at the Hartford Independent Fair in Croton, Ohio. “It was a rough first go, the first few times I drove,” Presley said. “It’s kind of a funny story, because the first three drives I had, I was parked the whole mile for the first three drives. “I finally said, ‘Well you know what, we’re in cheap, it looks like we have the best horse in the race so we’ll sit back.’ We just sat pretty through the three-quarter pole and she opened up by 14 in the stretch.” He did so with a Gene Humphrey-trained horse that had not been too popular among the other drivers. “They had her racing as a 2-year-old last year, nobody got along with her,” Presley said. “I was lucky enough to be up at Delaware at the fairgrounds one day and they were qualifying her. They needed somebody, I had my colors and there I was. I got to drive her the rest of the year. “I’ve been driving her at every fair. She’s a hard-working little filly.” And she gave him a night to remember after pulling Chris into the winner’s circle for the first time in his professional career. “That felt great,” he said. “I’d been waiting for that since I was 3 or 4 years old. I just got started late. I didn’t really have the opportunity in Michigan where I was.” Presley, who now has two wins, 13 top-three finishes “and a whole lot of fourths,” grew up in Michigan Center. Neither of his parents had horses but his grandmother, Marie Konieczki, trained a few and Chris was fascinated by them. “I could never get away from it,” he said. “My parents didn’t really want me to do it, they didn’t really want me to get hooked on it. I got to be around it when I was really little, and then I went out with my grandma to Indiana in the summers and took care of the horses.” Konieczki works for Jamie Macomber, who oversees all training responsibilities for the division of the Ron Burke Stable racing at Hoosier Park. She got into the business through her association with Danny Davidson. By the time Presley turned 13, he had thrown himself into playing sports. He played football, basketball and baseball at Michigan Center High School, and was recruited for hoops by some small colleges. He could not get horses out of his blood, though, and every morning on his way to school he would see trainer Al Tomlinson out jogging horses. “I stopped in one day and asked him for a job,” Chris said. “The first time I ever jogged a horse I was probably 18.” He then went to Michigan State and his career was soon underway. After moving to Ohio, Presley was given the opportunity to train six or seven horses on his own. “That was a good experience, it helped me out a lot,” he said. “You learn more doing it kind of on your own, than you do just helping out.” Presley eventually hooked up as a second trainer for Peter Wrenn, who ran into Konieczki in Florida and decided to give her grandson a call. Chris is now slowly building up a resume. His main focus is now on driving and he is not afraid to pay his dues. “I’ve probably been to 30 fairs this year, one or two drives at each one, but that’s where you’ve got to start,” he said. “I travel three hours sometimes just for one drive. But I haven’t been doing bad. For the horses I’ve been driving I’ve been doing pretty good. I’m getting started, trainers are noticing, and other drivers think I’ve excelled pretty far along for how long I’ve been doing it. I haven’t really been involved that long. “I’m just kind of building up clientele, showing people I have the potential to do it. That’s why I have to go to all these fairs. You hear people say they’re busy, they can’t make it, but I really like to move everything out of the way so I can go to the fairs and drive a couple of these horses.” Looking down the road, Presley feels he and his girlfriend may look into making some purchases. “I’d like to get a few horses of my own, so I don’t have to travel around working for other people,” he said. “But, I like what I’m doing now because I get enough free time where I can go to the fairs, go to the track if I need to race. But I’d like to have four or five of my own one day.” Don’t bet against him. If Presley could survive being a Wolverine in the land of the Spartans, he’s probably a pretty capable guy. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- If harness racing driver Ryan Harvey were a Standardbred instead of a human, he probably would have sold for half a million at a yearling sale just based on his pedigree. Harvey’s grandfathers, who both passed away this year, are harness racing royalty. Paternal granddad Harry Harvey is a Hambletonian winning driver and Hall of Famer, while maternal grandfather Walter “Boots” Dunn had an eight-decade career and is believed to be the leading amateur driver of all time according to USTA records. “They all joke about it, that if they had pedigree books for the drivers I’d be close to the front page,” Harvey said. “It puts a little pressure on me but I kind of hope to use it to my advantage. I’ll take the attention and obviously it’s given me more opportunities than if I wasn’t Boots and Harry’s grandson.” Ryan drove Famous Mistress -- trained by his aunt Lisa Dunn -- to his first career victory earlier this month at the Greene County Fair in Waynesburg, Pa. Since he does not have a registered set of colors yet, Harvey won the race wearing Boots’ colors and helmet, while also wearing Harry’s pants and vest. “I’m going to milk that for as long as I can,” Harvey said. “Once I get my actual set of colors that are registered, I’ll find a way to keep them in the mix.” And while his famous grandfathers have been major factors in Harvey’s career, his dad (and Harry’s son) Leo, has been Ryan’s biggest inspiration. Growing up in Imperial, Pa., in the shadows of the Pittsburgh Airport, Harvey would attend afternoon kindergarten class so Leo, a driver and trainer, could take him to The Meadows racetrack every morning. Instead of sleeping until 8, Ryan was rousted from bed at 6 a.m. to help out at the track. “This probably happened earlier than kindergarten,” Harvey said, “but my memory only started working in kindergarten.” He did the usual chores such as cleaning stalls and feeding the horses. He also had some unusual responsibilities while sitting on Leo’s lap when they drove around the track. “He’s a jokester,” Ryan said. “We’d get up alongside another trainer who was one of his friends and he’d whisper something in my ear to say to them. He’d have little 5- or 6-year-old me yelling out little smart remarks to all these people and then we’d trot right past them. “At the end of the day he’d give me money for the cafeteria to get some food and then he’d send me on to p.m. kindergarten. He made it fun. He got me in there and he didn’t hold back. I don’t think there were many 5-year-olds on the track at that point.” At age 10, a relative suggested Harvey enroll in the Harness Horse Youth Foundation camp, which taught him the sport’s nuances before the end-of-camp race. “Just little things, like braiding the horse’s hair, kind of the ins and outs,” Ryan said. “Even at that point I was ready to get behind a horse and go. I can remember looking forward to that race the whole week.” Harvey won the race, which he and his family recently watched on video. “My camp was at The Meadows, where (longtime Hall of Fame announcer) Roger Huston is,” Ryan said. “He knows my family pretty well. I won that race and he was giving his usual emphatic call. I came across the wire and he said ‘And there’s another driver in the family!’ I think a lot of people could see it coming.” All the while he was learning under Dunn, who lived 100 miles north in Cochranton, Pa. Ryan spent plenty of time there, getting a hands-on education most drivers can only dream of. He would also make trips to New Jersey and almost be in awe of grandpa Harry. “They’re both very important in harness racing in their own right,” Ryan said. “I would see Boots in action and I’d be like ‘All right, this is how it’s done.’ With Harry it was just like ‘Whoa!’” Both were also important to young Ryan. “Harry was more of a look-up-to-as-a-legend type of deal with me, where I kind of thought he was larger than life,” Harvey said. “Anytime I had the chance to say my grandfather won the Hambletonian I would use that to my advantage. “He was 92 when he passed, I’m 23, so most of the time I spent with him he was in his 80s. But he was still training and I was lucky enough to go to his barn. He had an impeccable operation where he was very business-like and no corners were cut. He was a no BS type man and I kind of always looked up to him like he was too good to be true.” And then there was Boots, a constant hands-on influence. “We’d be up here every single weekend,” said Ryan, who now lives at Boots’ farm and takes care of it. “He was more consciously impacting almost my every decision, not just harness racing. Boots would ride in the back of the trailer with the horses, there were no corners cut.” And while Boots assured Ryan he had the talent to drive Standardbreds, Harvey’s mom Kathy urged him to attend college. An admitted bookworm, Ryan said, “I was addicted to horses but I also didn’t want to put school in the backseat. We’d go to fairs and they would overlap with school. I’d take my schoolwork with me and make sure I had that done before anything.” Harvey showed business savvy at a young age, picking dandelions at the barn and selling them to make enough money for a candy bar. He went to the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with an economics degree. The summer after his junior year he got a Wall Street internship at a start-up online publication. Ryan would ride his bike -- a favorite form of transportation he still uses frequently -- from his NYU dorm to work. “Every day I sat behind a desk and basically hated it,” he said. Harvey began re-evaluating his goals and, despite having some job offers on the table, returned home to be with Dunn. After Ryan’s graduation, Boots’ cancer began to worsen and a nursing home was not an option. “He wouldn’t have fared well in that environment,” Harvey said. “He was jogging horses until the day he died. I came up here and helped take care of him and spend some special time with him. That’s when I got out of the job market. From there it’s been harness racing 100 percent.” Harvey and his aunt Lisa now tend to a dozen or so horses in training on Boots’ farm, and also have a broodmare operation that is preparing nine yearlings to race next year. Lisa, who is one of Boots’ daughters, provided Ryan with numerous drives but he went his first 17 without a win. With many of his family members on hand, he was disappointed when his horse broke behind the gate in his first race. “I was kind of getting to the point where I was like ‘All right, I need to do this now or never,’” Harvey said. “She was putting the faith in me, I had to go out there and produce results.” He did just that at the Greene County Fair on Aug. 9. It was only a three-horse race but the favorite, Brauti Hanover, has been winning at a steady rate on the fair circuit. “We kind of went in just hoping to get second, but it turned into a horserace,” said Harvey, who took advantage of Brauti Hanover bearing out and losing ground on the turns. “It was a stretch drive,” Harvey said. “We were pretty much neck and neck, stride for stride. I was just thinking about winning, and after it finally happened I kind of realized what just went down. I could hear my mom screaming and I was really overcome with joy and excitement. It was a special feeling. I think I might have shed a tear under my driving glasses but I was trying to hold back.” It was an exciting drive for Harvey, but not half as harrowing as one that he made at age 18. During his freshman year at Pitt, Ryan helped jog horses at fairs. One day he was approached by a starter who did numerous fairs and was responsible for getting the starting gates from fair to fair. “I guess I seemed like a likely candidate, because he approached me and said ‘Hey young fella, would you drive this?’” Harvey said, still laughing at the memory. “That starting gate doesn’t exist anymore; it was near the end of its life. And I was in this old jeep, if you would go over 55 it would rattle.” Harvey had to make a 150-mile drive halfway across Pennsylvania, from Hughesville to Honesdale. “I’m going down Interstate 80 with this starting gate, probably getting the weirdest looks I’ve ever gotten in my life,” Harvey said. “Even at 23 people probably think I’m not much more than 18. At 18 people probably thought I was 15 driving down the highway with this thing.” It was the kind of experience that colorful careers are made of. The kind of careers that both of his grandfathers had. And while he was disappointed that neither was alive to see his first driving victory, their spirit will live within Ryan forever. As of now, all thoughts are of harness racing. “The fair season’s coming to an end, after that I’ll kind of regroup, get my bearings,” Harvey said. “I just want to get along this summer and try to make next summer better. Anytime I can drive for Lisa, it makes me happy if I can do well for her. But it’s a different kind of feeling if you can do well for others. “I hope to build up the faith and trust from other owners and trainers and kind of get my name out there and see what I can do with it.” It’s a name that people certainly respect in the business -- on both sides of the family. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

Trenton, NJ --- There’s no question Erv Miller is one of the top trainers in harness racing. But when it comes to giving Knute Rockne-type pep talks, he may have to pick up a few tips. In sending one of his trainers out on his second professional drive at Vernon Downs in New York, Erv wasn’t encouraging Atlee Bender to go out and win one for the Gipper -- or even the Bender or the Miller. “He said, ‘I want you to take your filly (Rockin Winner) up there and I also want you to race the big colt (restricted stakes-winner Jet Airway),” Bender said. “I just started grinning. He said he was sticking his neck out for me when he let me drive that horse. He said ‘Don’t let me down.’” Bender continued laughing as he told the story, saying, “That made me more nervous than if he’d have said how to drive him. He didn’t tell me how to drive him he just said ‘I’m sticking my neck out for you, don’t let me down.’ Coming from Erv, that’s a little intimidating.” But it wasn’t debilitating, as Erv’s neck made out just fine after Atlee’s drive became his first win. The 24-year-old from Indiana brought Jet Airway from behind with a :26.2 final quarter-mile to win in 1:50.4 on July 30. Bender got away last in the five-horse field and, at the advice of Erv’s son Marcus Miller, popped the earplugs early around the first turn. “They were moving out pretty good and he settled in there pretty good,” Bender said. “I was second over past the half, and I just followed that guy around to the last turn and went three wide at the head of the stretch. I was in the middle of the racetrack and won by a length and a half.” The victory was big on numerous levels, as it was Bender’s first; he didn’t let Erv down; and his family was on hand for the occasion. “It was awesome,” Bender said. “As I came across I was just thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.’ My mom and dad said they were going to come out and watch. They drove nine hours, so I was happy to win for them being there. That’s pretty sweet.” So was the phone call he got from Erv shortly afterward. “He just called and said ‘I don’t need nothing, I just wanted to say congratulations professional,’” Bender said. “He said I did a good job.” It was a nice payoff for 10 years of hard work. Bender’s foray into horses came from watching his uncles race ponies as a kid. One uncle began working with Standardbreds, which piqued Atlee’s interest. “That was my whole life,” Bender said. “I wanted to try the horses.” He initially helped a friend from his church race ponies and started doing it himself at age 14. He soon bought a pony with family friend Lewayne Miller and continued to drive them as a hobby until age 22. Miller raced horses at Indiana’s Hoosier Park, where he became friends with Erv Miller (no relation) and began working for him. Weary of his job in a trailer factory, which he had since graduating high school, Bender asked Lewayne if Erv needed help. It turned out he did need someone in Indiana. Bender met Miller at a sale, the two hit it off, and Atlee started working for Erv two years ago, both in Indiana and Florida. This past year, Miller brought him to his stable in Wind Gap, Pa., making Bender his second trainer. As one would expect, working with a harness racing icon has been invaluable. “I’ve learned a lot of things,” Bender said. “I didn’t have a lot of experience from the harness racing aspect. It’s the same concept as ponies, but he does his stuff a lot different. He taught me a lot, how to set a horse up as far as rigging, training-wise and driving. He taught me a lot about how to drive horses. “He’s always trying to teach you to do better. He’ll harp on you a little bit, but that’s just for good intentions to make you better. He really wants you to succeed and get the most out of every horse you drive. He emphasizes that every horse is different, and you can’t drive them all the same. He really taught me a lot as far as the driving aspect.” Miller felt Bender learned his lessons well enough to give him a shot with Jet Airway, who had strong 2- and 3-year-old campaigns, winning 10 of 30 races including four divisions of the Ontario Sire Stakes and earning $371,555, before being limited to four starts last year. “He broke down a little bit,” Bender said. “We just started him back and he’s pretty sound now.” Atlee began qualifying horses for Miller last year and the trainer rewarded him with that now memorable drive. Bender said he had no time to get nervous, as it was only he and one groom on hand at Vernon Downs. Atlee had to race Jet Airway in the second race; and the horse he owns, Rockin Winner, in race five (he is part owner of two other horses with Lewayne Miller). “We were kind of pushed for time, so I didn’t have much time to get nervous,” Bender said. “I was warming up Rockin Winner, I got off the track and jumped on Jet Airway, so I wasn’t nervous.” Bender finished fourth with Rockin Winner. Two weeks later, he drove Jet Airway to a second victory in a career-best 1:49.2 over a sloppy track in the Open/Preferred at Vernon. Once again, Bender got away last in the five-horse race. “The horse that beat us the previous week got away fourth,” Atlee said. “He pulled second over, and just followed him. In the turn he went three wide, I followed him and at the head of the stretch I tipped four wide and we were side by side for the stretch and I pulled away. I looked over at the time and I saw (1):49.2. My eyes just got all big and I started smiling.” Bender has evidently earned his trainer’s trust. He has two more races Friday at Harrah’s Philadelphia and another two Saturday at Tioga Downs. Atlee’s dream is to become a fulltime driver but he said if that doesn’t come to pass, he would be happy to train horses. Either way, it beats the trailer factory. “I like it a lot better,” he said. “I’ve never woke up and said ‘I have to go to work.’ I want to go to work. I want to be with horses instead of doing the same thing over and over.” by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent   

Trenton, NJ --- About the only thing that could replace Saturday (Aug. 6) as the most memorable day for accomplishments in harness racing driver Scott Zeron’s life, is if he is ever elected Prime Minister of Canada. And even that might not do the trick, as the 27-year-old Canadian had a Hambletonian Day for the ages at the Meadowlands on Saturday. First, he defeated harness racing’s “Big Three” by driving Shamballa to an upset victory in the $225,550 U.S. Pacing Championship for older pacers. The fact Shamballa is trained and partly owned by Scott’s dad, Rick Zeron, made it even more special. Two races later in the $1 million Hambletonian, presented by Mullinax Ford, Zeron came from first over to drive Marion Marauder to a photo-finish win over Southwind Frank. It was the second such occurrence of the afternoon as Marion Marauder also defeated Southwind Frank in their Hambletonian elimination. Finally, Zeron capped his day by being recognized as the leading driver at this year’s Meadowlands meet. Zeron’s 82 wins were 12 more than runner-up Tim Tetrick. Zeron, who became the second-youngest driver to ever win the Hambletonian, became the first under-30 driver to win the Big M title since 29-year-old John Campbell led the colony in 1984. Any one of those feats would have made for an awesome day. To gain all three was like reaching into the pocket of a barely used jacket and discovering a crumpled $100 bill; hitting the Powerball later that day; and having the IRS immediately declare there will no longer be income tax on lottery winnings. “I don’t know how I could have a bigger day than I did on Saturday,” said the personable Zeron, who will drive Shamballa in Friday’s (Aug. 12) $300,000 Dan Patch Stakes at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. “It wasn’t just about those two big wins; it was about winning the Hambletonian, an internationally known race, and also winning for my dad. It’s going to be very tough to surpass the emotions I had that day.” The fun started in the second Hambletonian elimination of the day. Marion Marauder was up against Southwind Frank, who had beaten him in all four meetings last year and was a 1-5 favorite. At 3-1 odds, Zeron’s horse trotted a lifetime best mile of 1:51.3 and overtook Southwind Frank in the final strides. “When I was looking on the TV, it doesn’t look as bad, it looks like he had three or four lengths on me, but when I was out there and by the time I had gotten all the way up four wide, it looked like he was a quarter-mile away from me,” Zeron said. “When I moved my horse over and he had that momentum, I thought halfway down the lane maybe I could get him. “I started asking my horse a little bit. I’m getting a little closer and I start pushing him a little more. When I got closer and closer I knew it was going to be huge to win that elimination and head into that final (because of being ensured a starting spot inside post six). It turned out the post position didn’t matter because everybody drew well.” Shortly thereafter, Scott got in the sulky behind Shamballa, who went off at 8-1 in the U.S. Pacing Championship. Rick Zeron’s horse was going against world champions Wiggle It Jiggleit, Always B Miki and Freaky Feet Pete, considered harness racing’s “Big Three” this year. Shamballa promptly made it the “Big Four” by pacing a career-best 1:47.1 to upset 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit by one length. “I went into that race definitely thinking I had a chance to win it,” Zeron said. “If I had the right trip I could beat those horses. He showed in a very vigorous first-up trip (in the William R. Haughton Memorial) when Miki beat me in a mile and an eighth race, that I could stay with those horses (Shamballa was second by three-quarters of a length). If things kind of worked out, I could beat the Big Three. “Not a lot of people believed I could. I was ecstatic with that one, with the family connections. I wish my dad was there to watch that race with me, but it was unbelievable to win that race. I was so excited. Beating those horses is one thing, but to win it for your father is another.” Although not in attendance, Rick felt the emotions and took the humble route when it was over. “The last thing he’ll ever talk about is the horse,” Scott said. “He’ll tell me how proud of me he is, and how much he loves me and he knew we could do this. And then we’ll get to ‘The horse raced great.’ He was all water works when we went across that wire. The fact that both of us believed this horse could do it and to always be the underdog, it felt unbelievable to get that win.” Zeron is looking forward to facing the "Big Three" again in Indiana on Friday, and feels Jimmy Takter’s horse may make a bigger impact after finishing fourth as the favorite in the U.S. Pacing Championship on Saturday. “It’s a great track for Miki and Miki was coming off a three-week layoff,” Zeron said. “I think he would be better up at Hoosier.” After posting two huge wins Saturday, Zeron and Marion Marauder geared for Scott’s first drive in a Hambletonian final. Both driver and horse were feeling good after their earlier victory. “It was huge to mow down Southwind Frank (in the elimination) with the insurmountable lead that he had,” Zeron said. “It was great for my horse to beat him. You just get that momentum, everything has to click on that day and that’s kind of the way it happened. To win from where we were sitting at that three-quarter pole, it just felt like we were going to win that final.” They prevailed in the most gut-wrenching way possible, launching a first-over assault to win a photo finish over Southwind Frank. Marion Marauder was fifth after a half-mile and second behind favorite Bar Hopping after three- quarters, before Bar Hopping dropped back and Marion Marauder charged ahead and ultimately held off Southwind Frank. “I knew I was going to be first up and I was very content with that because I could control my own destiny,” Zeron said. “My horse just slowly, gradually picked up his speed throughout the mile, so first up isn’t a spot that’s too challenging for him. I was happy, though, that when I did move him first up, he grabbed on and he wanted to go. “He knows coming around that turn that soon it’s go time. But when I moved him up to go first up, he wanted to go. It’s an amazing feeling to have that; when it’s the second heat, you already won a big first heat, and to just know that he felt good right there at the half. It was a warm feeling for me to know he wanted to win this race.” Zeron had to keep his joy in check, however, due to the photo finish. Southwind Frank's driver Yannick Gingras glanced over and congratulated Zeron, who remained mellow as he looked over to find Marion Marauder’s connections heading to the winner’s circle. “I’m staring over there and not one of my people are going over to that stand,” he said. “Nobody else was either. I’m thinking this is much closer than I even think. This could really be tight. “When I hit that wire I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so concerned about whether or not I won or not. We’re on CBS, so I’m not going to start fist pumping and going ballistic when there’s a shot I might not have won.” After a few minutes, which seemed like a few hours for Zeron, trainers Paula Wellwood and Mike Keeling and owners Marion Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling, Marion Marauder was declared the winner. “When they put it up on the TV screen all my connections went nuts,” Zeron said. “Then it really started to sink in.” As did the fact he was the track champion in just his third year of driving at the Meadowlands. Zeron had been eyeing the title for the past two months and finished with a 12-win cushion over Tetrick. “I wanted it and Timmy and I would talk about it in the last couple months, how many is he away, how many am I up by,” Zeron said. “For me it meant a lot. I was very focused on it the last few weeks.” Scott admitted things have accelerated in his career much faster than he thought. He has now crossed off two major races on his bucket list -- the Little Brown Jug and the Hambletonian. “They’re the two biggest races, especially for that international presence,” he said. “Everybody watches those races.” His top goal has not been reached, however, as he is still seeking a victory in the North America Cup. “Growing up in Canada, to me that’s the end-all, be-all race,” he said. “The NA Cup is my hometown race, that’s the one I want next year.” After all, it couldn’t hurt if he ever waged a campaign for prime minister. by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

A word of advice concerning Saturday’s Hambletonian: don’t take the “other guys” for granted. Southwind Frank and Bar Hopping will be the clear-cut harness racing favorites when the 91st edition of the Hambletonian, presented by Mullinax Ford, takes place at the Meadowlands on Saturday (Aug. 6). But there are four talented dark horses that can make things very interesting coming down the stretch. They are Sutton, Milligan’s School, Marion Marauder and Brooklyn Hill. Bar Hopping is a 9-5 favorite in the first nine-horse elimination at 2:58 p.m. Also in his race will be Milligan’s School (10-1) and Brooklyn Hill (3-1). Southwind Frank is a 4-5 favorite in the second elimination at 3:25 p.m., while Sutton is 6-1 and Marion Marauder is 3-1. Milligan’s School has three firsts and a second in seven starts this year, winning $160,166. He has finished in the money in 14 of 23 career starts, including eight firsts, and has won $462,726. He drew post four in his elimination. Trained by Julie Miller and driven by Andy Miller, Milligan’s School opened the season winning two straight Pennsylvania Sire Stakes events in 1:55.3 at the Meadows and 1:54.4 at Harrah’s Philadelphia. After breaking in his next two starts he trotted to a a career best 1:53.2 in the $75,000 Earl Beal Jr. Consolation at Pocono and is coming off a second-place trip in the $300,000 Zweig Memorial at Vernon Downs on July 24. “I take complete responsibility (for the breaks), that was my fault,” Julie Miller said. “I was tinkering with his shoes, I made a bad choice, but I got him back the way he was. If it wasn’t broken, I shouldn’t have tried to fix it. Luckily he’s bounced back after those mishaps and Andy was really pleased with him in the Zweig, so we like him.” Sired by 1997 Hambo elimination winner Yankee Glide, Milligan’s School is owned by Natalia Stroy of Stroy, Inc. Stroy, an importer and exporter of meats, is flying in from Russia to watch her first Hambletonian entry. “She’s very excited, obviously,” Miller said. “She’s remarkable. Pete Spears of Hanover Shoe Farms introduced us at Harrisburg and we had horses with her last year and now this year. “She’s a smart, educated lady, she follows American racing and I’m always impressed by her e-mails and the questions she asks. She has her finger on the pulse. I’m glad to work with her.” After Andy Miller drives Milligan’s School, he will climb in the bike behind Sutton, who his stable owns along with Jason and Doug Allen. Sutton opened this season winning a qualifier at the Meadowlands in 1:51.2 on May 28, making him the fastest 3-year-old trotter of 2016. He won his first start of the year in an overnight race at Pocono in 1:56.2 over a sloppy track on June 5. After finishing fifth as the beaten favorite in a PA Sire Stakes event at Pocono on June 12, he raced against older foes in two overnights at the Meadowlands, finishing seventh and second. The horse, who drew post three, is coming off a strong second to Southwind Frank from post 11 in a $153,250 division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on July 16. He then posted a 1:52.4 score in the $75,000 Zweig Consolation on July 24 at Vernon Downs. “We’ve been really happy his last few starts, it seems like he’s putting it together,” Julie Miller said. “He raced at Pocono in the mud and I think that kind of kinked him up. Luckily I think he’s come out of that and I think we have him as healthy and fit as we can have him for Saturday.” Sutton has two wins and two seconds in six starts, earning $87,539 this year. He has four wins and five seconds in 15 career starts for $166,706 in winnings. He is the first foal of his dam, I Wanted Wings, who won the NJSS final at two. “He’s always had a great demeanor on and off the track,” Miller said. “He is full of himself, being a stud horse and nickering and playing. But I really just think he’s always been sensibly mannered. It’s just overcoming his endurance and fitness. He’s coming into himself and Andy has a lot of confidence in him.” Andy Miller, whose best finish in five Hambo finals was fourth in 2009, has a potential pleasant dilemma of who to drive if Milligan’s School and Sutton both reach the final. According to his wife, however, it’s not an issue at all. “We have no choice because we own part of Sutton,” she said. “He will be the driver of Sutton if he makes it. I will have to snatch up a catch driver for Milligan. I am not even going to worry about it. (Milligan’s School) is a nice horse to drive and there’s a top-notch crew that’s going to be here Saturday. If we cross that bridge, I am sure I can find one. I don’t think I’ll get an ‘I’ll pass’ on that.” Marion Marauder hopes to finally pass Southwind Frank -- preferably in the Hambo final -- after having finished second to him four times as a 2-year-old. The two missed each other earlier this year when they were in different divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial. Starting from post six, Marion Marauder won his $153,250 division in 2:08.1 at a mile and one-eighth as the even money favorite. He was then entered in a July 30 qualifier at the Meadowlands as a Hambletonian tune-up but, in order to maintain his confidence, was eventually scratched from a field that included numerous older and accomplished horses. “We don’t want to go in against aged trotters,” trainer Paula Wellwood said. “We drew in against Pinkman and Rose Run Parker. I wasn’t going to do that.” The Canadian-based horse, who drew post four, was trained by Linda Toscano at Magical Acres last Saturday in order to work on his endurance. “He’s got the speed, and he trained very, very well,” Wellwood said. “He doesn’t mind the New Jersey heat at all.” Marion Marauder has four wins in five starts this year, winning $194.905. He has five wins, five seconds and three thirds in 18 career starts, good for $476,891 in earnings. Paula’s mother, Marion Jean Wellwood, and her son, Devin Keeling, own the horse. He is trained by Wellwood and her husband, Mike Keeling. Marion Marauder is named after Marion Wellwood and the McMaster University mascot, the Marauders. Devin enrolled to play football at McMaster, and Marion Marauder was born on his birthday. The colt's sire, Muscle Hill, was the 2009 Horse of the Year after going 12-for-12 and winning the Hambletonian in a world record 1:50.1. Scott Zeron, 27, who currently leads the Big M standings and is eyeing his first Meadowlands driving title, is hoping to make his first Hambo final appearance driving Marion Marauder. “He couldn’t be coming into the Hambletonian any better,” said Zeron, who became the youngest driver in history to reach 2,000 wins in 2013. “He has finished with guns a blazin’, and I haven’t had to pop the ear plugs. He’s strong and fresh, and his last quarter is always his best.” While Zeron aims for uncharted territory, Hall of Famer David Miller is gunning for his 12th Hambletonian final with Brooklyn Hill. Miller has two third-place Hambo finishes. Another son of Muscle Hill, Brooklyn Hill has not won a race this year but has finished in the money in four of five starts to earn $46,500. He has two firsts, eight seconds and two thirds in 15 career starts, winning $235,200. He opened the season by finishing second in a New Jersey Sires Stakes division on May 20, and followed with a second-place finish to Southwind Frank in the $100,000 final on June 4. After taking second in an elimination, Brooklyn Hill made an early break and finished eighth in the $500,000 final of the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial at Pocono on July 2. “We kind of had a mishap at Pocono, so that put us where we’ve made only $46,000 this year,” said trainer Jonas Czernyson, who has put 13 starters in Hambletonian finals and had a second-place finish in 2000. “But we’ve got five starts, with three seconds, one third and one break. You can’t really fault him. He’s trotted in (1):52 in about half of those starts. I’m very happy about him. I think he’s going to be right there.” Brooklyn Hill’s final Hambletonian tune-up produced a third-place finish in the $75,000 Zweig Memorial Consolation, setting the pace and trotting a 1:53.2 mile. “I think we’re in a good spot,” Czernyson said. “Leading up to this, I think he’s as good as we can get him right now. I’m very happy with how he’s been. I’m excited.” Owned by SRF Stable of Delray Beach, Fla., Brooklyn Hill starts from post five, prompting Czernyson to note, “I’m happy we drew mid-pack. I think we are good to go.” Below are the fields for the two Hambletonian eliminations: $70,000 Hambletonian Elimination 1 Race 8 - Post time 2:58 p.m. PP-Horse-Sire--Driver-Trainer-Morning Line 1. Bar Hopping - Muscle Hill - Tim Tetrick-Jimmy Takter-9/5 2. Lagerfeld - Yankee Glide - Yannick Gingras-Jimmy Takter-12/1 3. Make Or Miss - Donato Hanover - Joe Bongiorno-Ron Burke-20/1 4. Milligan's School - Yankee Glide - Andy Miller-Julie Miller-10/1 5. Brooklyn Hill - Muscle Hill - David Miller-Jonas Czernyson-3/1 6. Mavens Way - Muscle Hill - John Campbell-Ake Svanstedt-6/1 7. Tight Lines - Yankee Glide - Jeff Gregory-Jeff Gregory-25/1 8. Iron Mine Bucky - Explosive Matter - George Dennis-Greg Haverstick-15/1 9. Reigning Moni - Donato Hanover - David Miller-Jimmy Takter-4/1   $70,000 Hambletonian Elimination 2 Race 9 - Post time 3:25 p.m. PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line 1. Jimmy William - Cantab Hall - Tim Tetrick-Jimmy Takter-20/1 2. The Royal Harry - RC Royalty - Ake Svanstedt-Ake Svanstedt-20/1 3. Sutton - Donato Hanover - Andy Miller-Julie Miller-6/1 4. Marion Marauder - Muscle Hill - Scott Zeron-Paula Wellwood-3/1 5. Southwind Frank - Muscle Hill - Yannick Gingras-Ron Burke-4/5 6. Hollywood Highway - Muscle Massive - John Campbell-Staffan Lind-30/1 7. Dominion Beach - Muscle Hill - Bjorn Goop-Nancy Johansson-30/1 8. Love Matters - Explosive Matters - Brett Miller-Jimmy Takter-12/1 9. Waitlifter K - Muscles Yankee - David Miller-Andrew Harris-10/1 by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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