About the only thing that could replace Saturday (Aug. 6) as the most memorable day for accomplishments in 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.
|Scott Zeron celebrated in the winner’s circle after capturing the Hambletonian with Marion Marauder.|
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.”
|Shamballa held off Wiggle It Jiggleit in the U.S. Pacing Championship.|
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.”
|USTA/Mark Hall photos|
|Marion Marauder was a narrow winner over Southwind Frank in the Hambletonian 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.