Making Time with Mack

With the news that one of the greatest Standardbreds to ever grace the track, Mack Lobell, had passed yesterday at age 32 we share this tribute to him published in Hoof Beats Magazine last fall. Cover photo by Tommy Andersson, ALN.

The trotting stride that made him one of the greatest horses of all time is still visible. At 31, Mack Lobell is a horse that seems to defy old age.

Photo by the author
Mack Lobell, now 31, still likes to trot in his paddock in Sweden.

Mack Lobell captivated audiences with his appearance. And the charisma is still there. He is living out his days at at Menhammar Stud in Sweden, where he has the appearance of a black ghost, a phantom. He was the best of his time and now, at an age few Standardbreds reach, he still has the appeal of greatness.

Mack Lobell was born April 28, 1984, at Lana Lobell Farm in New Jersey. He is a son of Mystic Park – Matina Hanover, by Speedy Count. At 3, Mack Lobell set a world record of 1:52.1 under the tutelage of trainer Chuck Sylvester.

The world-record race was the Review Stakes at Springfield, Ill., and it took place on a windy day. It was not a day for a world record, but Mack Lobell didn’t care. Driver John Campbell said that the wind was so strong that it felt like facing a wall coming into the stretch. He was sure that under perfect conditions, Mack Lobell would have trotted in 1:51.

Mack Lobell was owned by Lou Guida, who sold 75 percent of the horse in 1988 to a group headed by John-Erik Magnusson. Mack Lobell won 71 out of 94 career races, the most important ones being the Hambletonian, Breeders Crown, Yonkers Trot, Nat Ray, Beacon Course, Statue of Liberty, Campionato Europeo and the Elitlopp twice, in 1988 and 1990. He amassed more than $3 million in purse earnings on two continents and is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats. He set a total of eight world records.

Mack Lobell sired 444 sons and daughters in Sweden, the best being Mack Action Ås, a mare who earned the equivalent of $500,000. He was not a bad sire, but didn’t live up to the high expectations. As a broodmare sire, he is one of the best, earning Swedish champion in 2007 and 2012. He is the sire of the dam of Commander Crowe, winner of more than $4 million, including the 2014 Breeders Crown Open Trot.

The “Black Phantom” hasn’t been active in the breeding ranks since 2006. Going on 32, he seems content just the same. His caretaker at Menhammar, Anna-Karin Lindgren, is one of his greatest fans, even though she never watched him race.

When Lindgren lets him go, Mack Lobell trots away in his paddock, up to his own little house that owner Margareta Wallenius-Kleberg at Menhammar had built for him. He sighs in contentment, then strolls over to a corner, gazing for something. He is probably looking for mares.

“He is a horse with a lot of energy for his age, and he is lively, intelligent and happy,” said Lindgren.

Photo by the author
Caretaker Anne-Karin Lindgren said she used to have posters of him on her bedroom wall and is thrilled to have the opportunity to care for him in his dotage.

Mack Lobell has mellowed with time. He could be a tough customer in his racing days. Eva Pettersson knows, as she took care of Mack Lobell a couple of years after he was sold to Sweden in 1988 for a whopping $5 million – for a 75-percent share!

“Mack Lobell was quite a handful on racing days, you had to look out,” she said. “Apart from that, he was a really nice horse.

“When we were racing in Hamburg, Germany, he bit a sponsor. John-Erik Magnusson (who trained Mack Lobell in Sweden) and I told the man to keep away from the horse. When I turned my back, the man went up to ‘Mack’ anyway. Luckily the guy had a thick leather jacket on, otherwise he would have bled.”

Mack Lobell loved to roll in the mud, according to Pettersson.

“Once in Cesena, Italy, I let him out in a paddock, because I thought he needed some time outside,” she said. “He rolled in the mud and the black horse suddenly turned gray. John-Erik wasn’t happy, but I managed to rub him back to black in time for the race.”

Mack Lobell also liked chocolate bonbons and he drank from bottles.

“We were racing in Germany on another occasion, and we were skeptical about the local water,” Pettersson said. “We bought bottled water and poured it in his bucket. Mack took one of the bottles in his mouth, turned it upside down and drank! He was a really smart horse.”

Mack Lobell was hard to catch in the paddock. Patience was the key word.

Photo Credit
Mack Lobell, driven by John Campbell, set eight world records in his racing career.

“You had to wait for him to come to you,” said Pettersson. “Most things had to be on his terms. If you let him have his way, to a certain extent, he was happy.

Pettersson often let Mack Lobell take to the gallop when training, but Magnusson didn’t know.

“Mack preferred to gallop, so I let him,” she said. “He was probably one of the first trotters to train at a gallop. But when John-Erik watched, I made Mack trot.”

Pettersson’s voice cracked as she talked about the horse that made such an impression on her life and career.

“I still think about him,” she said. “He was special to me. The great ones seem to be one-man-horses and we got along really well.”

Lindgren, on the other hand, never saw Mack Lobell race, but she said she is blessed to get the chance to care for such a legendary performer.

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