from Standardbred Canada
Harness racing will have a Triple Crown bid in 2016 as the connections of Marion Marauder have made the decision to supplement the trotting colt to the 2016 Kentucky Futurity.
Trainer Mike Keeling confirmed on Thursday morning that the forms to supplement Marion Marauder would be sent to The Red Mile. Keeling trains the son of Muscle Hill-Spellbound Hanover, who captured the first two legs of trotting’s Triple Crown — the Hambletonian in August and the Yonkers Trot in September.
After the Yonkers Trot win, the connections were bombarded with questions over whether Marion Marauder would be shipped to Kentucky for the third and final leg, the Kentucky Futurity. That decision wasn’t a consensus for the group — trainers Keeling and Paula Wellwood and owners Marion Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling — until recently.
“I decided a long time ago but getting Paula and Jean (on board) and assuring them it was the right move. They were a little more concerned than I was,” Keeling toldTrot Insider. “Once we knew we gave him the week off after the (Canadian) Trotting Classic, and he’s just coming out of his skin. I said to Paula, ‘we have to race him’ and she said ‘yeah, you’re right.’ Seven weeks of this is not going to be any fun.”
After just coming in from training Marion Marauder on a windy and rainy Fall morning, Keeling looks forward to a trip to the south where the sun shines seemingly without fail on the Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile.
“It’s pretty probably the prettiest place on Earth in late September, early October.”
That forecast is surely in the minds of those behind the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale as well. It was where Keeling and Wellwood purchased Marion Marauder as a yearling in 2014, and they are headed back to the sale for the 2016 edition.
“He travels with us,” noted Keeling. “We’re going to be there (for the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale) so we might as well have him there.”
Marion Marauder boasts a 9-2-0 summary from 12 starts this season and hasn’t finished worse than second since mid-June. His $1.25 million seasonal bankroll is the best among all trotters this year.
Keeling will give Marion Marauder one more training trip this weekend before the team ships to Kentucky early next week.
“Linda Toscano has got her own eight-stall barn down there and she’s already put a stall in the corner that has an empty stall beside it. She’s got everything set up for him.
“We told her she can tell (Tim) Tetrick we’re coming so he can start worrying about us,” stated Keeling with a smile.
Tetrick is the driver of divisional rival Bar Hopping, who knocked off favored Marion Marauder in the 2016 Canadian Trotting Classic.
“He got the trip of a lifetime on a night where the trip was less than ideal for us,” stated Keeling. “And he was just a touch fresher than us. Tim drove an extraordinarily good race.
“We really don’t want to be on the front end with Marauder. He can do it from there but that night, especially, was not really where we wanted to be. When you’re 3-5 you just kind of end up there. And front-end speed wasn’t holding up, and it was his seventh start in seven weeks so he may have been a touch tired…the track was tiring…he got beat legitimately and he had legit excuses to get beat. We were okay with it, we lick our wounds and move on pretty quick.”
Keeling feels The Red Mile track surface and configuration doesn’t have a bias so racing there will be “a good test” for his horse.
After already competing in one two-heat race this year, the question remains whether the 2016 Kentucky Futurity will be a two-heat affair. The rules for the race clearly leave that decision to the discretion of track officials.
The Lexington Trots Breeders Association (LTBA) reserves the right to conduct either Race or both Races: at a distance of one mile or greater; in heats on the same date; or in eliminations to be held on the same date as the Final or a week previous. The Open may be conducted in a different format than the Filly Division. In the event that fewer than thirteen (13) horses declare to start, the race may be divided into elimination races and those elimination races shall be raced for 30% (divided equally among divisions) of the total purse. The final heat shall race for 70% of the total purse.
While Keeling would prefer not to race heats, he’s ultra-confident in his horse regardless.
“He’s up to it, I don’t have any doubt about that but you don’t want to over-race him and we want to be able to have him ready for the Breeders Crown.”
Slated for Oct. 9, the Kentucky Futurity would give Marion Marauder his first start in three weeks after a solid August-September slate of events.
“Three weeks is a good break for him,” said Keeling. “People forget he raced double heats on Hambletonian Day and then he had one week off and then five straight weeks. He always seems to enjoy an extra week off and he seems to come out of the box pretty good from there. He’s very fresh right now again and I’m happy with where he’s at.”
The harness racing industry will now focus even more of its attention on The Red Mile with a horse and a quest for an elusive Triple Crown title. The last horse to win trotting’s Triple Crown,Glidemaster, was also Canadian-based. He turned the trick in 2006 with a clinching victory that year in the Yonkers Trot, contested in late November.
“I think it creates a little bit of excitement and hype. People still enjoy the story behind Marauder and the fact that it’s a feel-good story all around,” stated Keeling. “And we need that after the ‘schmozzle’ at the Little Brown Jug. We maybe need to get back to cheering for the horses and quit worrying about all the other (stuff) that goes on.”
The supplemental fee for the Kentucky Futurity is 15 percent of the added money plus the starting fee, which Keeling states will be just shy of $50,000. There is no advanced declaration required so Marion Marauder will be entered with the rest of the Kentucky Futurity contenders next week.