by Ray Cotolo, for The Red Mile
Scott Zeron had no game plan when it came to driving Marion Marauder in Sunday’s Kentucky Futurity.
It turned out to be a winning strategy.
Starting from the second tier’s post No. 11, with the Trotting Triple Crown on the line, Zeron and Marion Marauder worked out a trip that saw the duo emerge from behind horses in the stretch to chase down rivals Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank and win the $431,000 Kentucky Futurity by a head in 1:52.3.
Southwind Frank finished second and Bar Hopping was third.
Marion Marauder, who became the ninth horse to win the Trotting Triple Crown and first since Glidemaster in 2006, won the Hambletonian — the Crown’s first jewel — by a nose over Southwind Frank. He won the second jewel, the Yonkers Trot, by a head over Smalltownthrowdown.
“They don’t write on the check how much you beat them by,” quipped Mike Keeling, who shares Marion Marauder’s training duties with his wife Paula Wellwood.
The 27-year-old Zeron became the youngest driver to ever win a harness racing Triple Crown, either trotting or pacing. Zeron supplanted 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.
“I was very confident he got up (to win) but no one else was,” Zeron said with a laugh in the winner’s circle following Marion Marauder’s triumph. “So thank God that he got up.”
Marion Marauder raced on the outside for the entire mile and was no better than seventh place through three-quarters of the race. He followed 9-5 favorite Bar Hopping, who started in the second tier’s post No. 12 in the 12-horse field, in the outer flow and those two eventually drafted behind the cover of second-over Southwind Frank.
As the field made its way down the stretch, horses fanned six wide across the track with the focus on Southwind Frank, Bar Hopping and the late-charging Marion Marauder, who trotted the last quarter-mile in :26.4.
“I had to have no game plan going into that race,” Zeron said. “I had no clue what was going to happen. Earlier there was a 12-horse field and the 11 and 12 got away 11th and 12th, so I wasn’t too optimistic. But the way it all unfolded, and Bar Hopping really pushed to get away up close, I just glued my horse close to his helmet. We were able to get (Southwind) Frank out and it was a perfect train.
“I just had my eyes on (Southwind Frank) and (Bar Hopping). I didn’t want to make a move too quick because I knew we’d be sprinting really hard down the lane. I was confident down the lane when I moved him over. Probably watching the race you might not have been as confident, but he dropped his head about two feet and dug right through the wire. It was amazing.”
Marion Marauder was not staked to the 124th Kentucky Futurity, but after winning the Hambletonian and Yonkers Trot his connections decided to make a supplemental payment of $47,621 to enter the event.
The decision followed Marion Marauder’s second-place finish to Bar Hopping in the Canadian Trotting Classic on Sept. 17 and the way the horse seemed fresh and ready to continue his campaign. Without supplementing to the Futurity, Marion Marauder faced a potential six-week layoff until the Breeders Crown later this month.
“I was a little leery, but he showed after the Canadian Trotting Classic that he wanted to race, so we brought him,” Wellwood said.
“It was the only way to go when he showed us how sharp he was with the time off,” Keeling added.
Marion Marauder has won 10 of 13 races this year and earned $1.47 million for owners Marion Jean Wellwood, who is Paula’s mother, and Devin Keeling, who is the son of the trainers. Marion Marauder is a son of stallionMuscle Hill, the 2009 Horse of the Year, out of the Nova Award-winning mare Spellbound Hanover.
The colt’s name combines the names of Paula Wellwood’s mom and the nickname of Devin’s college mascot at McMaster University, where he plays football. Interestingly, the horse’s original name already had “Marion” in it; he was purchased for $37,000 at the 2014 Lexington Selected Sale under the name Marion Monopoly.
Now Marion Marauder has a monopoly on this year’s Trotting Triple Crown races.
“It’s just been a tremendous year, and a tremendous group of horses,” Mike Keeling said. “I think we’ve given the fans a lot of thrills.”