Pursuing Perfection

Gimpanzee gears up for his sophomore campaign

story by Katie Navarra

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is the concept that all things are inseparable and opposite. The contradictory forces attract and complement each other. Old-young, dark-light, female-male are examples of the duplicative pairs in fundamental Chinese philosophy, according to the Ancient His-tory Encyclopedia.

If every force has an opposite, it’s no surprise that trotting colt Gimpanzee is the yang to trotting filly Woodside Charm’s yin. Both Chapter Seven progeny finished their freshman season undefeated—Gimpanzee with nine triumphs and Woodside Charm with seven.

The son of Chapter Seven – Steamy Windows was expertly guided in all nine races by driver Brian Sears, a Hall of Fame member. Sears has won more than 10,000 races and banked more than $189 million. Whether Gimpanzee took the lead early or came from behind to win, Sears made sure he was in the perfect spot.

“Brian put him in the right positions all year long,” said trainer Marcus Melander, who is based in New Egypt, N.J. “Brian takes care of the 2-year-olds. He drives them the way we want without pushing them too hard.”

Gimpanzee finished second by a head to eventual Peter Haughton Memorial winner Don’t Let’em, who set a track and stakes record in that event, on June 2 in a qualifying race at The Meadowlands, with a final quarter panel in :27.3. He was third in a second qualifying contest later that month at the same venue.
“I knew all along he’d be a good one, from when he was training down,” Melander said. “Just a good horse to be around.”

After Melander’s preparation, the colt was now ready for his debut in a New York Sire Stakes event at Monticello Raceway on July 9. He stopped the clock in 2:01.4.

He then traveled to Tioga Downs for another NYSS race and won in 1:56.1. His next stop was 11 days later for another NYSS contest at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Going to an early lead, his advantage increased to five lengths before he hit the wire in a track record 1:55.4. The time was a full second faster than the one set in 2017 by My Lindy Winner.

In August, Gimpanzee appeared in two more races—one at Yonkers Raceway, the other at Vernon Downs. Melander said the colt preferred performing on half-mile tracks, although he proved neither track circumference nor conditions could keep him from winning.

In Melander’s opinion, competing on the New York circuit is challenging for young horses. The half-mile, hard surfaces can take a toll on a young horse’s body. He said, however, that Gimpanzee handled the surfaces very well and was able to transition to a five-eighths-mile oval without missing a stride.
“It’s important to find the right balance of races and training, especially for 2-year-olds,” Melander said. “He was mature and ready to race.”

Gimpanzee appeared in the last leg of the NYSS on Sept. 14 and the $225,000 NYSS final on Sept. 22. On both occasions, he hit the Yonkers Raceway winner’s circle, and in the sire stakes final he established a new track standard of 1:56.3.

“He’s been able to come from behind and win as easily as if he starts in the lead,” Melander said.

After a month off, Gimpanzee faced the stiffest opposition of his young career in his $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Oct. 19. Starting from post eight, the colt was in fifth in the early stages of the race and took an arduous overland route to reach the front. He won by 1½ lengths in 1:54.4.

“His body handled everything well all year long,” Melander said. “Some horses’ bodies can’t handle racing at 2, but he’s just so mature.”

As the starting gate sprang into action for the $600,000 Breeders Crown final, Gimpanzee was favored over his stablemate Green Manalishi S. Although that rival loomed large in the early stages, Gimpanzee was never seriously threatened and cruised to a facile victory by 2½ lengths in 1:54.4.

“It’s not over until it’s over, but the horse has showed up all year,” Sears said after the race. “He just knows how to do his job and got it done again tonight. Figured I’d take my shot on the front. I thought I had the best horse in the race.
“He’s just so nonchalant out there. Nothing seems to bother him. Last week, the blanket fell off him by his feet walking back to the paddock and he didn’t even care.”

Indeed, other than Gimpanzee’s impressive resume, what stands out about him is his demeanor in the barn. Melander describes the juvenile as behaving more like an older gelding than a colt, and he is a nice horse anyone can handle. He is very easy to work around and incredibly laid-back for a young, powerful athlete.

“He’s quiet, a nice horse to be around,” Melander said. “He’s a professional horse.”

By the end of the season, Gimpanzee had collected $591,358 to lead all 2-year-old trotters in purse money earned and taken a mark of 1:54.3. The undefeated season earned the colt the nod as the Dan Patch Award winner for his gait, sex and age, making him the first undefeated freshman male trotter to achieve this honor since Wheeling N Dealin in 2012.

Melander trains the champion for co-owners Courant Inc. and S R F Stable. The team purchased Gimpanzee as a yearling at the 2017 Standardbred Horse Sale for $170,000 under the name Army Of Monkeys. He was bred by Breeder of the Year Stefan Balazsi of the Order By Stable.

Balazsi started his operation in Sweden, but now is one of the emerging major players on the North American breeding scene.

Gimpanzee’s perfect season and Green Manalishi S’s second-place divisional finish—and their combined $1.1 million in purses—helped Melander earn the Dan Patch Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association. In 2018, he won $2.86 million in purses and scored 49 wins from 219 starts.
Melander moved to the U.S. from Sweden six years ago. He is continuing the family tradition of success on the harness track. His uncle, Stefan Melander, has won a number of major races, in-cluding the Elitlopp and the Hambletonian. When Marcus first moved to the U.S., he worked for trainer Jimmy Takter before striking out on his own. He trains at Egyptian Acres, a farm that was previously home to Stanley Dancer and Continental Farms Stables.

Perfection is elusive. To achieve it once is a blessing, but to duplicate it takes unwavering dedication, focus and a little luck. Will the light brown colt with a white star and snip be able to remain perfect his sophomore year? Melander knows that it takes a lot for a horse to remain undefeated.

“He raced nine times last year and won nine times,” he said. “You can’t ask for more than that. Not all horses are made to start racing as a 2-year-old. He had the right gait, was mature and everything went right for him.”

In preparation for this season, Melander has been training Gimpanzee slowly over long distances, alternating with interval training. The goal of this approach is to keep Gimpanzee fit, strong and sound throughout the season.

 

“The Hambletonian is our goal. He’s been training well,” Melander said. “I’m looking forward to the season.”

 

As is co-owner Anders Ström.

“He was obviously fault-free last season and in hindsight, we could probably have raced him harder,” he said. “But it was a deliberate decision to stay out of the Peter Haughton and I hope that will pay out well this season. The horse is very fresh and has trained without interruption all winter. He has filled out well and I am sure there is great development in him.” HB

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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