History will record that Marion Marauder became just the ninth horse to win harness racing’s trotting triple crown.
That feat took place at Red Mile in Lexington on Sunday, trotting’s first sweep of the three jewels since 2006.
What might someday be lost is how Marion Marauder got it done. The colt won his three triple crown races by a nose, by a head, and by a head again in Sunday’s $431,000 Kentucky Futurity, the race’s 124th edition.
“They don’t write on the check how much you beat them by,” Mike Keeling, who shares Marion Marauder’s training duties with his wife, Paula Wellwood, told the U.S. Trotting Association afterward.
Marion Marauder, driven by Scott Zeron, raced on the outside for the entire mile and was no better than seventh place through three-quarters of the race but emerged from behind horses in the stretch to secure the crown.
The winning time was 1:52.3. Southwind Frank finished second and Bar Hopping was third.
The 27-year-old Zeron became the youngest driver to ever win a harness racing triple crown, either trotting or pacing. Trond Smedshammer was 37 when he trained and drove Windsong’s Legacy to the trotting triple crown in 2004. George Sholty was 33 when he guided Romeo Hanover to complete the pacing triple crown in 1966.
“I was very confident he got up (to win) but no one else was,” Zeron said with a laugh, according to the trotting association news release. “So thank God that he got up.”
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,” said Zeron, whose charge broke from post no. 11. “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 2 feet and dug right through the wire. It was amazing.”
Marion Marauder was not initially targeted for the 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.
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 stallion Muscle 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.
“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.”
Trotting triple crown winners
Marion Marauder (2016)
Windsong’s Legacy (2004)
Super Bowl (1972)
Lindy’s Pride (1969)
Nevele Pride (1968)
Speedy Scot (1963)
Scott Frost (1955)