Keeling on Trotter of the Year award: “That’s the one we really wanted”

Trotting Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder edged Hannelore Hanover by a single vote in the closest margin in the 46-year history of the award.

by Dave Briggs

The first indication that Marion Marauder had been named Trotter of the Year came when Paula Wellwood’s Twitter feed began to blow up on Monday (Dec. 19) around lunch time, said her husband, Mike Keeling, who was busy playing darts with their son, Devin, when the word came.

“Paula immediately heard Twitter dinging like crazy…and she yelled, ‘He got Trotter of the Year!’ so we just all high-fived and jumped,” said Mike, who shares Marion Marauder’s training duties with Wellwood. “Then we got on the computer and actually watched the production that Hoosier Park did (to announce the winners). It was probably better to do it that way than to sit there biting our fingernails, waiting to see,” Keeling said.

The vote, conducted by the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA), was indeed a nail-biter with Marion Marauder edging Hannelore Hanover by a single vote to make it the closest margin of victory in the 46-year history of the award.

“That’s the one we really wanted for (Marion Marauder),” Mike said. “We thought it was going to be a tough one. It seemed like there was a little momentum for Hannelore Hanover and so, you know, being that we are quiet people from Canada, we thought that maybe (Marion Marauder) was going to get looked over. And it was a close battle…one vote.”

The son of Muscle Hill out of Spellbound Hanover became the ninth horse in history to win the Trotting Triple Crown. Marion Marauder edged 4-year-old mare Hannelore Hanover in the voting for Trotter of the Year, 73-72. The previous closest finish for Trotter of the Year was in 1971 when Speedy Crown defeated Fresh Yankee, 71-68.

“We were nervous about Trotter of the Year. We thought he deserved it and it’s the one we were probably the most anxious about,” Mike said. “It just felt like, we wanted it for the horse and we wanted it for ourselves, of course, it’s a little ring in the belt. The horse has done so much and he gets overlooked a little bit.”

Marion Marauder was bred by William Mulligan and is owned by Devin, along with Wellwood’s mother, Jean Wellwood of Stratford, ON. Jean is the widow of Hall of Famer Bill Wellwood. Scott Zeron was the colt’s regular driver.

Hannelore Hanover finished third in Horse of the Year balloting, with 10 votes, while Marion Marauder was tied with 3-year-old male pacer Betting Line with four votes apiece.

Marion Marauder, who was named the sport’s best 3-year-old male trotter last Thursday, was the first Trotting Triple Crown winner since 2006, sweeping the Hambletonian, Yonkers Trot, and Kentucky Futurity.

“Jim Takter hasn’t yet trained a Triple Crown winner, and he’s done everything. He’s won every race in the Triple Crown, but never had one horse do it. So that tells you just how big of a deal it is for the horse” Mike said.

In addition, Marion Marauder won the Goodtimes Stakes and a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial on his way to $1.48 million in purses. His earnings led all trotters in North America. He won 10 of 15 starts and finished second three times this season.

Hannelore Hanover, who was named the sport’s best older female trotter, won 17 of 20 races and earned $1.11 million in purses, leading all female trotters in earnings.

Marion Marauder and the Wellwood/Keeling family are now in North Carolina for the winter. Mike said the trotter will begin preparations for his four-year-old campaign sometime in February.

“He’s great. We got him to his turnout farm in North Carolina, where he’s spent the last two winters and he has settled in great,” Mike said. “He’s only 10 minutes from Pinehurst here, so we get to see him regularly. He’s a happy boy. Everyone at Pinehurst can’t wait to see him. All the guys have been watching him and it’s a great following down here. It’s just marvelous.”

— with files from USHWA