The Trotter of the Year and trotting Triple Crown winner has returned to the track in preparation for his four-year-old season and his trainer, Mike Keeling, said Marauder “looks more like an NFL player than a college player.”
by Dave Briggs
About three weeks into preparations for Marion Marauder’s four-year-old season, his co-trainer, Mike Keeling, likes what he sees.
“He looks great,” Keeling said of the 2016 Trotter of the Year and trotting Triple Crown winner being prepped in Pinehurst, NC. “He’s thickened up. He looks more like an aged horse than a three-year-old now, and I’m really pleased with that. He’s a solid, solid animal now. Not that he wasn’t before, but now he looks more like an NFL player than a college player. We’re hoping that helps him take on the workload that’s involved with taking on those older, tough horses.”
Keeling, who shares Marion Marauder’s training duties with his wife, Paula Wellwood, said the trotter’s mental state appears to be just as sharp as his physical appearance. Marion Marauder returned to the track at the beginning of March after a long turnout.
“He’s happy… He’s really in a good frame of mind. He’s happy to be back to work. I think he really enjoys it, so he’s back in his old stall here. I’ve turned him three times now and we are going to slowly work ourselves into shape here,” Keeling said.
Marion Marauder’s driver, Scott Zeron, came to Pinehurst for a visit recently, but Keeling said Zeron wasn’t given the chance to sit behind Marion Marauder.
“I told him, ‘Nope, you’re not going with him. When you’re there, we know there’s money on the line.’ He only gets to go behind him when going behind the gate for real money.”
Zeron who shares ownership with Keeling and Wellwood in a two-year-old, three-quarter brother to Marion Marauder, did like what he saw when he sat behind Chocolate Ganache, a Muscle Hill colt that’s out of Marion Marauder’s Chocolatier-sired sister Mariongotchocolate.
“He got to train him yesterday,” Keeling said Friday, “and he was pleased with him. He’s a May foal, so he’s a couple of months younger than Marauder even, so we’ll take our time with him.”
Chocolate Ganache was purchased by the group for $75,000 at last fall’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. The colt was bred by Marion Marauder’s breeder, William Mulligan, and consigned by Hunterton Sales Agency Inc.
Keeling said he and Wellwood are training 13 horses in Pinehurst this winter besides Marion Marauder — seven two-year-olds and six three-year-olds. All are trotters except for one Sportswriter colt.
The plan is to head home to Cambridge, ON on Good Friday (April 14), qualify Marion Marauder some time in June at Mohawk Racetrack and then ease into the season.
“The Hambletonian Maturity (on July 15 at the Meadowlands) would be a race that we would like to key on, if all goes well, because it is against four-year-olds and it would be nice not to have to go into the open, all-age class right away. We’ll see. He’ll tell us where he’s at and when he’s ready,” Keeling said. “When he goes behind the gate, we’ll know a whole lot more.”
The son of Muscle Hill out of Spellbound Hanover is owned by Wellwood and Keeling’s 20-year-old son, Devin Keeling and Wellwood’s mother, Jean Wellwood, the widow of Hall of Famer Bill Wellwood.
Mike said if all goes well this year he’d like Marion Marauder to race in the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk, at Lexington on the way to the Breeders Crown at Hoosier Park and maybe even in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot.
“If he shows that he’s (International) caliber we’d like to take (Yonkers) up on their invitation from last year and see if we can’t get an invitation this year,” Mike said.
Even after winning the Hambletonian, the Triple Crown and the Trotter of the Year title, Mike said he hopes there are more big things in Marion Marauder’s future.
“I’d like to be competitive for 10 starts and not hurt him and then look towards the five-year-old year. That’s the ultimate goal, to be able to look like we compete and belong in that class and protect him as much as we can and then look towards the five-year-old year. Then we would love to go to Europe. He’s the horse of a lifetime,” Mike said.
In 1995, Bill Wellwood raced Armbro Marshall in the Elitlopp, finishing seventh in their heat and failing to advance. Paula and Jean were on that trip, but Mike was not.
“I’ve never been across the Atlantic, but I’d like to go and maybe Marauder will be the one to take us there,” he said.