Plan to showcase European trotter working to perfection after dazzling Crown win

story by James Platz / quotes by Dave Briggs

The list of international horses that have traveled stateside and won Breeders Crown finals is short, yet distinguished. Saturday afternoon (Oct. 30) at The Meadowlands, Ecurie D, making only his second start on U.S. soil, dazzled in the $650,000 Championship for open trotters, dashing to a 1:52 score. The 5-year-old son of Infinitif—To Soon was sent off as the heavy favorite and lived up to the hype for trainer Ake Svanstedt, who steered his charge to victory in the day’s 10th race.

In an interview before the race, Svanstedt said that he pulled the front shoes on Ecurie D, leaving only the hind shoes on for his Breeders Crown debut. He felt it provided better balance for the trotter, and after Saturday’s performance, few could argue with the results. Bred in Kentucky by the renowned French horseman Jean-Pierre DuBois and owned by the Swedish partnership of Marko Kreivi Stables Inc., Suleyman Yuksel Stables Inc. and Ake Svanstedt Inc., the stallion won by an impressive two and one-quarter lengths. Back Of The Neck, driven by Scott Zeron for Svanstedt, appeared to be the only horse able to cut into Ecurie D’s growing margin in the lane, surging late to finish second at 62-1 odds. Ready For Moni, 38-1, held on for third after briefly leading while racing out of the last turn.

“He’s a very smart horse. He’s a little excited at the same time. You have to manage him,” said Svanstedt’s wife, Sarah. “You have to have him on a helmet. In the race, as soon as the race is on, then he’s fully into it.”

The performance was a fitting encore to Ecurie D’s introduction to racing in the United States. After a winning qualifier in late September in New Jersey, the veteran trotter lined up behind the gate in the $136,000 Allerage Farms at The Red Mile on Kentucky Futurity day. He wired the field for the trainer, winning by more than two lengths in 1:50.4. After triumphs in 15 of 21 European starts, the partnership sent Ecurie D to the Svanstedt Stable in hopes of contesting several fall stakes events. The plan did not work out as expected.

“It took longer than it was supposed to be for this year. He raced in the Elitlopp and it changed the plan… and then having to do this almost two-month quarantine,” Sarah said.

Therein lies the challenge of targeting the Breeders Crown for many Europeans, and the reason more horses have not crossed the ocean to participate in our biggest events. By aiming for the fall championships, it requires some sacrifice at home when mapping out a horse’s campaign.

“If you bring them over, they can start up in the spring, but when you have races there early in the spring that you want to be a part of, too, it’s difficult, especially for a stallion,” said Sarah. “The fillies, it might not be that long… but they knew that Breeders Crown was his main goal to have him ready for it.”

While the connections were not able to drop Ecurie D into other stakes they had circled on the calendar, the plan for the Breeders Crown remained intact, and they paid the handsome supplement of $62,500 to compete. Sarah Svanstedt admits that when the stallion arrived in their barn, they had no previous exposure to the winner of more than $400,000 in overseas purses.

“No, but the owner we’ve known for a long time. They said they had an idea to bring him over and try to bring him to stud… to show him,” she said. “He has been gorgeous since day one. He has been outstanding.”

If the objective was to showcase Ecurie D as a promising stud, the international star has certainly done his part. In two starts, the trotter has banked $393,000 for his connections. With Saturday’s victory, he adds his name to a select list of European horses that have won Breeders Crown events. He joins Varenne (2001), Equinox Bi (2007), Commander Crowe (2014) and Bold Eagle (2019) as Open Trot champions.

Ecurie D’s victory was one piece of a very big day for Ake, who had previously struggled to reach the winner’s circle in Breeders Crown Championships. Winless in 36 prior attempts, he broke through with Felicityshagwell S in the $300,000 Championship for pacing mares before doubling up with Ecurie D, who returned $3,00-$2.40-$2.10.

“Yeah, I know. And no rain! I was, like, ‘Oh God, no rain’ because we don’t do too great in rain… so it was like another mission of not having another Breeders Crown,” Sarah said. “So I was up early and I looked on the phone and they should’ve had a camera on my face… I was, like, ‘No rain?’ and I was re-doing the app like three times because I didn’t know what I was seeing.”

With his Breeders Crown schneid in the rearview mirror, Ake’s focus now turns to the TVG final. Should he win there, Ecurie D would force an interesting discussion. With only a three-race sample size, could the 5-year-old warrant divisional honors? So far, he is making a compelling argument.