Ake Svanstedt moved by Trainer of the Year honor

Ten years after moving to the United States, the award is a strong indication that he has been approved by the North American harness racing industry.

by Debbie Little

Trainer Ake Svanstedt had an impressive resume prior to moving to the U.S. in 2014.

In his home country of Sweden, Svanstedt was honored five times as Trainer of the Year, three times as Driver of the Year, and in 2017, he was inducted into Sweden’s Trotting Hall of Fame.

So, when the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA) chose him as the 2023 Glen Garnsey Trainer of the Year, it could have been old hat, but according to his wife, Sarah, she saw on his face that this was not just another trophy for the mantle.

“He was actually sentimental,” Sarah said of the moment her husband was contacted by USHWA.

Sarah has worked alongside Ake for 20 years — married for the last 14 — as his right-hand person and partner in the Svanstedt Stable.

“America has always been open for everyone but [receiving an award like this], you feel like you’re approved, that you have done well, and people appreciate the result and the work and the effort,” she said. “You feel like people like what you have done. So, it’s nice because, I mean, it’s a lot of work behind this.”

When the Svanstedts moved here 10 years ago, their two boys were just babies and now Erik will be 13 in March, and Jonas just turned 11.

According to Sarah, their busy lifestyle, especially during Grand Circuit season, has not always been easy on their sons, but Erik and Jonas are at an age now where, at least they can understand why it’s all happening.

“So, they’re going to come with us to [the Dan Patch banquet] and I said, ‘Now you’re going to see why we are flying around every day in the summer and really not around too much and why we’re doing it,’” Sarah said.

In 2023, as a trainer, Ake racked up the most wins (162) and money ($9,854,369) of his career since moving to North America with a UTRS of .419. It was the same for him on the driving end with 92 wins, $5,829,463 in earnings and a UDRS of .455.

President and chief executive officer of The Meadowlands, Jeff Gural, jumped on the Team Svanstedt bandwagon early and the bond between Gural and the Svanstedts started growing long before their filly named Bond won the 2023 Breeders Crown 3-year-old filly trot.

“Last year was an amazing year,” Gural said. “Ten out of the, I think 12 or 13 horses that he trained, that I owned a piece of, were stakes winners, and I think nine of them won over $100,000 and two of them won Breeders Crowns.

“Anyone who knows the yearling game knows having 10 stakes winners out of, maybe 13 horses, is almost impossible. On the other hand, maybe I’m his good luck charm.”

Gural remembers meeting Ake at the sale in Lexington, because Ake bought a horse that Gural had bred.

“I told him, ‘Gee, I appreciate you buying the horse, I’ll take 25 per cent,’ and that’s how we met,” Gural said.

According to Gural, both Per Eriksson and Jimmy Takter highly recommended Ake.

Gural said he felt like he was getting in on the ground floor with Ake, which was a big advantage, since most people in North America at that time didn’t know what a great trainer Ake was.

“The perception I had [back then] was when you wanted to hook up with Takter or some of the other top trainers, you were at a disadvantage because the horses they were buying, they would offer to their regular clients first, then you would end up getting whatever is left over,” Gural said. “So, having an opportunity to start over with someone who had no clients I thought was a good thing. And the two people I knew from Sweden recommended him.”

In addition to racing horses, Gural and the Svanstedts are also partners in the breeding business.

“He’s a great mentor, too,” Sarah said of Gural. “I mean, he has so much experience with people and the business, so I really enjoy having him around.”

In more than one post-race interview, Gural has taken the opportunity to praise both Ake and Sarah.

Among their many victories, the Svanstedt Stable won four Breeders Crowns — two with Gural: Bond and Warrawee Michelle — and 11 John Simpson, Sr. Memorial stakes races.

“So that’s an amazing accomplishment that I don’t think anyone’s ever come close to where you have a stake for 2- and 3-year-olds and every horse you enter wins,” said Gural about the Simpson stakes at Pocono. “That was pretty amazing.

“I told Sarah, you know, it’s going to be tough to duplicate the kind of year we had, but we’ll see. We had some good 2-year-olds.”

Sarah said she is proud of everything that their stable has accomplished since coming to U.S. and couldn’t be prouder of the job her husband does.

“He is a tremendous horseman,” she said. “Some people really have gifts and I really believe he has a gift with horses.

“He’s easy to work with and I think he likes to teach what he’s doing to others. He’s a very talented man.”

The Svanstedts style of training definitely reflects what they grew up with in Sweden and always puts the horse first. As a result, Sarah says the condition of the track, especially how much water is on it, is very important.

“Sarah is a lot of fun,” Gural said. “I kid her that she drives everybody crazy with the watering of the track.

“So, she was constantly texting me, ‘Get on the phone and tell your crew they’ve got to put more water on the track.’ And then every once in a while, she’ll say “Track was perfect.’ So, I’ll send [my crew] a message, ‘The track is perfect.’”

In an effort to make sure there is enough water on the track, Sarah said that the Svanstedt Stable did a sponsorship putting their logo on the water truck hoping that it would encourage the crew to water when necessary. And although it’s not exactly seen as a quid pro quo, Gural did say that Sarah made him a promise.

“Sarah promised me that she would find me a Hambletonian winner before I leave this world, so, I told her that she’s not under any pressure because right now there’s two great 2-year-old trotters [Karl and T C I], that I would expect would be tough to beat [this year].

“But luckily most of my good 2-year-olds are fillies, so I have a better chance of winning the Oaks, I think. But you never know what can happen. But she did promise that I’ll win the Hambletonian before it’s all said and done, so, in return, I make sure they put enough water on the track.”