Rime of the ancient ‘Mariner’

The racing career of the 15-year-old warrior Mariner Seelster will be coming to an end soon, but what an ending it has been.

by Debbie Little

As a 15-year-old, Mariner Seelster could be considered ancient when it comes to racing, but unlike the famous Coleridge poem, the only “crime” the gelded son of Camluck—M T Freedom has committed is winning.

Mariner Seelster, who has won four of his six starts this year, including four straight, competes in the Meadowlands Amateur Driving Club (MADC) races, since — according to United States Trotting Association rule 9.07 — 15-year-olds can only compete in “matinees, county fair races, races exclusively for amateur or club drivers as sanctioned by USTA, or non-betting racing under saddle events.”

In a way, the albatross this ‘Mariner’ bears is the earnings cap that the MADC put in place to protect horses of his age.

The MADC rule states: “15-year-old horses are limited to maximum purse earnings of $25,000 during their 15-year-old year after which they are no longer eligible to race.”

To their credit, the MADC wants to protect their older competitors.

David Glasser, a member of the MADC, spoke with HRU back in 2022 when these rules were first introduced and again now to explain their thought process.

“We discussed $20,000, and also $25,000,” Glasser said. ”The representative of the trainers was Stacy Chiodo, who had Rock To Glory turning 15 the next year and we [Stacy, Scott Warren, representation from the State Vet and me] came up with what we thought was a good way to protect the 15-year-olds from bouncing from barn to barn at this age.

“If they could race like 14-year-olds, and race pro and at any track, they could get claimed constantly and that’s something we wanted to discourage. So, with a MADC claim tag of $12,500 combined with a maximum you could earn of $25,000, we thought this would deter that, and it has. If Mariner could race all year, and anywhere, he’d have changed barns many times by now, because when a horse is claimed in an MADC race, you have to tag next start if staying in MADC and we don’t want this for these 15-year-old horses.”

Mariner Seelster is owned by Fiddler’s Creek Stables LLC, Alexander Racing Stable LLC, D’Elegance Stable IX and T L P Stable and trained by Travis Alexander and driven by 2022 Amateur Driver of the Year, Tony Beltrami, and is competing on Saturday (April 6) in race 1, following a fourth-place finish last week.

Alexander and his wife, Alaina, have liked Mariner Seelster from the time he was a baby.

“We tried to buy him as a yearling and we were the under bidders [at the sale],” Travis said.

Mark Ford trained Mariner Seelster for the majority of his career, but in late 2021, Travis finally got the chance to train him and became co-owner in 2022.

The horse is special to the Alexanders, especially Alaina.

“That’s why I always claim him back, because my wife is very fond of him,” Travis said. “I don’t want to call him a pet because he’s not really a pet, but she has her select few that she looks after a little bit and he’s one of them.”

As a 14-year-old, at the end of 2023, Mariner Seelster was a little over $5,000 away from hitting $1 million for his career and had he won his last race, rather than finishing second, he would have hit the mark. Being less than $2,500 away from the million-dollar plateau, the Alexanders decided to race Mariner with the amateurs at The Meadowlands. After finishing eighth in his first start, Mariner picked up Beltrami as his driver and things just clicked with the pair rattling off four-straight wins.

“That happens sometimes,” Beltrami said of his connection with Mariner Seelster. “It happened with Dream Out Loud as well. It’s nice when you can communicate with one through the lines like that.”

Even though his time driving Mariner Seelster is coming to an end, Beltrami appreciates what they have shared.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “He’s definitely the nicest horse I’ve sat behind.”

The Alexanders have not been able to be at The Meadowlands for Mariner Seelster’s last two races because their flights from Florida were delayed. However, this week should be different.

“He gets another kick at the can and Alaina will be there,” Travis said. “The win would have been nice [last week] but he waited for her.”

Travis hopes to join his wife but has several horses racing that same day in the Weiss at Pocono Downs, including the last race on the card, so it may not be possible.

Whether Mariner Seelster wins or loses on Saturday, he will eventually pass $25,000 for the year.

“I’m just glad he got over [a million dollars],” Travis said. “He deserved it. He’s raced hard and long and he loves his job. If he didn’t love his job, we wouldn’t be racing him, but he’s as happy as any horse we have right now. And he’s so sound, he’s one of the soundest horses in the barn.

“He’s always going to have a spot with us. We have a couple of retirees out at Blue Chip, but I don’t think Mariner would like that life right now. I think he would like another job just like Stacy’s horse. Just something else to do for a while.”

Chiodo retired 15-year-old Rock To Glory in 2023 after he also passed $1 million in earnings. However, “Rocky” didn’t like being retired, so he is now in his new career as a riding horse (story here).

According to Travis, Mariner Seelster has also been ridden and he could still race him in another state in amateur races that don’t have the $25,000 cap.

“I can’t see sending him down to someone else and being able to sleep in my bed at night. I’d be in the garage,” Travis said with a laugh.