The 2016 season was most definitely a career year for driver Scott Zeron, whose campaign included harness racing history and a handful of milestone moments.
At the age of 27, Zeron became the youngest driver to win a Triple Crown when Marion Marauder got up in the final strides to win the 2016 Kentucky Futurity this past October. After winning the Hambletonian in August and the Yonkers Trot in September, Marion Marauder's connections had to pay a supplemental entry fee to enter the third jewel of trotting's Triple Crown. That race wasn't on the radar for Marion Marauder, even after his Yonkers Trot win gave him two-thirds of the elusive title.
"All throughout the year I was told, we had always spoke about it -- Paula [Wellwood] and Mike Keeling and I -- and they never had any intentions on doing the Futurity," Zeron told Meadowlands' Bob Heyden. "Even after the Yonkers Trot, to be eligible for this Triple Crown they had to supplement and their intentions were to not do it. They were focused on the Breeders Crown. Thank the lord they supplemented, it turned out to be an amazing day and a huge career boost for me."
After chasing divisional champion Southwind Frank throughout the 2015 season as a two-year-old, Zeron knew his horse was a standout but didn't expect that level of consistently dominant performance from Marion Marauder as a sophomore.
"Heading into this year, Southwind Frank was so dominant as a two-year-old...it was tough to be confident we could dominate the way we did but at the same time I knew I had that kind of horse and he delivered throughout the year."
Marion Marauder started delivering early with wins in the Goodtimes at Mohawk Racetrack and back-to-back scores at The Meadowlands before the Hambletonian. But that first Saturday in August was the first time he faced Southwind Frank in 2016.
"In the elimination I was hoping to be really competitive at the wire," admitted Zeron. "You didn't have to win the elimination to win the final but at the same time I wanted to win and prove that I could beat Southwind Frank."
After vanquishing his rival in the elimination, the stage was set for the $1 million final later that afternoon with fellow elim winner Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank both drawing to the inside of Zeron and Marion Marauder. As thrilling as the elimination shaped up to be, the Hambletonian final took that drama and tension to another level.
"Down the stretch all I was just thinking was 'oh my good lord, where is this wire?' You know, if felt to me like I maintained that lead...when I cleared Bar Hopping, I had that lead and I could see Frank come up the inside of Timmy, which I was surprised he had the room to do it, but at the time I felt like I was the one who had that lead...the Hambo was in my sights, it was mine to give up and it turned out down the lane to be a hell of a race. I didn't know when I crossed the wire that I won."
The Hambletonian win capped off a spectacular day for Zeron, who enjoyed a U.S. Pacing Championship win with his father Rick's pacer Shamballa over superstars Always B Miki, Freaky Feet Pete and Wiggle It Jiggleit in between the Hambo heats.
"I was confident heading into that race just based on the trip I felt I was going to get," commented Zeron. "You know, everyone talked about those three horses and it felt like if I could just get Freaky Feet Pete leaving in front of me that I would have a for-sure second-over trip and it just turned out everything worked out perfect. Miki was run hard to make the lead and then when Freaky Feet [Pete] came first up he came as hard as he could so everything was just a nice tempo for my horse but a lot of people don't know my horse paced the last three-quarters in 1:18.3 so it wasn't that easy of a trip but heading around that last turn all I was thinking was, you know, he's in the right spot, he feels good, I just need him to deliver down the lane and he did.
"The whole thing was special; I had the momentum of winning the Hambo elimination right before that and, you know, you just get that momentum and everything builds up. I got that perfect trip and Shamballa came through, and then I headed into the Hambo the next one. It was just a great day overall."
That day also clinched the Meadowlands' driving title for Zeron, whose 2016 campaign currently boasts 303 wins and more than $9 million in purses -- a career high. His numbers are sure to garner him consideration for U.S. driver of the year honours.
"I could say that it would be a dream come true but I never dreamed that I'd be even eligible for something like that," noted Zeron. "I was nominated three times for the O'Brien Award -- I was nominated consecutively -- and I didn't win all three so award ceremonies aren't my expertise but to be even in the league of Yannick [Gingras], David [Miller], Timmy [Tetrick], [Brian] Sears, it's quite amazing and to think the one I'd be going against was David, throughout the conversations this year, I thought he had an amazing year last year and he had an even better year this year so I'm going against an amazing guy in David...I just hope my resume and record this year is up to par."
Zeron will be concentrating his efforts on Yonkers Raceway for the Winter months, likely returning to the Meadowlands around April when "some of the older horses start coming back, and younger ones as well.
"We'll see how it plays out but I feel like I want to go over there for the five-day a week meet."
The interview also touches on Zeron's first Breeders Crown win with Call Me Queen Be and how important it was to have a driver like Doug McNair in the WEG driving colony during his years in Canada. To listen to and watch the full video, click the play button below.