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Melander On Gimpanzee, Stable Stars

Published: February 8, 2021 10:40 am ET

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Since starting his stable in 2014, Marcus Melander’s stock has taken off, aided by many talented trotters including his recently retired champion Gimpanzee alongside other horses waiting in the wings to return to the racetrack in 2021.

Gimpanzee, a now five-year-old son of Chapter Seven-Steamy Windows, wrapped his racing career with a 1:51.3 victory in the $500,000 Breeders Crown final before transitioning into his life as a stud, standing in Kentucky as part of moves by breeders to revitalize the burgeoning breeding program in the state.

“He was sharp all from the start, and all through the season,” Melander told Trot Insider. “He was just an amazing racehorse. He was so easy on himself, always been a very sound horse of course. Nathalie [Norlander] had been taking great care of him over these last four years. The horse himself, he’s got great conformation; he stands good and all that. That’s very important, too. Then of course our training and everything, it worked out for him. To keep him sound all these years that he’s been racing because he really raced against tough horses every year.”

From 34 starts, Gimpanzee won on 25 occasions and banked $2,792,478 for owners Courant Inc. and SRF Stable. The stallion went undefeated as a two-year-old and became one of five trotters in history to win three Breeders Crown trophies alongside collecting other trophies in the Yonkers Trot, Matron, New York Sire Stakes, Hambletonian Maturity and John Cashman Memorial. As a three-year-old, Gimpanzee fell into the shadow of his stablemate Greenshoe -- part of a three-pronged Melander charge along with Green Manalishi S.

“That’s going to take a long time until I get three of those horses again,” Melander said of his 2019 three-year-olds. “I mean they were just amazing horses all of them, even if Gimpanzee and Greenshoe stood out a little bit of those three. As far as Greenshoe and Gimpanzee, they were two horses that are once-in-a-lifetime horses—and I got two of them in the same year. I was very happy that we raced Gimpanzee another year at four. He really showed that he’s a great horse. I mean he dominated the four-year-old races, then stepped up even against aged horses and he won the Breeders Crown, the Cashman and the Caesars at Hoosier. He was just an amazing horse.”

Melander now readies for 2021 with a stable of many familiar faces including the filly Iteration, who is a full sister to Gimpanzee. That filly recovered from a break at the start in the $225,000 New York Sire Stakes Final to win over a half in 1:59 and claimed victory on the Grand Circuit in the $221,000 Kentuckiana Stakes and a $76,750 International Stallion Stake division before ending the season with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders Crown.

“They’re not so similar actually,” Melander said of the Steamy Windows siblings. “Even if she made a lot of money last year, she was a little bit immature. He was just the absolute perfect gentleman from day one. She’s got the talent that he had of course early but is a little bit more immature in the races. She didn’t really know what was going on...sometimes she got a little bit grabby for Brian [Sears]. She’s also a very nice horse [and] will probably step up at three. I expect a good season for her. The only bad race she was racing was in the Breeders Crown final; she came a first-over trip there, and she probably wasn’t at her best. But she’s a really nice horse and I expect a lot from her.”

Hypnotic AM is also slated to hit the track in the 2021 on the heels of a season where she crossed the million-dollar plateau. The now four-year-old daughter of Chapter Seven-Daydream AM S had a solid sophomore season that included a second in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, fourth in the $500,000 Breeders Crown final before being scratched sick from the $163,050 Matron. Nonetheless, the filly banked nearly $700,000 while competing against fillies Ramona Hill and Sorella, both of whom are also coming back to race this year.

“She’s training right now, and I’m very happy with how she feels,” Melander said. “I’m very excited to bring her back. You know she’s a horse who never really threw in a bad race either. I mean she disappointed once, that was just by the wire in the Breeders Crown. But she always does her best. We’ve got the Graduate and the Hambletonian Maturity, but it’s a good group of fillies coming back too with Ramona Hill, Sorella and then of course you have Manchego and Atlanta. It’s not an easy group. She has to step up a little bit too, but I think she can. She’s just been a great racehorse.”

The year for Hypnotic AM and most of Melander’s stable came to a sudden halt in 2020 with his whole barn falling ill after the Breeders Crown. Sickness also delayed Melander’s plan for Damien, a Muscle Hill-Danae colt that sold for $1,000,000 at the 2019 Lexington Selected Sale. Melander noted that Damien “felt like he didn’t have that speed he needed” when qualifying at the end of July and made the decision to keep the colt in development.

“We were supposed to qualify him when we got back from the Breeders Crown and maybe make one or two starts just to get some experience in him, but my whole barn actually got very sick after we came home from Hoosier,” Melander said. “We were pretty lucky that it didn’t happen the week before the Breeders Crown. I had to scratch horses from the Matron and the Kindergarten final. All my two-year-olds, three-year-olds, they all got sick. He’s training great right now; he’ll probably qualify at the beginning of April, so we could get a couple of qualifier starts before the Sires Stakes in May.

“I still think he’s a great horse, he feels like a great horse,” Melander continued. “He just wasn’t mature enough that early that he [would have been] ready to race as a two-year-old. I definitely think he’ll come back now at three. He feels more mature when you drive him and train him, and just [with] how he’s filled out over the winter months. And we still have a couple months before we have to bring him to the Meadowlands and qualify him.”

Damien is one of two high-profile Melander freshmen coming back as a three-year-old. His other, In Range, proved a surprising success for Melander through 2020 with $411,003 earned from 10 starts including runner-up finishes in the $253,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Championship (to Captain Corey) and in the $600,000 Breeders Crown Final (to On A Streak).

“He’s filled out real nicely,” Melander said. “He got some time off after the Breeders Crown. He really surprised me last year; I didn’t think he was as good as he was. He’s definitely a horse that I have high hopes on for this year. We’re probably going to start out a bit in Pennsylvania and see how it goes. He really showed when he raced against those Grand Circuit horses that he was one of the best.

“When we staked him, we staked him to Pennsylvania...he didn’t have so many stakes races at The Meadowlands because he was a Bar Hopping, and they were ineligible for Meadowlands races,” stated Melander. “So we staked him to Pennsylvania, Lexington and the Breeders Crown. It’s a good program, four legs of the Sires Stakes and a final [plus] the PA All-Stars, and the two weeks at’s more than enough starts, nine or 10 starts. He felt like an okay horse when we trained him down. Absolutely nothing wrong with him, but it wasn’t until we brought him to The Meadowlands for the first time that we felt he could be something extra.

“I would’ve loved to go to Canada and race, but this last year we couldn’t do it. Hopefully we can do it this year because I really like going up there; we stake a lot of horses up there. I had a couple up there, but it’s hard when you can’t go yourself and want to have everything right.”

The last few years for Marcus Melander’s barn have been fruitful and fueled the Sweden native’s meteoric rise to the top-training ranks of the sport, to which Melander gives a lot of credit to those willing to invest into him.

“I’m very fortunate and have great owners that can buy a lot of nice yearlings for me every year,” Melander said. “Then we just have to develop them of course. It’s just not that easy to buy the most expensive horse at the sale and it’s going to be the best one...of course we have to develop them the right way. But of course it helps to have great owners that can buy those horses that you want when you’re at the sale, or recommend those horses. I have some really nice two-year-olds here and some nice three-year-olds now coming back from last year.”

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