'Marauder' Eyes Another Big M Conquest

Published: August 6, 2020 06:58 pm EDT

While the focus of the industry will be on the $1 million Hambletonian this Saturday at The Meadowlands, the most prestigious afternoon in harness racing boasts an impressive undercard featuring most of the sport's biggest names and brightest stars.

One such race on the Hambletonian undercard is the $291,350 John Cashman Memorial Free-For-All for older trotters. Originally carded with three former Hambletonian winners, the scratch of 2019 champ Forbidden Trade has reduced that number to two -- 2018 victress Atlanta and 2016 Hambletonian conqueror Marion Marauder, who comes into the race off of a new 1:50.2 lifetime mark at the age of seven.  Is it possible that Marion Marauder is as good as he was on the day of his biggest win four years ago?

“He really hasn’t changed too much,” noted Mike Keeling, who shares training duties of the revered horse with partner Paula Wellwood. “If anything I would say the style of racing is what changed -- when he can stay close to them he can go with the best, the speed has always been there but his signature move has always been to chase them down and now racing has become such a sprint that he has to get involved earlier.”

Despite a winless 2019 season, Keeling and the connections -- son Devin and mother-in-law Jean Wellwood -- continue to have faith in the trotter that gave them all the thrill of a lifetime in 2016 when Marion Marauder won the Hambletonian en route to capturing trotting's Triple Crown. 

“He is an incredible animal, he really is. We have always said that if we didn’t think that he could compete against the best of the best that we would retire him,”  Keeling told Trot Insider. “Last year was a frustrating year but he still was competitive with all the horses he was racing against and because of that we didn’t think we were overreaching by bringing him back this year. There is always that concern that maybe you’ve worn out your welcome but I think he still has a couple of tricks left up his sleeve.”

With $3.5 million-plus in the bank -- more than any other active Standardbred -- and 21 trips to the winner's circle, Marion Marauder has clearly been managed well by his training team. And while it’s quite easy to give Team Keelwood all the credit, Keeling quickly deferred some of that praise to the horse himself.

“He is a very smart horse, he takes care of himself and I think the most important thing is that we own him ourselves so we can manage how we please and there are no outside influences or pressures to do something certain with him -- there’s no one to tell us we’re doing something wrong,” said Keeling. “We get to go with our instincts and we get to go by how he is feeling. It really is nice to have that freedom.”

The long-time trainer also weighed in on his thoughts on the Hambletonian returning to racing with eliminations in 2020 instead of the heat races that have been most commonly carded for those seeking harness racing's holy grail.

“I’m a traditionalist, I like the heats and I think heat racing is a true testament of racing. But, I understand that racing has changed and the game is different now but I think that history has shown that these top athletes can handle it.”

While Keeling will have to enjoy Hambo Day from Canada, he is also looking forward to the undercard for a variety of personal and professional reasons.

“Our filly Dip Me Hanover is in the Continentalvictory (Race 4) and it’s always exciting to see her race. I always enjoy watching the two-year-olds in the Jim Doherty and the Peter Haughton. I really and truly just enjoy watching all the races that day because it truly is the greatest day in harness racing -- if you have a horse racing on Hambo Day, you’re in the upper echelon of harness racing for sure. But of all the races, Marauder’s race is obviously the one I am most excited to watch.”

A winner of the Cashman in 2018 when it was contested at 1-1/8 miles, Marion Marauder is listed as the fourth choice in the 2020 Cashman at 6-1, with Gimpanzee (Brian Sears, PP7, 2-1), Atlanta (Yannick Gingras, PP2, 3-1) and Guardian Angel AS (Tim Tetrick, PP4, 5-1) expected to provide the main competition.

The $291,350 John Cashman Memorial, carded as race 10 on Saturday's blockbuster card at The Meadowlands, will go off at approximately 4 p.m. Eastern. The complete field reads as follows:

1. Marseille (Åke Svanstedt, 20)
2. Atlanta (Yannick Gingras, 3)
3. Marion Marauder (Scott Zeron, 6)
4. Guardian Angel AS (Tim Tetrick, 5)
5. Soul Strong (Dexter Dunn, 15)
6. Lindy The Great (Andy Miller, 10)
7. Gimpanzee (Brian Sears, 2)
8. Dont Letem (Jimmy Takter, 8)
9. Run Director (David Miller, 15)
10. Pikachu Hanover (Corey Callahan, 15)
11. Crystal Fashion (Jordan Stratton, 15)

In addition to the $1,000,000 Hambletonian and the $284,200 John Cashman, the Saturday card also features the $600,000 Hambletonian Oaks, $273,125 Cane Pace, $90,525 Shady Daisy, $229,660 Sam McKee, $177,100 Lady Liberty, $166,550 John Steele, $339,000 Peter Haughton and $350,300 Jim Doherty.

To view program pages for Saturday's card, click the following link: 2020 Hambletonian Day Program Pages.

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