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A Million-To-One Shot to Hit the Cover of Trot

Trot Feature - Marvtherat

Born a twin who weighed less than 30 lbs, and whose sibling had died before the breeders even knew that another foal was about to emerge...

...Marvtherat was so small that he couldn’t even break through the placenta. Seven years later, and still trying his best to overcome the obstacles of life, the Manitoba homebred simply continues to persevere for the breeders/owners that see him as a champion regardless of how things unfold from here. By Chris Lomon

Born a twin, whose sibling had already died, and too small to even break through the placenta on his own, Marvtherat has fought adversity his entire life. Now a seven-year-old, who could only muster five wins in five years of racing on the Manitoba Fair Circuit, the homebred headed to B.C. where he was involved in a bad racing accident in just his second start there. What did Marv do next? He persevered, yet again.

Some racehorses earn small fortunes. Others even gain the fame that comes with reaching the pinnacle of the sport. A select few actually find their way to the Hall of Fame. Marvtherat is none of those. But it doesn't make his story any less riveting.

The legendary champion Somebeachsomewhere, he is not. Not in any conceivable way. So, what exactly is the diminutive seven-year-old pacer from Manitoba?

For Cory Manning, the man who bred and owns him, the bay gelding that's put just under $25,000 in his coffers is as good as gold.

"Everyone loves the story of a survivor," started the cattle farmer and owner of 18 standardbreds. "And what's what this story is all about."

Out of the mare Patriotic Queen (p,3,1:58.3h; $10,529), that Manning purchased for $500 at Carson's Auctions in Listowel, Ontario, and by Manning's own sire, One Big Buster (p,3,1:51.4s; $161,254), Marv isn't exactly from breeding royalty. And how life began for Marvtherat, on the day of May 15, 2012 is a story in itself, a tale that Manning recalls as though it had happened this morning.

Driving home a mere 378 kilometres, from some harness racing in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, to his farm in Belmont, Manitoba, a town of roughly 700 people that sits about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg and 90 kilometres south of Brandon, Cory and his wife, Deanna, called their daughter, Chelsy, to check in on Patriotic Queen, their mare-in-foal.

"We were on our way back and I got my daughter to go check on Queenie," recalled Cory. "She had given birth to a colt," Chelsy let them know, "but it had died. I told her we'd be there as fast as we could. When we pulled into our laneway - it's about a half-mile long - I could see the mare lying down. I jumped out of the truck and she was delivering another foal. He was still in the placenta, so I had to break it open [the colt was too small to even do that]. If I hadn't been right there, he wouldn't have been able to take two breaths… he would have suffocated and died right there."

The drama wasn't anywhere near over.

"This little guy couldn't stand up at all," he continued. "I picked him up and kept him warm. I milked some colostrum out of the mare and I gave it to him through a tube. He had a little drink, but he wasn't much for suckling. He was very weak. My wife held him and got him to take the bottle, just comforting him, making sure he was okay. We did that for the first 10-12 hours. Basically, he couldn't stand on his own for the first two days."

"I remember putting the mare and colt in the barn and this little colt was so weak," said Deanna. "I was thinking that he wasn't even going to make it and he would die. He wasn't any bigger than our Australian Shepherd dog."

An idea, part intuition, part ingenuity, came to Cory.

He headed to the barn and quickly got to work on his plan.

"I grabbed a mat, rigged up a little contraption, and I put bungee supports on it so his legs would fit through there," recalled Cory. "I actually had it suspended from the barn roof. I'm going to say he was 30 pounds max when he was born. But he was a fighter."

"It wasn't until a few weeks had passed that he was finally able to get up on his own, even though he was still a little wobbly on his legs, he would eventually get to the mare for his feeding," said Deanna. "He definitely showed his will and determination."

The Mannings felt the scrappy youngster needed a catchy name.

"A friend of mine from Sudbury, Marvin Frank, he stopped by the farm here for a visit when the horse was just a young thing," remembered Cory. "It was over a few beers when I told him I was trying to come up with a name for this colt. I said that he's a bit of rat. With Marvin, when it comes to his vocabulary about racing, everything typically ends with the word rat. 'This rat, that rat' - that's what he usually says. So I looked at him and said, 'I'm going to name this horse, Marvtherat."

Over the next year and a half, Cory would often think to himself, 'What if Marv was able to take that fighting spirit to the racetrack?'

At the age of two, on July 5, 2014, over a half-mile track in Miami, Manitoba, Marvtherat had his first qualifier on a hot, hazy and humid, 31 degree morning. He was timed in 2:17.3, fourth at the wire. His last ¼ mile, paced in :33 seconds flat, was his fastest split of the mile.

Seven days later, with Cory once again in the bike, Marvtherat lined up behind the gate at Glenboro, another half-mile Manitoba track. Sent off just shy of 6/1, in his first pari-mutuel start, he finished fifth, 18 ½ lengths behind the winner. But his time had dropped down to 2:11.1.

The horseman received $60 for the performance.

But it's never been about money when it comes to Marvtherat.

"He was a hard little guy to get to learn the ropes," offered Cory. "I just took my time with him. It was a little education and him eventually understanding it all. The big thing is, I know a lot of people wouldn't have given him the opportunity. Him being a homebred, and myself being proud to be from Manitoba, I didn't give up on him."

It made the bay's win, which came one year less a day after his first race, that much sweeter.

At Glenboro, a 25-minute drive from Belmont, Marvtherat and Cory teamed for a 1 ¾ length score, netting half of the $1,200 purse. The time of the mile was 2:06.4.

But that hasn't been the only memorable moment for the duo over the years.

During Marvtherat's three-year-old season in 2015, Cory entertained the notion of how his pacer might fair beyond the fair circuit of Manitoba.

He ultimately decided against it. Deanna saw it differently.

"I was taking a few horses out to Alberta to stay at the Olds Training Centre there," said Cory. "He wasn't on the list to go with me because I didn't think he was good enough to compete out there. But my wife said that Marv needed a holiday. Basically, I wasn't leaving unless Marv was going with me."

So off they went.

Their foray into Alberta didn't yield anything of note. A third-place result, in an $8,000 claiming/conditioned event, at Northlands Park, was their best performance from 12 starts. That day, he paced his mile in 2:00.1.

The lack of success on that trip didn't deter them from returning to Alberta again, however. After sticking to the Manitoba Fair Circuit in 2016, where they went winless in 11 starts, the pair headed to Century Downs in Calgary, to kick off their 2017 season. Seven starts at Century would net them a pair of 2nd-place finishes this time, and a fastest mile of 1:57.2, but by August Marv returned to Manitoba, and in six more starts there, he finished up his five-year-old year with a 2:04.1 victory at Miami.

After beginning the 2018 season in Manitoba as well, it was back to Alberta once again, but on this occasion, Cory, who also owns the stallion Lambretta, a son of Bettors Delight that stands in Alberta, handed the reins over to Garry Schedlosky, a longtime friend, and now Marv's new trainer/driver.

"Their first start together was from post eight at Century Downs - I had realized Marv does his best racing from the off the pace - and Garry sends him out of there like he was driving Albatross," Cory said with a laugh. "They ended up a well-beaten seventh. We talked after and I told him that's not the way he likes to race. I told Garry we were probably going to bring him home. He said, 'No, no. I'm thinking about eventually heading to Fraser Downs (British Columbia) and I think Marv should go.' I told Garry that Marv could have a ticket to Fraser, but he's got to pay his way before that happens.

"In the next race, at Century Downs, on December 16, they actually went wire-to-wire and won at 13/1. I told him he had a ticket to go there [B.C.] now."

This time, it wasn't the competition that concerned Cory and Deanna. They were confident that Marvtherat would be up for the challenge of racing at Fraser. As for actually making the nearly 10-hour trek to Fraser Downs, through the mountains, they weren't nearly as convinced.

"Garry has an old rig, a 1993 Chevy truck, and a trailer that's even older," he said. "I know a lot of horsemen around Century Downs had side bets that they wouldn't make it through the mountains out in B.C. And my wife was very concerned. But they made it. And we were happy that he [Garry] and Marv would get their shot."

And the tip now, for Schedlosky? Keep Marvtherat's stall locked.

"We've come to learn that Marv's a little bit of a character," offered Cory. "He likes to get out of his stall. I told him we always lock the door, and then we heard that he's been out of his stall a couple of times at Century and once at Fraser too. He didn't harm himself or anyone else. He just likes to go and visit other horses."

In his first race at Fraser, two days before Christmas, Marvtherat finished second, despite being dismissed at 49/1 on the tote board.

"He has no stop," said Schedlosky. "He's a little guy with a big heart. He can be tough to deal with when it comes to training, but when it comes time to race, he always does his job. One day, he'll run out of conditions, but until then, we're going to go out there and give it our best."

Next time out, on December 28, Marvtherat appeared to be on his way to victory. So much so, in fact, that Cory, over 2,000 kilometres away, watching the races on a computer, "started counting my money."

Then, in a split second, Cory and Deanna watched in horror as Marvtherat and Schedlosky both tumbled hard onto the sloppy racetrack.

The odds-on favourite, Working Class Hero, had tipped out from the pocket down the backstretch for driver Rod Therres and confronted leader JK Pure Gold, with Marvtherat in third and making a three-wide bid. Working Class Hero broke stride in the final turn causing interference to Marvtherat, unseating Schedlosky, who got up quickly under his own power, and sending Marv to the track in a heap.

Schedlosky jumped into the starting gate, while Marvtherat got back up, and was eventually corralled by the outrider.

"I didn't have a lot of contacts out there, but I did find out how things were after the race," Cory recalled. "I spoke to Garry eventually, and he said not to worry, that Marv is standing in his stall, and he's doing great. When I asked how Garry made out, he told me, 'I just got knocked off and did the Western roll.' It was awful when I watched the race. They got flattened. But that's part of racing luck. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don't. That night, we didn't."

Four races later, they did.

On January 25, Marvtherat and Schedlosky rallied from fourth to win by 1 ¾ lengths. It was the biggest payday, $2,400, of the horse's career, and his winning time of 1:56.4 was also a career best.

Cory is quick to downplay both the money and the lifetime speed mark, but he's very proud, in an understated way, of both accomplishments.

But neither has any bearing on the bond between a family and a horse.

"What makes his story so inspirational to me is that he never gave up his will to live, nor did we give up on him," said Deanna. "He showed us that he had the fight and will to live and we owed him the chance to see if he would be a racehorse. Everyone used to laugh at him as to how small he was, and some thought maybe we might have been wasting our time on him due to that size. But we wanted to give him the chance to be a racehorse. He's shown us that with determination, will and not giving up, miracles do happen."

Cory agrees.

"The main thing will always be that he's a survivor. It's not about money. It's not about winning the big races. It's not about setting track records. He's not a household name. It's a story about an underdog. I think everyone can relate to that."

And now, that underdog who people laughed at, is on the cover of TROT Magazine. Who ever could have imagined that?

This feature originally appeared in the March issue of TROT Magazine.
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1 Comment

March 6, 2019 - 10:35 pmWhat an awesome story! How

What an awesome story! How could you not love this horse?

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