Burke, Keeling talks Maple Leaf Trot starters
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"My horse hasn't been good; I need a big turnaround," said Burke, who trains Hannelore Hanover and owns the mare with the Weaver Bruscemi partnership, Frank Baldachino, and J&T Silva Stables. "We haven't gotten a handle on it yet. She's gone through little lulls before in her career and we've always figured it out. She's a good horse. We'll figure it out. She'll come back around. It's just that I want her to be back by Saturday and I don't know yet what it's going to be.
"Post seven doesn't bother me. She can put herself in position, but she needs to be better. End of story."
Marion Marauder, trained by the Canadian-based husband-and-wife team of Mike Keeling and Paula Wellwood and owned by Devin Keeling and Jean Wellwood, won his Maple Leaf Trot elimination by a length over Dancer Hall in 1:53.1. He will start the final from post three with regular driver Scott Zeron and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
"He's having a great week," Mike Keeling said. "He's happy, he's sharp, he's healthy. The weather has been up and down, and that always scares you. We've had some extreme heat and now we've chilled right off. But we can only control what we can control and we're really pleased with how he's going into it."
Following Marion Marauder's elimination, Zeron said in the winner's circle he let his horse "coast" to the finish.
"It was not a stressful race for him," Keeling said, adding with a laugh, "It was probably more stressful for us to watch than it was for the horse. Scott is so relaxed with him.
"He came out of the race fantastic. When you don't have to go to the bottom of the well just to win an elimination it certainly bodes well going into a final."
Marion Marauder's appearance in the elimination was the 5-year-old stallion's first race in Canada since an eighth-place finish in last year's Maple Leaf Trot eliminations, when he failed to advance to the final. He has competed in Canada only five times in 30 starts since winning the Goodtimes Stakes at age 3.
"He doesn't get to perform as much at home," Keeling said. "It means a lot to win at home. It would be kind of special to do that. This is a great race with a great history. I think only great horses have ever won it. It's a race that means a lot historically and personally. It's not an easy race to win. None of the top ones are, but this one seems really difficult.
"This is a really good bunch of trotters. There's early speed, late speed, everything in there. It's interesting for sure."
Ariana G, a two-time Dan Patch and O'Brien awards-winner, won her Maple Leaf Trot elimination in 1:52.4 by a neck over Will Take Charge. She is one of two horses in the race for trainer Jimmy Takter, with 2015 Hambletonian winner Pinkman. (Ken Weingartner/USTA)