New strategies for Marion Marauder in '19
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Now six, Marion Marauder is coming off a solid season in 2018 that ended on a sour and confusing note for his connections. After finishing first or second through the first 10 starts of the season, North American harness racing's richest active trotter did not hit the board in his final four outings. Not that there's a good time to hit a dry spell, but those races included three of the biggest stakes of the year for older trotters: the International Trot, the Breeders Crown and the TVG Final.
"Things were going along really, really well. He was tremendous right up until after the start in Indiana, that night he was vicious," trainer Mike Keeling told Trot Insider "And then going into the International Trot he seemed good but even Scott [driver Zeron] said he gave him a tough trip but he didn't seem to have the same kick to him. And then we drew some bad posts, and he just didn't seem to be 100 percent so we checked his blood and we actually found that he had a couple of things going on in his blood that we really couldn't explain. So it was a bit of a frustrating end to the season with the bad posts but he probably wasn't at the top of his game anyway. But that's horse racing.
"After the International, Scott said he gave him a tough trip but he thought he'd be better so we pulled the blood and he had a high liver count and a little bit of a muscle enzyme count. So we gave him a bit of time as we wanted to prep him for the Breeders Crown," Keeling continued. "He trained good enough, and we pulled blood and after treating him with the usual stuff you use to treat [liver and muscle enzyme issues] it never really changed...but he trained great, and he felt great, he looked good so we raced him in the Crown elim and that race didn't go well. Even Scott said then, 'he's good but he doesn't seem to have what he usually has' and so we pulled the blood again and it made no change, and we'd been treating him with no change...so we finished up the year, we drew bad in the Breeders Crown Final and things didn't go well there. We gave him a little rest and thought we'd try him again in the TVG Final and his blood came down a bit but it still wasn't 100 percent. We drew bad but it was just a terrible night and the race didn't go well. It's one of those things; we're doing all the things that you're supposed to do and we weren't seeing any result changes in his blood."
Marion Marauder was turned out after the TVG, and Keeling stated that the plan was to give the star trotter an extended vacation.
"We weren't going to bring him back in until March but we finally got a regular blood on him mid-January and that's the first time since basically October that his liver numbers and his muscle numbers are back to where they're supposed to be. We're not sure the cause of it, if there was a virus or there's a cause he could have had a blocked liver duct, we're not 100 percent sure but it seems to be his numbers are good."
Even if those numbers stay good, Marion Marauder won't be competing in the older trotting wars any time soon. While many of the division's best competed in the Arthur J. Cutler Memorial last weekend and/or the Great Northeast Series on Sunday, Marion Marauder likely won't see pari-mutuel competition until closer to summer. That's a conscious decision from the connections with hopes of an even more successful six-year-old season.
"We'd planned on giving him a later start this year. We really wanted to key on the Maple Leaf Trot and the Breeders Crown at home this fall, so we're going to shorten his season up at the start and see if that can carry him a little further into the year and hopefully we'll keep him healthy all the way through," stated Keeling, who trains Marion Marauder along with wife Paula Wellwood for owners Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling. "We're looking at a mid-June, late-June start...We'll start qualifying him sometime in June if all goes well. His health seems to be back to 100 percent and we'll just monitor it."
With a campaign concentrated more north of the border, it's possible that Marion Marauder could find himself once again in the discussion come O'Brien Awards season. The winner of the 2016 O'Brien Award for three-year-old colt trotters has made just two starts on Canadian soil in each of his past two seasons, but the argument could be made that he's made a significant contribution to Canadian racing in each of those campaigns and would have received ample support had he met the minimum start criteria.
"We've been frustrated too that maybe in Canada he hasn't quite got the recognition that maybe he deserves and that's not anybody's fault, it's just the way things kind of hash out," admitted Keeling. "I think most people would agree that he's been Canada's best trotter for the past few years now; he is owned, trained and generally driven by a Canadian...some people seem to forget that. We'll try to show up a little more at home and hopefully that will work in our favour.
"You can't get hung up on that stuff; if you do, you'll drive yourself crazy. We always do what's best for him and if it works out [at awards time] then that's great. At heart we are Canadians and he's a Canadian horse and that's never in question."
Fundamental to the success of Marion Marauder -- or any horse, for that matter -- is proper management, and keeping potential pitfalls in mind. Keeling stated that a newer, more spacious paddock planned for Woodbine Mohawk Park will work in the favour of his stable star.
"Maybe with this new Mohawk paddock, it will be easier for us to race him a little more at home. It's always been difficult to manage him in that paddock. With the tight areas and stuff it's always been a little bit of a struggle for us so maybe that will help us."
That edge of attitude most definitely comes as a double-edged sword for Keeling and Wellwood. As a younger horse, Marion Marauder would try to literally take a bite out of the competition at the starting gate. Keeling notes that Marion Marauder still has that stallion swagger but it's more tempered than past years.
"Even his nipping and biting around the barn is much better. He's got more mature; he's still got edge to him and he's got his idiosyncrasies and he's just so strong and you always have to be aware of that."
Keeling is also aware that while many in the industry look forward to seeing Marion Marauder on the racetrack, there's also interest in Marion Marauder's potential second career as a stallion. For the time being, the focus is on racing and not breeding.
"We have no intentions of test breeding him until we do decide to pull his shoes for the final time...He's a very nice horse to work with when he's not being test bred but when he was being test bred he was a pretty rough character so both Paula and I are too old and too fragile to be dealing with him like that," admitted Keeling." And he's a wonderful, kind horse -- with an edge -- to work with but at this point we don't want to jeopardize that." (Standardbred Canada)