The Man On The Moon And More

 During the ceremony in the
winner’s circle after the Hambletonian
win of Muscles Yankee in 1998 the Swedish photographer Stefan Melander was
“escorted” away by two security officers.
   Melander had apparently violated
several rules and the staff got tired of
him. On the way out Stefan yelled at
me “Take my cameras (they were still
hanging around his neck) and shoot the
ceremony for me.” I grabbed the cameras
and tried to do a good job, but I
still do not know if I was of any assistance
to him.
   Three years after that incident
Melander was spotted again in the
Meadowlands winner’s circle. But this
time he had a valid reason: he had won
the Hambletonian with Scarlet Knight as
a co-owner, trainer and driver of the Pine
Chip colt.
   At the press luncheon five days earlier
I was present over the phone. I was
asked how the Swedish fans reacted
over the fact that a horse from their
country was one of 10 starters in a
Hambletonian final, the richest feature
in harness racing.
   I responded that we saw Melander
as “Sweden’s man on the Moon” – a
description which was adopted by Ken Warkentin, the Meadowlands’ announcer
(and the best in the world in my opinion),
and used as Melander crossed the
finish line as an easy winner of the 2001
Hambletonian.
  Attempts to win the Hambletonian
had been made earlier by Swedes, and
the American bred Shatter Way actually
finished third back in 1966, and in 1995
Swedish bred Easy Lover was an early
breaker in his elimination.
   Melander however truly became
Sweden’s Man on the Moon. Along with
his Hambletonian win, Italian champion
Varenne won the Breeders Crown that
year and European eyes – especially
Swedish ones – were opened onto North
America.
   In the following years a number of
European horses, mainly Swedish, have
been shipped over the Atlantic to race in
the footsteps of Scarlet Knight and
Varenne, and I have had the pleasure of
being the manager of most of these.
   The first one was Victory Tilly, who
under quite spectacular circumstances
was supplemented to the Breeders
Crown ($80,000 USD at that time) even
though his connections did not know if
he could race or not. The thing was, that
the owners gambled the money hoping
that eliminations would not be necessary
If there were eliminations (a week
before the final) the horse would not
have made it on time. 
   Luckily enough eliminations weren’t
required and Victory Tilly went directly
to the final and finished fourth earning
just enough to cover the supplement fee.

Klaus Koch
The gelded son of Quick Pay went on to
compete in the Nat Ray the week after,
and most of you remember his amazing world record (1:50.4) victory for trainer Stig H. Johansson.
   The interest for racing in North
America accelerated throughout the
coming years. Trainer Per Lennartsson
became a pioneer when in 2003 he managed to prepare and race the Swedish bred two-year-old colt Order By Fax in the Peter Haughton Memorial.
   The horse qualified for the final, but
made an early break (Order by Fax was
back in North America last year to compete in the Maple Leaf Trot but with no success).

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