27-year-old Marcus Melander among top trainers in trotting

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Marcus Melander is among the best trainers in trotting at just 27.

Sixteen 3-year-olds are entered in $1.2 million Hambletonian on Saturday at the Meadowlands, trotting’s most prestigious race. The three favored colts in the field are all trained by Melander.

Gimpanzee is the 2-1 choice in the first elimination. Greenshoe is the 4-5 favorite in the second. Green Manalishi is the 5-2 second choice in the opening division.

Melander also has fourth colt in the race in longshot Gerry, who will run in the second heat.

“We’ve prepared the horses for a couple of months now, so it’s exciting,” Melander said. “This is an exciting week, putting the last touches on the horses. They all came out of their last race very good. I can’t be more happy with them, how they feel at home, and how they’ve been racing. I’m excited, I have a good feeling.”

Melander came to the United State from Sweden about five years ago and worked for four-time Hambletonian-winning trainer Jimmy Takter. He started his own stable in late 2014 and has won more than 150 races and $6 million in purses in his career.

A former driver in Europe, Melander received the 2018 Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association, joining Nancy Johansson as the only trainers to receive it in the past 20 years. His stable earned $2.86 million in purses in 2018, good for 15th among all trainers in North America, despite having the fifth-fewest starts among conditioners in the top 50.

This isn’t Melander’s first Hambletonian. Enterprise won his elimination in 2017 and was placed third after finishing fourth because of a disqualification in the final. Long Tom also raced that year and led his elimination for three-quarters of a mile before going off stride and failing to reach the final.

Last year, Evaluate finished fourth in his Hambletonian elimination and fifth in the final.

This year is different. The other horses had to develop and work their way to the Hambletonian.

Big things have been expected of Greenshoe, Gimpanzee and Green Manalishi since last year, and they have lived up to the hype.

Melander, whose uncle Stefan won the 2001 Hambletonian as trainer and driver with Scarlet Knight, doesn’t mind the spotlight.

“I’d rather have it like that than no horses to talk about,” he said. “With a horse like Greenshoe when he’s going to be the big favorite, of course it’s going to be a little pressure. But I can’t do much more. I think I’ve prepared the horses the best I can. Now it’s just up to the horses.”

Gimpanzee is undefeated in 12 career starts. Last year’s Dan Patch Award winner as the top 2-year-old trotter will try to become only the second unbeaten horse to win the Hambletonian. Deweycheatumnhowe did it 2008.

Greenshoe has won four of five races this year, with his only loss a close second-place finish to Marseille in the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial. His 1:50.1 in winning his division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial here last month is the fastest of the season for a 3-year-old trotter.

Eight standardbreds will compete in each $100,000 Hambletonian elimination on Saturday. The top five finishers in each heat will advance to the $1 million final later on the card.