07/07/2014 10:01PM

Giwner: The new kid on the block


In 2013, three standardbreds garnered more North American attention than any others. Bee A Magician, Captaintreacherous and Foiled Again dominated the headlines. While all three remain deserving of recognition this year, one Swedish horse and his trainer/driver have taken the harness industry by storm and are the new kings of the continent.

On what basis do I make the claim that Sebastian K and Ake Svanstedt are the most popular? Pure numbers! Looking over some analytics at www.drf.com/harness, it was clear as day that people love Sebastian K. Next to the brief Jeff Gural/Brian Sears feud we love our squabbles in America), from what I could decipher, Sebastian K setting the world record for trotting with his 1:49 winning mile at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs recorded the highest single page views of any harness article on the site in the month of June. You see a similar trend on Twitter. Posts about Sebastian K on the DRF Harness feed garner three to five times the interest of other posts.

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Foiled Again was typically the king of 2013 and anything written about the spectacular veteran always drew in a strong audience and still does. But there is simply something about Sebastian K and Svanstedt. Is it the mystical allure of the unknown-to-the-U.S.-market Swedish duo or perhaps something else? Just maybe, with the power of social media in our hands, we are bridging the gap across the Atlantic Ocean and luring in a new general audience from Europe to our product.

There is an excitement that surrounds Sebastian K’s every start that very few horses can release from the general public. People want to hear about what the horse has done and wait in anticipation for his next step. But there is more.

Derick Giwner   Trainer/Driver Ake Svanstedt

For every good comment there has to be a dissenting point of view and that is certainly the case surrounding Sebastian K. Hearing people question whether setting records is good for the sport just makes me scratch my head. What could be negative about a record? It peaks the interest of people in the mainstream and gets news outlets interested in running stories. Plus it is fun. “Fastest trotter ever.” Now that is a catchy headline. As long as we aren’t talking about the record for fastest 3-year-old filly on a five-eighths track on a sunny Wednesday when the track is slightly wet, I’m on board with a record.

While I’m not willing to crown Svanstedt as the greatest trainer/driver of all-time as some are perhaps suggesting in cyberspace, the accomplished horseman has added a new dimension to the game. He drives aggressively, is hardly intimidated by the leading drivers, and is willing to roll the dice on a risky move. We saw this in the Hambletonian Maturity at the Meadowlands last Saturday (I’ll have more on this race shortly).

Svanstedt uncorked a three-wide monster-brush to take command down the backstretch with Your So Vain (in the horses’ first start of the year, no less). Granted the 1 1/8 mile distance of the race may have played a role in his tactics, but when was the last time you saw any driver gamble like that? Svanstedt’s style and tactics are bringing fresh life into the game.

More Horses = More Money

For those that missed it, the Hambletonian Society hosted the first ever Hambletonian Maturity at the Meadowlands last Saturday. It was a 14-horse race contested at a 1 1/8 mile distance. If you’ve read my columns in the past, you know I love the added distance races. They provide a new aspect to the handicapping puzzle and also place drivers in somewhat unfamiliar circumstances which could lead to more aggressive moves during the race. For me, the 1 1/8 distance, along with races at 1 1/2 miles are perfect for the Meadowlands given the proper caliber of horse that has the class to handle the added length of the race.

The purpose for mentioning the Maturity boils down to one number—$423,394. That was the total pari-mutuel pool for the 14-horse race. Granted the race was the backend of the late pick four and that obviously increased the pool by about $80K, but even so, you’d be hard-pressed to find another 2014 Meadowlands race which handled that much cold hard cash (or even came close).

The next highest handle of any race on the same July 5 card was $303,694. In fact, I did a cliff notes version of research and couldn’t find one race in 2014 which handled higher (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong . . . I know someone will). The last race I could find with a handle north of the Maturity total was the TVG Pace final on 11/30/2013. The totals from all pools that race was $486,474.

[UPDATE: Upon further review, the Meadowlands handled $430,219 on the 7th race on 5/17/14 and $435,386 on the 3rd race on 3/1/14]

So whether drivers, trainers or owners like the second tier, or whether they prefer sticking with just the standard mile races, the bettors spoke loud and clear that if given a strong group of horses and a full field with extended betting options, they will bet with both hands.

Hopefully some track executives were paying attention. Change is good sometimes.

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