08/06/2016 6:00PM

Hambletonian: Marion Marauder a nose better than Southwind Frank in thrilling final

Nikki Sherman/DRF Harness
Marion Marauder gave his connections their first Hambletonian champion

Driver Scott Zeron showed poise and patience in the elimination, and then came back with $1,000,000 on the line and proved himself as Marion Marauder, a 5-2 shot, captured the Hambletonian at the Meadowlands on Saturday afternoon.

Zeron took the same approach in the final that he did in the first heat, allowing the dust to settle in the early stages and relaxing the son of Muscle Hill for trainer Paula Wellwood.

Sutton left the fastest in the field for driver Andy Miller and yielded to Southwind Frank after the 28 2/5 opening quarter. Bar Hopping, a first heat winner along with Marion Marauder, brushed to the front shortly thereafter and strolled to the half in what appeared to be a comfortable 56 seconds.

Zeron and Marion Marauder moved with purpose past the half and quickly came up to engage the leaders through a 1:24 2/5 three quarters.  Southwind Frank had the pocket but was gapping the leader late on the final turn. Zeron appeared to notice what was happening, and he called on Marion Marauder at headstretch, and the horse took a quick lead.

"I made a mistake and he still won," said Zeron. "I saw what was happening on the turn, and I tried to get away from Southwind Frank. When this horse gets to the top he waits on other horses. But he dug in today when it counted. He was amazing."

Indeed, Marion Marauder secured the front, but Southwind Frank cleared to the inside in midstretch.  Driver Yannick Gingras was looking for his first Hambletonian win and nearly got it, coming up a nose shy with the Ron Burke-trained colt. It was Zeron's first Hambletonian victory, as well as the first for trainer Paula Wellwood, along with her husband Mike Keeling.

"We've been trying to get here for a long time," said co-owner Jean Wellwood. "I dedicate this (the trophy) to my late husband.

Marion Marauder trotted the mile  in 1:51 4/5, with Southwind Frank second, and Sutton coming on late for third. Waitlifter K finished fourth, with favorite Bar Hopping a disappointing fifth.

After winning just once as a freshman in 13 starts, Marion Marauder has now won six of seven races this year, including two this afternoon.

Devin Keeling, Jean Wellwood's grandson, co-owns the colt.