01/20/2016 5:11PM

Harness: Lucas Wallin is living the dream in U.S.

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Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Lucas Wallin won 18 races in his first year of driving in North America.

Lucas Wallin was prepared to do a little traveling, but instead of heading off on a vacation, as planned, he ended up fulfilling a dream.

Wallin was set for a two-week holiday in Spain when he received an offer to work in the U.S. as an assistant to trainer Ake Svanstedt, who had recently moved his harness racing stable from Sweden to the States. Wallin, who is also from Sweden, did not require convincing to change his itinerary.

“I had a ticket to Spain, but I had to cancel it because they wanted me over here so fast,” Wallin said, adding with a laugh, “My mother wasn’t so happy, but now she is happy.

“When you have a chance to work for Ake, it was easy,” he continued. “I don’t think people over here know how big he was over in Sweden. He was dominating the sport. And I think the American harness racing is the best in the world, so when I got the chance to come over it was an easy decision.”

That was a year and a half ago. The now 23-year-old Wallin, who grew up following his uncle, trainer Joakim Wallin, to tracks in Sweden and watching racing from the Meadowlands, still cannot believe his good fortune.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” he said. “It’s the dream.”

Part of the dream includes driving. Wallin made his U.S. debut last season, winning 18 of 78 races and $192,826 in purses. He got his first victory in April with Oh My Darlin at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and on Dec. 18 he picked up his first triumph at the Meadowlands, with Madhatter Bluechip. All totaled, he drove winners at seven different racetracks on the East Coast.

“It was very nice to win the first race in America, but the win (at the Meadowlands) was something really, really special,” Wallin said. “When I was younger I always watched the races from the Meadowlands. That’s pretty cool. It was a lot of feelings inside me.”

Wallin was 8 years old when he started driving ponies in Sweden. Several years later, he began helping with his uncle’s stable of racehorses.

“He is a very good trainer,” Wallin said. “He is a good horseman. I learned very much from him.”

Wallin was alerted to the opportunity in the U.S. with Svanstedt by childhood friend Oskar Florhed, who had already moved to the States. Soon thereafter, Wallin was contacted by Svanstedt assistant Bjorn “Bernie” Noren about working for the stable.

During the winter, Noren and Wallin are responsible for Svanstedt’s horses in New Jersey, which total 30, while the remainder of the stable’s horses are in Florida to prepare for this season. Wallin prefers to stay north so he can get more opportunities to drive. And although he enjoys driving, he has no plans to become a catch-driver.

“My goal is to be a trainer and driver,” Wallin said. “And I think it is important to drive now so people see my name. The most important thing in this business is to have contacts and owners that trust you. People have to see me on the racetrack and see my name.

“I’m very happy for all the races I can drive because you feel you learn so much more and more. It’s just a dream to drive races against all these great drivers.”

Drives he enjoys thanks to a detour.

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com