06/09/2016 12:35PM

Harness: Sarah Svanstedt enjoying the ride as Amateur driver

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Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Sarah Svanstedt with Real DJ Hanover.

When Sarah Svanstedt drove in an amateur race last week at the Meadowlands, it had been nearly three years since she competed on the track. But it seems that winning in a race bike is like riding a bike; one never forgets how it’s done.

Sarah, the wife of trainer Ake Svanstedt, guided Real DJ Hanover to victory last Friday in a GSY Series trot, rallying from the back of the pack to defeat Windsun Galliano by three-quarters of a length in 1:56 2/5. Sarah and Real DJ Hanover will be back for another GSY Series event Friday (June 10) at the Big M and the tandem is the 5-2 morning line favorite from post nine in a nine-horse field.

A native of Sweden, Sarah drove in nearly 500 races overseas. Her win last week was No. 50 in her career.

“When I passed the finish line, I was like, oh my gosh, I won,” Sarah said. “I was shocked. It was an amazing feeling.”

The Svanstedts moved to the U.S. in the winter of 2013. Ake, a five-time Trainer of the Year and three-time Driver of the Year in Sweden, was ready for a new challenge and established a winter base in Florida and racing home at a farm in New Jersey.

Sarah had driven on only a limited basis in the several years prior to the move because of the birth of the couple’s two young boys, Erik and Jonas, and put off a return to the bike until the family was settled in its new environment.

“It is like a fulltime job with the kids, especially when Ake is gone so much,” Sarah said. “The first one-and-a-half or two years here, I’d say it was really much work, with the kids, and school, and language, and paperwork. This farm is a lot of work too. It’s like starting all over again.

“This year it feels really good. Now that everything is settled it is good. And people here were so nice to us, helping us and making us feel welcome. It was nice and helped us feel more at home.

“Some people say I don’t have a life outside the horses, but it’s my life. I travel a lot and get to see so much. You go out and meet many nice people and have fun. I love my life.”

Sarah grew up in Sweden riding horses. She got her first trip behind a trotter at the age of 13 when her best friend’s brother, who was a trainer, told her “it was time to stop the riding.”

“I didn’t know if I wanted to get in the cart,” Sarah said, “but I drove a really nice horse and from that moment I was in love with driving.”

Sarah prepped for her amateur debut by driving in a qualifier on May 21 at the Meadowlands. She finished third with The Royal Harry, from Ake’s stable. She received a few words of advice from Ake prior to the start, and discovered that when the gate pulled away, she was ready to go.

“When I drove in the qualifying race I felt something coming over me, like the race moment,” Sarah said, adding with a laugh, “Ake told me to just drive from the back, but when the gate was leaving, I was like I’m not going to go behind. Why? I could feel something coming to me like I wanted to race again.”

Sarah’s win with Real DJ Hanover was special beyond the obvious reason. She wanted to drive the 4-year-old gelding because the horse is owned by the Svanstedts and Sarah’s father, Torbjorn Swahn.

“I wanted to go with him first so there was no pressure,” Sarah said. “He’s a really wonderful horse to work with and such a nice horse to drive. So I felt like that was the horse to start with. When you like the horse so much, I work with him seven days a week, it was a great feeling to win with him.”

Sarah kept her plans to drive in the amateur ranks quiet until about two hours before her first race, when she sent out a photo of herself with Real DJ Hanover via social media.

“So then everyone was like, what, is she going to drive?” Sarah said. “When it ended up with a victory, everyone went crazy. So it was fun.”

Sarah is uncertain of her future as a driver, but plans to compete in the amateur ranks when she has the opportunity.

“I have to start somewhere and I will see where it takes me,” Sarah said. “I have been driving the horses here every day, so the horse driving itself is not the thing. It’s more like the speed and having to think quickly. I want to keep going in the amateur races, but then I’m not sure if I’ll go out with the big boys. I drove with them in Sweden. I’m not sure how different it would be here.

“But it’s fun to drive again. I’m just taking one step at a time.”

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