04/29/2015 12:49PM

Pandolfo: Jenny Melander’s star is on the rise

Bob Pandolfo
Trainer Jenny Melander credits Wisenheimer as a big help in jump-starting her career.

Plenty of great trainers have come to America from Sweden and made their mark. Some were well established before they set foot in the states. Jenny Melander was not. But the 40-year-old trainer, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden, is rapidly making a name for herself.

Last year, in only her second full year of training her own stable, Melander's horses won 51 races in 285 starts (18%) for $518,114. This year she's on pace to easily surpass those numbers while winning at a remarkable 27% clip.

Melander came to the U.S. in 1998 and took a job with trainer Per Eriksson. The same Per Eriksson who won the Hambletonian three times before the age of 32. Eriksson, who moved his family back to Sweden in 2000, is known as a hard working trainer who expects the same from his staff.

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"Per Eriksson was a good guy to learn from," Melander said. "Working for Eriksson, I was in Florida and I learned a lot about training young trotters."

While working for Eriksson, Melander met Jonas Czernyson. The two of them married and when Eriksson went back to Sweden, they took over part of the stable. After several years of marriage they split up. Czernyson went out on his own as a trainer and has done very well. Melander went back to college.

"I went to Rider University and got my teaching degree in elementary education and Psychology. I graduated with a 4.0 in 2007, but then I went straight back to working with horses," said Melander, laughing. "My intention was to get a regular job, but after being out of the business for a few years, I missed the horses. I came back and got a job working with trainer Erv Miller at Gaitway Farms in New Jersey."

Working for Erv Miller, Melander learned a lot about working with pacers, plus how to manage and train a big stable.

"Tony Alagna was also working for Erv Miller at that time," Melander said. "When Tony went out on his own, I took over the New Jersey operation."

After two years working for Erv Miller, Melander took a job working for trainer Mark Harder for another two years. Right around that time a new training facility, Wingate Farms Equine Spa and Pool, was opening up in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania.

"My boyfriend Marty Noonan was training horses at Pocono and we decided that Wingate Farms would be a good location for us. I took a job working for trainer John Butenschoen for a year, and then I went out on my own," said Melander. "It was tough at first, it's hard to get horses when you're first starting out."

But then the right horse came along.

"That's when I got Wisenheimer," said Melander. "They were having trouble with him, he had become a chronic breaker. I would have bought him, but the owner is too attached to him, so I leased him. He became sort of my lucky ticket. He won a Super Bowl elimination for me and that got me noticed. Wisenheimer made enough money so Marty and I could start buying horses. For the first two years we owned most of the horses in my barn. But this year I picked up several owners."

Since joining Melander's barn late in 2012, Wisenheimer, now 6 years old, has won 16 races in 57 starts for over $175,000, and is off to a strong start again this year with three wins and five seconds in seven starts. Melander has done a remarkable job with Wisenheimer. Not only has he developed into a classy and consistent trotter, but the once chronic breaker has won on all size tracks and even went wire to wire from the tough eight-hole at Yonkers.

"They're was nothing physically wrong with Wisenheimer when I got him," Melander explained. "His problems were all mental. I like to take some of my horses riding without the sulky. Just a few miles from here there's a nice place where I can ride them. When I first got Wisenheimer I took him up there and had him trot under saddle up the mountains, which is good conditioning. He liked it. I also jogged him a lot. He started to learn how to relax and gained confidence. When we first got him I had all sorts of equipment on him, such as a fly mask, ear hood, anything to try and keep him calm. Now he doesn't need all that equipment anymore.

"The claimers also did good for us the past two years and that was a big help getting my stable established. But I've always wanted to work with 2 year olds," said Melander. "This year I went to Kentucky to buy a few 2 year olds for myself and it generated interest from other people. Now I have eight 2 year olds in my barn. It's early, but I have a Yankee Glide filly named Yankee Halla that's been promising since the beginning."

(You can see a list of the Melander stable's horses and other information at their website, www.melanderracing.com.)

Melander has her harness driving license and competes in amateur races. She also rides in under saddle events and loves it.

 Melander winning under saddle at Freehold.

"I went to Australia a few years ago and I competed in under saddle events. It was great. The under saddle races there actually handle as much or more than the regular races,” said Melander. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome with under saddle racing in this country. Some of the states have laws that harness races must have a sulky, and you have to get those laws changed. Under saddle harness racing is also doing very well in Canada.

"We need to have something to change it up, something new, and under saddle is fun and different. I also like the mile and a quarter trot races they're racing at Yonkers now, which are being simulcast to France, and doing very well. The industry needs to address changes. We have to keep renewing ourselves rather than stay stuck in a system that's dying.  Why not change things up?"

Melander now has 25 horses in her barn and hopes to have 45 next year. "My boyfriend and I want to continue to grow the business, but gradually so we can continue to work individually with each horse,” said Melander. “Marty is from Australia and I'm from Sweden. The training methods are a little different in each country and the combination of the two different training philosophies is working well for us."

Wingate Farms is a great place to train horses. Nestled in the foothills of the Poconos, the farm has two training tracks, half and five-eighths ovals, a smaller track for jogging, a swimming pool, and an Epsom Salts Spa. From the training tracks you can see the ski slopes etched in the bucolic Pocono Mountains. There's also plenty of room to turn horses out so they aren't always stuck in the barn.

This gives Melander a lot of options. She recently won with 12-year-old pacing gelding Chilli NZ off a layoff at the Meadowlands. "I like to train long and slow but I also mix some quick miles in them,” said Melander of her training style. “I don't like to take them to the qualifiers short where they get left behind and discouraged. With the great ones, they know they're great. With the lesser horses, you have to be careful not to hurt their confidence. You have to have them ready when you bring them to the track."

Melander is excellent at reading the condition books and finding winning spots for her horses. She wins races at Harrah's Philadelphia, Mohegan Sun Pocono, Monticello, the Meadowlands, and Yonkers.

"I like to put my horses in where they have a chance to win," she said. And win they do, consistently.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.

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