06/19/2014 9:09AM

Pandolfo: Svanstedt living the American Dream

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Derick Giwner
Swedish native Ake Svanstedt is enjoying life in the United States.

When I first heard that Europeon legend Ake Svanstedt was moving his operation to the United States, I was surprised. Harness Racing is still a major sport in Sweden, and the 56-year-old Svanstedt had tremendous success there, both as a trainer and a driver. But sometimes you need to lighten the load.

"In Sweden, I had over two hundred horses and raced twelve months a year,” said Svanstedt. “It was a difficult schedule to maintain. I came here to sort of semi-retire. Here I can take it easy in the winter, in Florida."

Svanstedt currently has 50 horses under his care. Almost all of the horses spent the winter training at Palema Trotting, a modern harness racing facility in Vero Beach, Florida. Svanstedt, who owns 20 percent of Palema, likes to train his horses for strength. He calls it "power training," but it's better known as interval training. The deep and sandy training surfaces at Palema are ideal for his methods.

Svanstedt's second trainer is Bjorn "Bernie" Noren, a 38-year-old Swedish native who worked for Jimmy Takter for 12 years and has also trained his own stable.

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"Imagine running on a beach," Noren said. "You can get more fit running a hundred meters in the sand than if you ran six-hundred meters on a hard surface. Ake doesn't train horses for speed. He believes in training them for strength. The horse's natural speed will show in its races."

Once the horses ship north, they are stabled at Svanstedt's Legends Farm in Wrightstown, New Jersey. At Legends, he has two training surfaces, a five-eighths track with turns, and a sandy and deep straight track, similar to the one at Palema.

Svanstedt does other things differently than most North American trainers. When his great trotter, Sebastian K, won the Cutler in World Record time, he did it barefoot. Svanstedt won't race all of his horses barefoot, all the time, but he does believe that it gives a horse a more natural gait.

Sebastian K was one of the top 5 trotters in Europe and he's now two-for-two in this country. He'll race at the Meadowlands this Friday (June 20) as a tune up for next week's engagement at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs. Another stakes winner in the Svanstedt barn is the 3-year-old filly trotter Heaven's Door. In her last start, Heaven's Door shot out to the lead in 26 3/5 and bottomed out the field handily on the front end to win a $100,000 Jersey Sires Stakes final. The daughter of Muscle Hill is also in-to-go Friday to get some work in versus non-winners-of-2 company against the boys and she could potentially be a force against the top 3- year-old filly trotters.

Derick GiwnerAssistant trainer Bernie Noren wrestles with Sebastian K after his Cutler Memorial win at the Meadowlands.

At his Legends Farm in New Jersey, all of the horses stabled there get to spend a lot of time outdoors in open paddocks. "Part of the challenge is keeping horses from getting nervous," Svanstedt told me.

"I love it," said Svanstedt on his experiences thus far at the Meadowlands. "I think it is the best track I've ever raced on. Even though it's a fast surface, it's has plenty of cushion and it's good for the horses. The track superintendent (Gary Wolfe) has done a very good job with the Meadowlands track surface."

Svanstedt is very high on the horses in his stable. He has 39 two-year-olds, mostly trotters.

"I love the horses here in America," Svanstedt said. "In Sweden, they don't breed the horses until they're much older. Here, with the younger stallions, their blood is much better."

Svanstedt said that it's too early to tell whether any of his rookies have star potential, but Noren mentioned a 2-year-old trotter by Muscle Hill named Stonebridge Force, who was purchased for $60,000, as a possible standout.

Noren enjoys working for Svanstedt. "He has a great eye for trotters," Noren said. "And, besides being a great trainer, he's a great driver. As a driver, he won over 6,400 races in Sweden, and they don't race as many days a week there as they do here."

As soon as I saw Svanstedt's name in the entries, I was interested in betting on him. Sometimes it takes bettors a while to catch on and I thought I could get some value. On May 30 I made Hillustrious my Best Bet at the Meadowlands. Hillustrious is trained by Ron Burke. Yannick Gingras wasn't at the Meadowlands that night, so Burke listed Svanstedt to drive two of his trotters. Hillustrious broke off the first turn, but Svanstedt was able to gather him together quickly, and he rallied from nine lengths off the pace to win at odds of 5.70-1.

"Ake has soft hands," Noren told me. "Driving trotters is different than driving pacers. With young trotters, you can't always rush them right away. You're seeing now that more and more trainers are adding the hopples to their trotters. With the hopples on, drivers have to race them slower and smoother."

Svanstedt was noncommittal on whether some drivers were actually better with trotters than others.  "I'll say this, in Europe, or here in the States, the great drivers will excel on any type of horse they drive,” said Svanstedt.

Ake Svanstedt is one of those great drivers, and he'll be a major force in stakes races, especially in the trotting division.

To view photos, and read about the horses in the Svanstedt stable, go to www.svanstedtstable.com.

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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