CAMPBELLVILLE, Ont. — It has been a tough year for Marion Marauder and trainer Michael Keeling.
The '16 Trotting Triple Crown champion hasn't reached the winner's circle in nine races this season, registering two second-place finishes and third on two other occasions. But Marion Marauder could emphatically end that misery by winning the US$500,000 Breeders Crown Open Trot on Saturday at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
"It's been a frustrating year," Keeling said Tuesday following the Open Trot draw. "It would be nice for Marauder to finally capture the big one at home.
"He's a horse that maybe needs that on his resume. It's just going to be a great race, a great field and we're going to give it a try."
The six-year-old enters Saturday's race with 20 lifetime wins and over $3.5 million in earnings through 60 career starts. But securing a first Breeders Crown win in his fifth try won't be easy for Marion Marauder.
He'll start from the No. 11 hole directly behind heralded French-owned/bred Bold Eagle. The field will also include mare Atlanta (No. 6), the 2018 Hambletonian winner, and '19 Maple Leaf Trot champion Guardian Angel As.
Keeling isn't the least bit concerned with the starting spot. After all, Marion Marauder cemented the Triple Crown by winning the Kentucky Futurity from that position.
"He captured the Triple Crown from the No. 11 hole so it's not something that scares us," Keeling said. "Our horse doesn't push off the gate great anyway so trailing puts us on the rail and behind a great horse (Bold Eagle).
"I think it might be an advantage to us. I know Scott (driver Scott Zeron of Oakville, Ont.) isn't going to be upset about it."
Bold Eagle's presence in the race — his first outside of Europe — is drawing plenty of attention. The eight-year-old is a 45-time winner — including the prestigious Prix d'Amerique in 2016-17 — with career earnings surpassing $5 million.
American Brian Sears, who leads all active drivers in Breeders Crown wins (30), will drive Bold Eagle on Saturday. However, Keeling remains undaunted.
"It (Bold Eagle's presence) creates a great buzz, for sure (it's good news)," he said. "If you're going to win a Breeders Crown, you want to beat the best and right now apparently he's the best so we have to go after him.
"He (Marion Marauder) is just a good horse, good horses show up in big races and he's always run in the big races. They're just a bunch of good horses and if he gets a great trip, a little bit of luck, he can win this race."
On Friday, the four two-year-old races will be run. The remaining eight, for three-year-olds and up, are scheduled to go Saturday.
The main event Friday night will be the $600,000 two-year-old Colt Pace. Elimination winner Papi Rob Hanover drew the No. 3 hole after claiming last weekend's race in 1:50.2 by just over a length ahead of previously unbeaten Tall Dark Stranger, the '19 Metro Pace winner who'll go from the No. 7 hole in the final.
Trainer Nancy Johansson was happy with Tall Dark Stranger's finish, considering the horse was battling sickness.
"His bloodwork didn't come back perfectly unfortunately," she said. "Hopefully we can get that squared away.
"I changed his front shoes for the final so hopefully we get a little bit more speed out of him. He's a good horse. The way his bloodwork actually looked after the race, he put in a very good performance. I was happy with him regardless."
Yannick Gingras of Sorel, Que., will drive Tall Dark Stranger.
Capt Midnight and Catch The Fire took byes into Saturday's final. The Tony Alagna-trained Capt Midnight drew post five while Catch The Fire, conditioned by John Ackley, drew the No. 9 hole.
The final draw Tuesday was for the $600,000 three-year-old Colt Pace. Captain Crunch, the '19 Pepsi North America Cup champion, will start from the No. 2 hole Saturday night.
And he'll have a new driver as Gingras will replace Zeron, who drove Captain Crunch to the North America Cup victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park in a Canadian record time of 1:47.2 in June.
"Yannick and I work really well together," Johansson said. "He has driven a lot for my dad (Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Takter) and our family has a great relationship with him.
"I know he drives my horses with confidence. When I decided I needed to make a change, I called Yannick to see if he was interested and obviously, he was and now we're trying to win."
Elimination winners Bettors Wish and Dancin Lou were guaranteed of a starting spot in the first five posts. Bettors Wish drew the No. 1 hole while Dancin Lou selected post four.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2019.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press