Elitlopp 08: Windsong Stable In Sweden
Because of the success of Windsong Stable horses in Sweden during the 2008 racing season, I decided to visit Sweden to experience one of the truly great racing events in the world of trotting: The Elitlopp. Harness racing runs rich in the blood of Scandanavians. Billboards advertising the Elitlopp are everywhere in Stockholm. You can discuss the race with immigration officials when you arrive at the airport, and with cab drivers as you ride to your hotel. Everyone knows about the race, and everyone has his favorite horse. The Elitlopp is truly the "Super Bowl" of Sweden.
Roger Wallman, the trainer of World Champion Giant Diablo 3, 1:50.1 (SEK 13,260,619), graciously spent an entire afternoon two days before the race showing his horses and training facilities to us. You know you're in the presence of champions when you arrive at his barn, which is decorated with now-brown wreaths that his horses have won in major European races. Of course, Roger is particularly proud of the accomplishments of Giant Diablo. A huge photographic mural of Giant Diablo hangs over the barn entrance.
Giant Diablo and Wallman Training Barn
The Wallman training center is on the grounds of a old "castle" that is undergoing renovations by the Swedish government. The castle is located on one of the biggest lakes in Sweden. No expense will be spared to preserve the authenticity of the materials and workmanship. A number of these castles have already been restored. Some can be toured; still others function as luxury hotels.
Castle at Wallman Lake By Castle
Roger has a conventional 5/8 mile training track on the property. A long stretch of dirt road serves as a "straight track" for interval training. More important to his methods is a meandering network of forest roads that provide great foundation work for his horses. These dirt roads wind through the woods, uphill and downhill, and provide special conditioning for the longer distances typical of Swedish racing.
Other stars in the Wallman barn include the 2007 US 2 year old star Surtees Hanover, who is being prepared in Sweden for the Hambletonian this August. The son of Andover Hall was developed by Jonas Czernyson last year before he was sold to Swedish interests. Dust All Over (Super Arnie - Pinafore Miss), the winner of the King's Trophy in Oslo, is also a major star of the Wallman barn.
Surtees Hanover Dust All Over
The trip included a visit to the famous Menhammer Stuteri, which stands the top stallions Viking Kronos and Varenne, as well as Pearsall Hanover, From Above, Fast Photo, Express It, and Calvin Capar. Viking Kronos is the premier stallion in Sweden, and World Champion Varenne is visiting from Italy. Viking Kronos enjoys the company of a small pony, who formerly served as a long-time companion to the Menhammer favorite, Smokin' Yankee.
Viking Kronos Pony Pal
The "Elitauktion 2008" was held that weekend, offering 100 of the best bred Swedish 2 year olds to the big International crowd in town for the Elitlopp. The most interesting aspect of the auction was the presence of true hybrid yearlings of Swedish/American/French blood. It is very early in the year, and many of the horses looked like big weanlings. Not surprisingly, yearlings with French blood tended to be considerably bigger. My Norwegian companions, Drs. Tina Brauti and Hanne Lynne, and I looked at many yearlings, and decided we liked a Broadway Hall filly. After considerable debate, we did not bid on her, though she brought a quite reasonable price of SEK 150,000. Of course, the following day, her half sister Maid For Tag won the big Lady Snarts-loppet at Solvalla, which probably doubled her value! If our courage was as good as our judgment, we would have made a good buy! The sale topper was a Viking Kronos colt, Dollar Haleryd, that brought SEK 1,000,000 from major buyer Kurt Wijkstrom.
The excitement of racing on Elitlopp weekend is incomparable. The city swells with racing fans from all over Europe, and Solvalla racetrack is filled to bursting. Flags fly, and beer flows freely. Even moving about in the crowd of over 30,000 can be difficult. National pride is on the line with horses representing the different European countries competing in the Elitlopp. A trotting race under saddle - "monte" - was one of the highlights of Elitlopp day. Despite carrying riders on their backs, the saddled horses trotted almost as fast as their sulky-driven counterparts. A special appreciation of the smooth trotting gait is gained during these races, as the riders appear to be very comfortably mounted on their horses.
"Monte" Racing: Trotting Under Saddle
Of special interest was a trotting race for "Coldbloods" - a powerful, heavier breed with a smooth trotting gait. Coldblood racing is extremely popular in Scandanavia, with the fastest coldbloods racing in times of about 2:05 mile rate. In Norway, racing opportunities are divided almost equally between Standardbreds and Coldbloods. The 11 year old Coldblood star Moe Odin, winner of more than SEK 10,000,000 lifetime, participated in the race along with his son, Moe Brage. Moe Odin finished second in his race.
Coldbloods Racing Moe Odin
Windsong Stable is very proud that four of our horses were scheduled to compete in races over Elitlopp weekend. The highlight of the weekend was the victory of Bring Me Luck US (Kadabra - Polyester Hanover) in the SEK 300,000 Carlsberg-loppet in a lifetime best 1:57.4f mile rate. Driven by trainer Stefan Persson, Bring Me Luck needed some luck to spring free from her disadvantageous Post 10 in the second tier. However, Persson drove her aggressively to establish position first-over, which she held for most of the race. When the field turned for home, Bring Me Luck simply trotted away easily to win the race. Bring Me Luck US remains undefeated in 2008, and improves her lifetime record to 9 - 7 - 2 - 0 with earnings of SEK 440,000 (almost $75,000 USD). The members of Stall Bring Me KB were jubliant in the Winners Circle after the race, and were interviewed by Swedish television.
Bring Me Luck US
In other Elitlopp weekend racing, Swept To Victory (S Js Caviar - Sweepstake Hanover) overcame a horrible trip to finish a valiant 3rd in the SEK 440,000 Bronze Division Final. Stuck outside in Post 7, driver Orjan Kihlstrom was completely shut out from any kind of position, and was soon shuffled to the rear of the crowded 12 horse field. Trying to make a move down the backstretch, Swept To Victory was then badly impeded when Golden Tilly made a break directly in front of her. After Golden Tilly's driver abruptly pulled up on the lines, Swept to Victory struck her bike. Miraculously, Swept To Victory did not break stride, but again lost ground to the rear of the field. She then went far wide at the top of the stretch to pass most of the field, finishing a hard-earned third for trainer Roger Wallman. Her SEK 55,000 prize raised Swept To Victory's lifetime earnings to SEK 1,024,654 (about $170,000), which will require her to race in the more competitive Silver Division during the next series. Trainer Roger Wallman has noted that Swept To Victory has gained considerable confidence and poise which allows her to race more effectively, even under adverse circumstances.
Swept To Victory
A surprise starter at Solvalla on Elitlopp weekend was Windsong-raised Q Forty Five, a Muscles Yankee half brother to undefeated Swedish 3 year old star Bring Me Back US. Q Forty Five won several NJ Sire Stakes as a juvenile for trainer Jimmy Takter before his sale to Swedish interests. Unfortunately, soundness problems plagued Q Forty Five until trainer Elin Gustavsson found the right combination of treatments to make him comfortable. Q Forty Five started in a SEK 200,000 2140 m. race, and experienced traffic problems that prevented his making a move till deep stretch. He still finished a good fourth, and was timed in a very fast 1:56.1 mile rate. Q Forty Five's lifetime earnings are now SEK 591,671 (about $100,000).
Swedish racing fans were sorely disappointed when the undefeated Windsong-bred 3 year old colt Bring Me Back US was scratched from a much anticipated encounter with undefeated 2&3 year old Swedish champion Lord Capar in the SEK 600,000 Din Del Loppet Haken Wallner Memorial race. Without Bring Me Back to provide stiff competition, Lord Capar won easily in 1.14.4. Trainer Steffan Persson stated that Bring Me Back had minimal soreness on flexion testing, and to his credit took no chances of permanent injury. Bring Me Back has surprisingly grown to almost 17 hands, and he is expected to continue to improve his speed with age. Persson hopes for big things from Bring Me Back in 2009 and beyond.
Of course, the highlight of the weekend was the $1,100,000 Elitlopp. This year, France dominated when its representatives finished 1-2, much to the dismay of the Swedish crowd. The races can be viewed on YouTube by following the respective links below.
The pre-race hype was considerable. The French entries were powerful, led by the 2007 Elitlopp and 2008 Oslo Grand Prix winner L'Amiral Mauzan. L'Amiral Mauzan suffered from a severe infection that caused urinary blockage and almost cost his life last year, but he has remarkably recovered to rejoin the ranks of the world trotting elite. Exploit Caf, winner of the 2008 Prix de France and Prix de l'Atlantique, was thought to be the favorite in the race. As one of the Swedish representatives, Giant Diablo remained somewhat of a question mark as she had been injured earlier in the year at the Meadowlands, though pre-race reports from trainer Roger Wallman were positive. The North American entry was Enough Talk, an Enjoy Lavec gelding trained by Peter Kleinhans that set a World Record of 1:52.2f in March. Luc Ouelette flew in from Toronto to drive the horse. Plantagenet, a Donerail gelding bred by Russell Williams of Pennsylvania and trained by Stig Johannsen, was a "dark horse" entry.
2008 Elitloppet, Heat 1 (YouTube)
The first heat was won by the Italian bred and French trained Exploit Caf (Toss Out - Vaiolet Caf), 1.10.7k (SEK 13,051,911) for the outstanding French driver Jean Michel Bazire. At the start, Jocose (Express Ride) took the lead quickly, followed by Olga du Biwetz (Cezio Josselyn) around the first turn. Exploit Caf saved ground from Post 1, fourth along the rail. In his typically aggressive fashion, Lufti Kolgjini gunned Going Kronos three wide from the rear of the pack to take the lead. Bazire wisely identified Going Kronos as his principal competition, and brought Exploit Caf out second over behind the cover of L'Amiral Mauzun (Bon Conseil). L'Amiral Mauzun stalked Going Kronos down the backstretch, followed closely by Exploit Caf. Rounding the final turn, Going Kronos held the lead with Kolgjini frantically looking behind him for the location of the outside flow. With a fresh horse in hand, Bazire floated Exploit Caf to the outside at the top of the stretch to sweep around a tiring L'Amiral Mauzun to challenge Going Kronos. Despite his hard use early in the race, Going Kronos simply did not quit as he and Exploit Caf streaked to the wire. But Exploit Caf simply would not be denied, getting up for the win by a neck.
2008 Elitloppet, Heat 2 (YouTube)
Heat 2 was just as dramatic. During warm-ups, an obviously agitated World Champion Giant Diablo dumped driver Johan Untersteiner onto the track. As she tried to bolt away, Untersteiner doggedly held onto the lines at great personal risk and was dragged along the track until Giant Diablo could be caught and held. Obviously worse for the experience, Giant Diablo simply could not be controlled thereafter, galloping wildly around the track soon after leaving the gate from Post 1. Oiseau de Feux (Biesolo) with Swedish star Bjorn Goop in the bike quickly assumed command from Post 3, closely followed by US entry Enough Talk with Luc Ouelette in the bike. Plantagenet, bred by Hanover Shoe Farms principal Russell Williams, established position first over as the field passed the grandstand, followed by Kito du Vivier (Quito de Talonay). Giant Diablo's uncontrollable gallop on the inside quickly split these four horses from the rest of the field. Rounding the final turn, the field remained the same: Oiseau de Feux in the lead to the inside, trailed by Enough Talk, and Plantagenet first over with Kito du Vivier following. Ouelette came to the outside with Enough Talk to challenge, but Oiseau de Feux simply had too much power, and held on for a one length victory.
2008 Elitloppet, Final (YouTube)
The eight horse Final field was as follows: 1 - Oiseau de Feux, 2 - Exploit Caf, 3 - Going Kronos, 4 - Enough Talk, 5 - Red Chili Pilat, 6 - Olga du Biwetz, 7 - Plantagenet, and 8 - Finders Keepers. A battle quickly ensued between Oiseau de Feux and Enough Talk around the first turn, until Ouelette backed Enough Talk onto the rail to follow the French star, with Going Kronos first over on the outside. Olga du Biwetz swept three wide around the first turn to establish the difficult position of first-over as the field passed the grandstand. Lufti Kolgjini and Going Kronos now followed Olga du Biwetz second over going into the turn. Never content to save his horse, Kolgjini gunned Going Kronos around Olga du Biwetz early in the backstretch to pressure the leaders on the outside. Sitting pretty once again were Exploit Caf and Jean Michel Bazire, third over behind Olga du Biwetz. Sensing weakness in the horses in front of him - both of which had already been used hard - Bazire and Exploit Caf made their move three wide to the outside in the backstretch. Deep into the turn, Ouelette now pulled Enough Talk to challenge the pacesetting Oiseau de Feux. As the field rounded the final turn, it was Oiseau du Feux in the lead on the inside, closely followed to the outside by Enough Talk. But it was Exploit Caf exploding three wide down the lane to rush past the leaders to win by a comfortable length, with Bazire triumphantly pumping his fist and whip in the air as they passed the finish line. Oiseau de Feux held on for second, and Enough Talk took third.
The story of the day was the strength and conditioning of the two French horses by trainer Fabrice Souloy, and the two perfect drives by the French master, Jean Michel Bazire. The Swedish crowd was considerably deflated by the lack of success of their favorites, but gave the French victors their respect in the ceremonies after the race. Luc Ouelette was interviewed by Swedish television, and expressed his pleasure in the third-place performance of Enough Talk after his long overseas trip. His owner/trainer Peter Kleinhans was also very happy with the result, and stated Enough Talk would remain in Europe to race in Denmark.
The breeding of Exploit Caf is mostly American. His sire is the Italian supersire Toss Out, by Supergill out of Foreign Waters, and his dam Vaiolet Caf is by Friendly Face (Speedy Somolli). Exploit Caf earned $550,000 for his victory, and has won 29 of 85 races lifetime with earnings of $2.75 million.
Exploit Caf, Winner of 2008 Elitlopp
Fans of harness racing should without doubt experience the thrill of the Elitlopp at least once in their lives!