EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. >> After three decades of trying, the Wellwood family finally won the Hambletonian.
Marion Marauder held off Southwind Frank at the wire Saturday to capture the $1 million Hambletonian and make Paula Wellwood the second female trainer to win trotting's biggest race at the Meadowlands.
It wasn't only a win for Paula Wellwood. Her mother, Marion, and Paula's son, Devin, own the son of Muscle Hill. Her father, the late Hall of Famer Bill Wellwood, tried nine times to win this race for 3-year-olds, racing in the first Hambletonian at the Meadowlands in 1981.
"It means the world," Paula Wellwood said of winning. "It was my father's dream and it's been my mother and my dream. We have tried. This is our third horse in it. Had some luck. Thought we had some luck with Laddie in finishing third to Donato Hanover (2007). We were excited beyond excited. Then this horse came along. You dare to dream."
The dream came true because Meadowlands leading driver Scott Zeron gave Marion Marauder a perfect trip in winning by a nose over of last year's 2-year-old champion and the pre-race favorite.
Zeron moved Marion Marauder past Bar Hopping, the first elimination winner, at the top of the stretch and appeared to be in command until Yannick Gingras moved Southwind Frank along the inside and just missed for the second straight year.
Gingras finished second with Mission Brief in 2014.
"I can't believe it," said the 27-year-old Zeron, who became the second youngest driver to win the Hambletonian. "I tried to get the jump on everyone. My horse was strong coming first up and I wanted to get a good two or three length cushion on the field, but I know my horse better, I should have waited to pull the trigger because sometimes when he gets clear of them, he'll wander. He was just not paying attention but he stuck his nose out and he got there."
Tom Haughton was 25 when he won with Speed Bowl in 1982.
Marion Marauder, who edged Southwind Frank in the second elimination for the final, trotted the mile in 1:51.4 in winning for the sixth time in seven starts this year. The bay colt, who won only once in 13 starts last year, paid $7, $3.40 and $3.
"The difference was he grew a bit, got bigger and stronger, but the real difference was he learned how to win," Paula Wellwood said.
Southwind Frank returned $3.80 and $3, and Sutton finished third and paid $6.60.
Bar Hopping, who was looking to five trainer Jimmy Takter his third straight Hambletonian win and record-tying fifth overall, faded to fifth.
Takter and Gingras combined to win their third straight Hambletonian Oaks when All The Time ($9.20) closed in the stretch to catch pacesetter Caprice Hill.
It was the sixth win in the Oaks for Takter, tying Jan Johnson for most wins by a trainer in the race for 3-year-old trotting fillies
All The Time, who had finished second in her last two starts, took the lead in the stretch and was almost four lengths in front in winning fourth time in seven starts this year. The winning time was a lifetime best of 1:52.1.
On the Hambletonian undercard: What The Hill ($18.60) won the $294,450 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old colts and geldings; Ariana G ($3.20) took the $306,500 Jim Doherty Memorial for 2-year-old fillies; Meadowlands Pace winner Control The Moment ($3.20) won the $320,000 Cane, the opening leg of pacing's Triple Crown for 3-year-olds; Shamballa ($19.80) won the $225,550 US Pacing Championship; Lady Shadow ($3.80) won the $235,950 Lady Liberty.