An American vacation and a chance meeting which led to marriage has put Swedish trainer Susanne Strandqvist on the road to the 2013 Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack with Celebrity Maserati.
Growing up in Sweden, Strandqvist was involved in her father’s large stable, and drove in pony races and over 200 harness races. When her father started scaling back his operation, she decided to plan a three-month visit to the US.
Strandqvist decided to stay, eventually met her husband Bob Giannoulis, and accepted an offer to oversee Celebrity Farms from owner Sam Stathis.
“I came from Sweden in 2004 and worked for Trond Smedshammer,” she explained. “I’ve been the head trainer of Celebrity Farms in Middletown, NY since November of 2011. Celebrity Maserati was already here when I started. My husband and I work together, and we have a stable of 13 right now.”
Rated seventh in this week’s Road to the Hambletonian top ten, Celebrity Maserati’s biggest test to date figures to come on Saturday, June 22 in a $25,000 elimination for the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial at Pocono Downs.
“We drew post three, but we’re in a tough division [race two] with Aperfectyankee,” said Strandqvist. “Yet we went by him there last Sunday in sires stakes [in a 1:54.4 come-from-behind effort from post nine]. This is a very even division right now and it all depends on who’s at their best on a given day.”
Celebrity Maserati was a $45,000 Harrisburg Sale yearling purchase. The son of Andover Hall is out of the multiple stakes winner Arlanda, and a full brother to Orlando, who was runner up in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes Final at two.
Last year, an early season leg injury thwarted the colt’s progress, and he went winless in six starts with two seconds and three thirds.
In 2013, Celebrity Maserati has four wins and a second in five starts and earned $135,402.
“As a two-year-old he trained down good and always showed a lot of potential,” noted Strandqvist. “He just needed to develop and mature. He grew a lot between two and three.”
Strandqvist became the first female trainer to win the $139,600 Dexter Cup when Celebrity Maserati and driver Tom Jackson rallied past the heavy favorite Donyouforgetit in 1:58.3 at Freehold on May 4.
“I knew he had a good shot going into the Dexter Cup by the way he had been training,” she said. “Jimmy Takter’s colt [Dontyouforgetit] was the one to beat, and he did it so effortlessly. He has so much potential.
“He just never seems to get tired and always acts happy,” she continued. “He gets turned out every day, he jogs well, but doesn’t train very hard.”
Strandqvist employs a few her own European training techniques.
“I train on the straightaway, plus I’m very big on messaging the muscles,” she revealed. “It’s important to take good care of the muscles, to make sure they recover well and the horse comes back from training feeling healthy.
“The Hambletonian heats shouldn’t affect him and he should take it pretty well. When you train him his second trip is always better than the first.”
Celebrity Maserati trotted a wire-to-wire career best of 1:53 at Pocono Downs on May 15.
“That was an eye catching mile and he did it easily,” gushed Strandqvist. “He was strong the entire mile and that was impressive. Knock on wood, this colt continues to point in the right direction. His easy way of going should protect him heading to the Hambletonian. He’s so handy. You can put him on the front or wherever you want. I guess he’s push button like a Maserati.
“He’ll get a bit of a break after the Beal, then we’ll decide if he goes in another sires stakes or the Stanley Dancer Memorial.
“Being from Sweden, the Elitlopp was always my dream, but when you come to America you want to be in the Hambletonian. Now it’s our big goal, but we’ll take it one day at a time. My husband trained the winner of the 2007 [$441,750] Sweetheart, Mcarts N Crafts, but this is obviously much bigger.
“I grew up in a harness racing family. My father, Thomas Strandqvist was a successful trainer. So, I’ve spent a lifetime in racing, and now I’m only a few weeks away from the biggest race in the sport. Everybody knows how hard it is to get there, and it’s even harder to win. Our owner [Sam Stathis] is very enthusiastic, he’s very excited, but I’m going race by race.”
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