Larry Karr remembers fondly his days as a teenager when his father, Allen, raced horses in the New York metro area. The names of those horses would mean little to most people today, Karr said, but he still can recall his favorites, such as hard-knocking harness racing pacer Jester J.
On Saturday, Karr will head to Empire City Casino'sto watch a trotter that he hopes people might remember in the years to come. Karr is among the owners of 5-year-old gelding In Secret, who will face nine rivals in the $1 million .
In Secret is one of two U.S. representatives in the 39th edition of the invitational event, which also includes trotters from Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, and Sweden. The other U.S. contender is Resolve, who won last year's International Trot.
The race was held from 1959 through 1995 before being resurrected three years ago by Yonkers President and CEO Tim Rooney. The race is at the extended distance of 1-1/4 miles.
"This is actually my home track," said Karr, who grew up in Rockland County, N.Y., about 20 miles from Yonkers Raceway. "(My dad) used to race horses at Yonkers, the Meadowlands, and Roosevelt. To have a horse, when my dad owned cheap claimers, that can race in a race like this is a dream come true."
In Secret will be driven by George Brennan, whose stepfather Joe Ricco Jr. sometimes drove horses for Karr's dad.
"It's an interesting connection," Karr said.
Trainer Ron Burke bought In Secret for $140,000 at July's Tattersalls Summer Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands Racetrack. The horse, a son of Deweycheatumnhowe out of the mare Secret Magic whose family includes million-dollar-earner Possess The Magic, is owned by Burke Racing, the partnership of Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi, J&T Silva Stables, and Karr.
Following the acquisition, In Secret and Brennan won five consecutive starts at Yonkers, with four coming in the open handicap. For his career, In Secret has won 21 of 75 races and earned $358,385.
"We talked about the possibility that this could occur," Karr said of receiving an invitation to the International Trot. "We were hopeful that it would occur and that Yonkers would recognize the great races this horse has put in against home-track horses. It will be very interesting to see how he stacks up internationally."
In Secret will have his work cut out for him. He drew post No. 8, the outermost spot on the starting gate, which has produced winners in only three percent of the track's races at the standard distance of one mile. However, In Secret and Brennan have a victory at Yonkers from post eight in a race that was contested at 1-1/4 miles on Aug. 13.
"That was against much lesser company," Brennan said. "I've raced him both ways (from the front and off the lead). In a race like this, you're definitely going to have to try to move forward and try to get involved somehow. He's versatile. But he's going to have to be real versatile."
Brennan is a two-time U.S. Driver of the Year Award winner and has twice led the Yonkers driving colony in seasonal victories. He is one of two drivers to win the Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks on the same day, with Broad Bahn in the Hambletonian and Bold And Fresh in the Oaks in 2011, and sat in for an injured John Campbell to guide Glidemaster to victory in the 2006 Yonkers Trot and complete the colt's sweep of the Trotting Triple Crown.
"(Winning the International Trot) would be terrific," Brennan said. "I thank Mr. Rooney for carrying it on, the legacy. And Yonkers being my home track, it would be icing on the cake. It would be great."
"There's plenty in there to beat, that's for sure," Brennan said.
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Marion Marauder is no stranger to Yonkers Raceway. Last year, the horse went 2-for-2 at The Hilltop, winning both the elimination and final of the Yonkers Trot.
The Yonkers Trot win resulted in an invitation to last year's International Trot, but his connections turned it down to focus on the Trotting Triple Crown (Hambletonian, Yonkers Trot, and Kentucky Futurity) and Breeders Crown. Marion Marauder completed his sweep of the Triple Crown by winning the Futurity a week prior to the International.
"Turning it down last year was tough," said Mike Keeling, who trains Marion Marauder with wife Paula Wellwood.
"We always put a lot of thought into everything we do with him," he continued, discussing the decision to accept this year. "We had a schedule mapped out and we always knew this might come up. Once we talked to a few of our friends that have done this, they recommended it highly. They said Yonkers does a wonderful job and treats you like a king. We decided, not many people get this opportunity so we're going to do it."
Marion Marauder is one of only two 4-year-olds in the race. The other is Dreammoko.
"This means the world to us," Wellwood said. "He's the horse of a lifetime. He is very special and we're honored to have him.
"This would be as exciting as winning the Hambletonian, for sure," she added. "It's a very prestigious race that my family has been in before. It would be a great honor."
Marion Marauder, owned by Devin Keeling and Jean Wellwood, won this year's Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-olds at the distance of 1-1/8 miles at the Meadowlands. He has won 14 of 35 lifetime races and earned $2.22 million. He starts the International Trot from post No. 1 with regular driver Scott Zeron.
Zeron said he would spend this week taking a look at his competition, particularly from Europe.
"That's what I have to do through this week, study those horses that are from overseas and figure out what kind of characteristics they have," Zeron said. "I know that so far I'm going to have the shortest distance to the wire, so I'm very happy with the draw and I'm happy with my horse."
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Denmark's Tripolini VP comes to the International Trot with three wins in his last four races. The 7-year-old gelding drew post nine in the second tier, behind Marion Marauder, and is 15-1 on the morning line. He will be driven by trainer Jeppe Juel.
For his career, Tripolini VP has won 21 of 56 races and earned $230,561. He is a son of stallion Archduke Kemp out of the mare Lady Magic D. His dam is by U.S.-bred Shane Scottseth and his sire, by Express Ride out of the mare Emilie Cas El, is a half-brother to 2014 Hambletonian winner Trixton.
"He's a very tough horse, that's what makes him special," said owner Niels Juel, the father of Jeppe. "He is in good shape. He's not won any very big races, but he's won a lot of them and worked very hard to make his money.
"We are excited and happy to be here."
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Oasis Bi, who finished second to Resolve in last year's International Trot and is making his third appearance in the event, will start Saturday from post No. 2. That post happens to be the starting spot of the two most recent International champions, Resolve and Norway's Papagayo.
"It is difficult to win this race; there are a lot of good horses," trainer Stefan Pettersson said. "We think we've got a very good number behind the gate and he's in good shape, so we'll do our best."
Added owner P.G. Svard, "We say the third time gives us luck."
The International Trot is part of a New York harness-record $3.3 million card at Yonkers on Saturday. Racing begins at 1 p.m. and includes eight New York Sire Stakes championships plus two $250,000 invitationals, the Dan Rooney Pace and Harry Harvey Trot.
Following is the field in post-position order for the International Trot with drivers, trainers and morning line odds.
1. Marion Marauder-Scott Zeron-Paula Wellwood-5/1
2. Oasis Bi-Kim Eriksson-Stefan Pettersson-5/1
3. Dreammoko-Gabriele Gelormini-Richard Westerink-6/1
4. Twister Bi-Christoffer Eriksson-Jerry Riordan-4/1
5. Shadow Woodland-Tim Tetrick-Reijo Liljendahl-12/1
6. Resolve-Ake Svanstedt-Ake Svanstedt-3/1
7. Midnight Hour-Iikka Nurmonen-Ossi Nurmonen-10/1
8. In Secret-George Brennan-Ron Burke-6/1
9. Tripolini VP-Jeppe Juel-Jeppe Juel-15/1
10. On Track Piraten-Johnny Takter-Hans Stromberg-8/1
Note: Tripolini VP and On Track Piraten start from the second tier.
For more information, visit www.internationaltrot.com.