HARRISBURG PA -- They were the pairing that seemed to be almost too good to be true – combining a proud family tradition, a love of the trotting horse, a woman pursuing the dream that her late husband never quite attained, and a young man, a college student, with sparkling “bloodlines” on both sides of his pedigree.
But it was this perfect harness team – Marion Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling – who owned Marion Marauder, winner of the Triple Crown of Trotting and Trotter of the Year honors during 2016. And they loved every minute of it.
Now, they have been voted Owners of the Year for 2016 by the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), the sport’s leading trade group for communicators.
“Jean,” as she is generally known, is the wife of the late Canadian Hall of Famer Bill Wellwood, a “trottin’ horse” man who trained many quality horses during his distinguished career, but never quite came up with “the big one”. Devin is a college sophomore, Jean’s grandson and the son of her daughter Paula and horseman Mike Keeling, who had been a caretaker for Bill Wellwood.
This living of a dream started in Lexington in 2014, where Jean picked a royally-pedigreed horse (Muscle Hill-Spellbound Hanover) via a catalogue, with daughter Paula haltering the colt for a bargain $37,000.
Then came patient development under the tutelage of Paula Wellwood and Mike Keeling (improving from start to start), perfect handling by driver Scott Zeron, and Marion Marauder realizing that he could be the type of colt that Bill Wellwood and those in his family always wanted, all resulting in a sensational sophomore campaign in 2016. He ended up the season with a record of 15-10-3-0, and he led all North American trotters with earnings of $1,484,532.
Marion Marauder became only the ninth horse to win Trotting’s Triple Crown, and the first since Glidemaster in 2006. The “Marauder” was certainly the right horse at the right place at the right time – winning the Hambletonian by a nose and the Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity by a head each – and Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling, experience and youth, “trottin’ people”, part of an extended “happy family,” climbed to the pinnacle of success as harness horse owners.
Marion Jean Wellwood and Devin Keeling (along with Marion Marauder) will be honored at the “Night Of Champions,” the Dan Patch Awards Banquet Presented by Hoosier Park, which will take place on Sunday, February 26 at the Planet Hollywood hotel/casino in Las Vegas. Information about the banquet and the entire weekend, which will also contain the annual meetings of USHWA, can be found on the communicators’ website, www.ushwa.org – including links for making hotel reservations at special rates at Planet Hollywood; banquet tickets; and congratulatory or acknowledgment ads in the keepsake Souvenir Banquet Journal, annually one of the best chronicles of a year in North American harness racing.