By Ken Weingartner–Mattias Melander is uncertain what the future holds for his career as a driver. The 23-year-old is simply taking it one race at a time.
“I don’t really have a plan,” said Melander, the younger brother of Rising Star Award-winning trainer Marcus Melander. “I don’t think about it too much.
“I like (driving). I’m not sure that’s all I want to do, but that’s what I want to do right now. I’ve been getting more chances and I like it more and more. I feel more confident with everything.”
Melander, who works with his brother at the family’s training center in central New Jersey, entered Thursday with 14 wins in 64 drives this year. He got his first Grand Circuit victory in August with trotter Back Of The Neck and will team up again with the 2-year-old colt in Saturday’s C$370,000 William Wellwood Memorial at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Back Of The Neck, one of two Wellwood finalists from the Melander Stable, won his elimination last weekend by 1-1/2 lengths over favorite Port Perry in a career-best 1:55. The other Melander finalist, Capricornus, also was an elim winner. Tim Tetrick drives Capricornus.
For the season, Back Of The Neck, from the family of Dan Patch Award winner Broadway Schooner, has won three of five races and $53,095. He is a son of Ready Cash out of Big Barb and was purchased for $150,000 at the 2018 Standardbred Horse Sale. He is owned by Howard Taylor, Judy Taylor, and breeder Order By Stable.
In addition to his wins in the Reynolds and Wellwood eliminations, Back Of The Neck won his debut in a preliminary round of the Kindergarten Classic Series. He was third in his elim for the Peter Haughton Memorial and seventh in the final from post eight.
Melander has driven the colt in all five starts.
“After I won with him in the first race, the owners said I could keep driving him, so I was very fortunate they wanted that,” Melander said. “He is a little bit (tricky to drive).
“He behaves, but you have to be very careful with him because he wants to do more than he actually can. You can’t grab him too much and you can’t grab him too little because then he’s going to make a break or something like that. It’s a fine line.
“He’s very talented for sure. He was a late bloomer but once he started developing he (progressed) real fast. He’s very nice gaited. He does exactly what I ask him to do. When I tell him to go, he goes. I don’t think there is anything I don’t like about him. He’s a good horse like that.”
Melander’s other wins this year include two preliminary rounds of the Kentucky Sire Stakes series with 2-year-old male trotter Expectations and three state-bred-restricted races in Pennsylvania with 2-year-old male trotter Rome Pays Off.
Expectations competes Sunday in the Kentucky Sire Stakes final at Lexington’s Red Mile. Melander will turn over the lines to Brian Sears for that race.
“That’s Brian’s drive; I’ve only been driving him because he hasn’t been there,” Melander said. “Expectations is a perfect gentleman, perfect to drive. He doesn’t get worked up, he’s just perfect on the bit, and when you ask him to go, he does.”
Melander, a native of Sweden, came to the U.S. four years ago and began working at the stable of trainer Jimmy Takter, where his brother Marcus had also worked. Mattias planned to return home after a year, but Takter talked him into staying.
“He told me I was going to learn a lot more, and I did,” Melander said. “I’m grateful that he told me and convinced me to stay another year. I got a lot more experience working in a big stable. Jimmy is a great teacher. I got to learn a lot that year.”
Melander’s education continues today, particularly in the sulky.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is probably more patience,” Melander said. “I could get a little eager before. That’s the biggest thing. Don’t get too eager.
“In the beginning, I would sit and think about (a bad race) a lot,” he added. “I’ve learned more and more to just let that go. If there is something that I did wrong, I’m going to think about it because I want to develop and not do it again. But it’s not something I’m going to sit and think about when I’m going to drive another race. You have to move on.”
Melander hopes to keep moving on successfully but is not putting any expectations on his career.
“I just want to keep on driving and develop,” he said. “It would be nice to drive in some more big races, that’s experience too. Just keep on driving.”
One race at a time.