By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media — When Sarah and Ake Svanstedt moved to the U.S. eight years ago with their two young children, Erik and Jonas, it was for a new adventure, as well as the chance to slow from the hectic pace of operating a 200-horse stable and racing year-round across Sweden.
In the years since arriving in the States, the Svanstedt Stable has not reached triple digits in horses, but it hasn’t exactly slowed down, either. After beginning with 35 horses in its first season of racing, the business has increased exponentially to nearly 80.
With the steady growth has come sustained success. Ake Svanstedt has ranked among the top trainers in purses on an annual basis and climbed from fifth in 2019 to fourth in 2020 to third this year. With a month of Grand Circuit racing remaining on the schedule, Ake has already established career highs in trainer earnings with nearly $6 million and driver purses with more than $3.43 million.
The events of this past Saturday at The Meadowlands will rank among this year’s highlights as Ake captured the first two Breeders Crown trophies of his career, winning the Open Trot with Ecurie D DK and the Mare Trot with Felicityshagwell S. In addition, he had four other horses hit the board as the stable totaled $941,000 in Breeders Crown earnings.
We were supposed to slow down in life moving here from Sweden,” Sarah Svanstedt said with a laugh. “That didn’t happen obviously.
“This (success) comes with a lot of hours of work behind it. When these days pay off, you are proud of your work. And I am proud of the team behind us. All around, it’s amazing.”
Ake came into this year’s Breeders Crown finals with six second-place finishes and five thirds in 36 starts in the series. He became only the third trainer in the past 15 years to also drive his horse to victory in a Breeders Crown, joining Ray Schnittker with Deweycheatumnhowe in 2007 and Verlin Yoder with Woodside Charm in 2018.
“It’s big,” Ake said about winning two trophies Saturday. “It is a lot of money, but it is prestigious to win a Breeders Crown. I’m very happy. All the horses raced good. (Saturday) was one of the biggest race days ever in my life.”
Svanstedt, who began his professional career 38 years ago at the age of 24, was Sweden’s Trainer of the Year five times and Driver of the Year on three occasions. He won many of the top races in Europe, including the Elitlopp twice, and left Sweden with 6,306 victories as a driver and 5,384 as a trainer. He was inducted into Sweden’s Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I think to move to the U.S. is what Ake needed to keep doing as good with his horsemanship,” Sarah said. “He needed a new adventure, a new challenge, to give him something to work toward to do better. It was a big difference when we moved here. Not just racing wise; he had to change his driving style, he had to change his way of training with hotter weather, he had more (young horses). So, it has been a challenge.
“But it was fun to move here. The only thing that’s hard is when you don’t have family, and you have young kids. Our kids were 1 and 3 when we moved. That part has maybe been an even bigger challenge, to manage family life.”
The Svanstedts spend the winters in Florida and racing seasons in New Jersey. Sarah, who drove in nearly 500 races overseas, reduced her hands-on involvement with the stable when Erik and Jonas were younger, but has recently returned to assisting Ake with training and occasionally driving in races.
“The last two years, I’ve been his right hand,” Sarah said. “I have worked with him for 20 years, so I know what he wants training-wise, racing-wise, horse care. Training days, we’re on the track from early morning until lunch. If he is going (to race) and there are not too many horses, then I stay home with the kids. But, on many days, I’m part of it too.”
Earlier this year, Ake won the Hambletonian with Captain Corey, which adds to the specialness of this season for the Svanstedts.
“I’ve loved Corey from day one because he has always been such a professional,” Sarah said. “I work with every horse in the barn, but there was some connection with him that was extra. It is something very rare. And when it ends up being a great horse on top of that, it’s absolutely amazing.”
Among other top triumphs this year were the Yonkers Trot with Johan Palema, Beal Memorial with Captain Corey, and Dayton Trotting Derby with Back Of The Neck.
Since arriving in the U.S., Ake has won 776 races and $34.8 million in purses as a trainer. He has notched 479 victories as a driver.
“It’s been very rewarding, and I’m very thankful to everyone in the operation,” Sarah said. “Grooms, blacksmiths, veterinarians, dentists, and especially the owners. If there are no owners, we don’t have a job to go to. We’re thankful for owners that want to put their trust in us. We’re blessed.”
Ake, too, expressed his gratitude, knowing there are no guarantees for success.
“You can never expect it with the horses,” he said. “It takes work, day after day.”
After an emotional pause, he finished.