• Sebastian K

    Before making his US debut in the Cutler Memorial elimination there were doubters. Could an 8 year old European beat the best North Americans? Most expected him to do well but it was more curiosity and no expectation of supremacy. Sure, he was clearly good but there were several question marks in most eyes. He had only started in one qualifier, he was running barefoot, he was not on Lasix and the sulky used was not the most efficient. Consequently, in his debut he went off at 5-1 odds but less than 2 minutes later had taken North America by storm with a dazzling 1:08.5/1:50.1 performance - equaling the world and track record. There were still doubters, though. In a comment on Standardbred Canada's website, one comment read "Sebastian K raced without shoes in this effort, I have yet to see a trotter race well back to back without shoes in N.A. It remains to be seen."

    Turns out it no longer remains to be seen. In the US, Sebastian K would go from victory to victory, usually winning with ease and on June 28 he shattered the world record for all categories with a stunning 1:07.8/1:49 win in the Sun Invitational at Pocono. After his record-equaling debut most people expected Sebastian K to lower the world record, but the manner in which he did it took many by surprise. It would not take long for Godzilla comparisons to appear online. His only North American slip-up was a loss to Intimidate in the Maple Leaf Trot on a wet Mohawk racetrack but normalcy was soon restored with a resounding win on Hambletonian day when he equaled Archangel's fresh 1:50 world record in the Cashman Memorial - still racing barefoot and staying off Lasix. His trainer Åke Svanstedt firmly believes that racing barefoot gives a horse a more natural gait and is advantageous despite this being extremely uncommon in the US.

    The story of Sebastian K started 3 generations ago when his owners, Swedish company Knutsson Trotting AB (founded by Bertil Knutsson and now owned by brothers Michael Knutsson and Tristan Sjöberg) acquired Sissi Hari. Her sire was The Prophet, a good trotter who was second to Triple Crown winner Lindy's Pride in both the Hambletonian and the Yonkers Trot, as well as Swedish champion sire for three years. Her dam Willa Eden, was imported from the US in 1980 and her maternal line runs, through Dorothy Day, back to Mamie. She was covered by Probe and the resulting foal was named Gabriela K - after Michael's oldest child who was born just before - and would go on to make only 13 starts due to an injury. According to Tristan Sjöberg, "she is dominant and her personality has also been passed on to Sebastian. None of the other horses dare to mess with her, even now when she is 20 years old." When White Bliss, better know as "the white pacer", came to Svanstedt's training facility in Florida there were many horses frightened by the white horse. Sebastian K, however, went straight to the White Bliss and nipped him. In the eyes of Sjöberg, it was like he was saying "do not think you can come here and think you are something". Today, however, they are in boxes and paddocks next to each other at Legend Farm and are best buddies.

    Bertil Knudssen strongly believed in mixing American and French bloodlines saw and the extremely speedy Korean as a very good match with Gabriella K. From early one it became clear that Sebastian K possessed tremendous speed. With an owner who did not believe in starting two year olds and a throat infection early in the 3 year old season, his start was slightly delayed but in only his 7th career start he did set a Swedish record for 3 year olds over long distance (2600 meters/1 10/16th mile) with the voltestart starting method with a 1:15.6 kilometer rate time (2:01.3f MR). At 3 and 4 he was a bit inconsistent, failing in the Sprintermästaren (Sprint Championship, for 4 year olds), the Swedish Breeders Crown and the Swedish Derby elimination. But he surprised (at odds of 191 for 10) by winning the Konung Gustaf Vs Pokal (King Gustaf V's Trophy) and finished second in the Grand Prix l’UET (the European championship for 4 year olds) behind Main Wise As.

    In his 5 year season in 2011 he managed "only" 3 wins in 15 starts, but finished second in another 6 races, including second to Rapide Lebel in both heats of the Åby Stora Pris. The following year he firmly established himself as one of the best horses in Europe, winning the Finlandia-Ajo in the spring, before bring home Sundsvall Open Trot, Åby Stora Pris and the UET Trotting Masters final later that year. Midway through the year he moved from Lutfi Kolgjini to Åke Svanstedt and the moved seemed to improve Sebastian K even further. Tristan Sjöberg explains: "it was no criticism of the job Kolgjini had done, we just wanted to try a different setup" and felt that Svanstedt and Sebastian K seemed to be on the same wavelength immediately. Sebastian K trotted a then personal best of 1:09/1:51 in his first race for Svanstedt when finishing second to Commander Crowe in the Hugo Åbergs Memorial. In 2013 he continued to show himself as one of the best European trotters, winning Oslo Grand Prix, Årjängs Stora Sprinterlopp (Årjängs Big Sprintrace) and Åby Stora Pris by defeating Save The Quick in the raceoff after going 4-1 in the two first heats. He also won his Elitlopp elimination but failed in the final, winning 6 of 11 races and taking his career stats so far to 26-12-2 in 63 starts, before he followed Svanstedt to the US.

    Perhaps surprisingly, when Sebastian K won his fifth US start, it was the first time in his career he had won 5 in a row. In Europe there was no question that he was extremely speedy and one of the best sprinters (milers) around, but he had off-days and there was also a question if he was better in the lead or attacking from a withdrawn position. After the 1:49 race, Svanstedt indicated that the big move had changed Sebastian, stating that "earlier he would look back and wait for other horses but now he is fully focused on going forward." Oddly enough, the lengthy quarantine in which Sebastian had to go though, might have focused and improved him as a trotter. According to Sjöberg, "I think 7 months in rest in quarantine has given him new momentum."

    After conquering the US racetracks, will he conquer US breeding sheds? Sjöberg states that "I believe that Sebastian will generate much interest in North America because he is a genuine outcross option and several farms have already expressed an interest in standing him." Whatever the future holds, this beautiful Swedish trotter has certainly made Julius Caesar's words his own. Veni Vidi Vici. "I came, I saw, I conquered."