And considering there is a six-hour time difference, we do mean all hours.
But that was the allure of the sport for Marcus, who was making a good name for himself as a European driver but was always fascinated by Standardbreds in the States.
“Everyone in my family always loved America,” Melander said. “We love Sweden too and we always loved America. Especially me, I loved harness racing over here too. I’ve always been in love with American harness racing since 12, 13 years old, sitting up at night with the time difference checking all the big races from here. I always wanted to come here.”
His wish came true last year when the Melanders moved from Stockholm to New Egypt, N.J., to purchase the farm owned by the late legend, Stanley Dancer.
“We were sitting home and I know my dad said that this farm was for sale and had been for a couple of years,” Melander said. “We said if we had a chance to buy it, maybe we should do it and after a couple of months we decided to do it.
“I know about Stanley. He’s a legend. On this farm there’s been many good horses from Stanley’s time and it’s a great farm. I love it here, I’m very happy we had the option to buy it. It’s amazing.”
Marcus trains 15 horses at the newly named Melander Stables, and the family owns either all or part of every horse. His dad, Mikael, is a flight captain who works on the farm as much as possible, while his mom Madelene and sister Mikaela tend to the stables and groom the horses.
“We’re working as a team and it’s been good, it’s been working out well,” Marcus said. “Fifteen horses are enough. I’ve got seven babies, three 2-year-olds and a couple older ones. It’s perfect.”
And it’s only just the start for the 23-year-old Melander, who has been in love with horses from the start. His family bought a farm when he was 7, and Marcus began to work with ponies a year later.
“I started to race them, we had about 20 ponies,” he recalled. “Not all the ponies are easy to drive, so it was a good (learning) experience for me.
“I stopped doing that when I was 15. You can start to race big horses when you’re 16 in Sweden. So I went to the big horses at 16, I quit school and went to work for my uncle.”
That’s not a bad place to learn the ropes, as Marcus’ uncle Stefan (Mikael’s brother) won the Hambletonian with Scarlet Knight in 2001 and currently has multiple-stakes-winner Nuncio. While there, Marcus began training some of the youngsters on the farm.
“I learned so much working for my uncle,” Melander said. “He had a big stable with 150 horses in training. He gave me a lot of chances to drive in races too. You can just drive a few races between (ages) 16 and 18, like the fairs here. But when I was 18 I was driving more and more.”
And he was succeeding.
At age 19, Melander won Sweden’s equivalent to the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Rising Star Award. He continued to rack up the wins and had just more than 100 when the Melanders moved to America.
“I was still working for my uncle until the last year,” Marcus said. “Everything went pretty fast. I drove a lot of races back home and it was hard to quit that, but I decided it would be fun to test it out here.”
Once he arrived, he continued to gain tutelage under one of the best ever, as Melander worked for trainer Jimmy Takter over the summer. And considering the summer Takter had, it was a heck of a time to be with that stable.
“Working with him taught me a lot,” Marcus said. “None of the drivers knew who I was but in the summer I was traveling a lot with the horses so I got to know people. It was very good.”
Marcus Melander picked up his first U.S. driving
win with Alwaysafirsttime at Freehold.
USTA/Ken Weingartner photos
It was even better on Nov. 1, 2014, when Melander picked up his first U.S. win by driving Alwaysafirsttime to victory at Freehold. Marcus took the early lead and never looked back.
“That was awesome,” Melander said. “I had never won over here. Sweden I won a lot but not here. I just loved it. It was great.
“It was one of my own horses. She was dropping one class and had been training pretty good so I knew I had a good shot. I came to the lead easy and it felt really good all the way.”
The win was exciting for two reasons -- it was his first, and it was on one of his own.
“I love to drive,” Melander said. “You get an extra kick when you drive. When you’re racing it’s just so much fun, but it’s also fun to train horses. When you have the babies it’s fun to see the horse from the beginning and how it goes, and when you win (driving) with that horse you’re extra happy. Of course I’m happy if I win any race, but if you win a race with a horse you’ve raised it’s great.”
Marcus got an even bigger thrill this past January when he drove Wygant Princess for his first win at the Meadowlands.
“That was also with one of my horses and that was just amazing,” he said. “To do it at the Meadowlands was just great.”
Melander said the biggest difference in Standardbred racing here and in Sweden is the speed, which isn’t surprising since the races are shorter in the U.S.
“It’s faster for the entire race,” he said. “In Sweden it’s a longer distance. Here you go one mile for the most part. In Sweden we have one and a half miles. In Sweden you go from the start, take it easy in the middle and go the last quarter again.”
Melander has won four times in America and is hoping to bump that number up if he can get more drives.
“I love to drive,” he said. “I would love to drive more. It’s not easy, there’s a lot of good guys out there, but we’ll see. I can drive my own horses and I hope to get more drives.”
And who knows. Maybe there will be a young boy in Stockholm staying up all night just to follow the exploits of Marcus Melander.