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Friday, May 20, 2016


by Sturla Petterson, Special to VFTRG

[Editor:  The following comes from a Facebook group on harness racing and is reprinted with permission of the author.]

The Finnhorse (Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
Since the group is called "harness racing" I figured a few words about European trotters would be allowed. Not French of Scandinavian standardbred trotters, but rather Scandinavian coldblood trotters. Anybody who has visited a racetrack in Norway, Sweden or Finland has probably seen a Coldblood trotter. Although considered a Coldblood trotter, the Finnhorse is different (has a different studbook) than the Norwegian/Swedish coldblood trotter. There is a lot of pride among the breeders of these horses and suggesting that "it is pretty much the same thing" or that the studbooks should be mixed is a sure way to start a fight or at least get lifelong hatred and ugly looks.

A Scandinavian Coldblood Mare and Foal
 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
They are on average slightly smaller, heavier, and more compact than the standardbred (and naturally not as fast). Pretty much all colours are found and roan and buckskin are not uncommon. It is not early developed compared to the standardbred, 3 year olds are generally not really to go up against better aged trotters for example, and it is not uncommon for aged horses not to shine until they are 6 or even 7, although there are some exceptions to this of course. Some race up to 15, the mandatory retirement age.

The Norwegian/Swedish Coldblood trotter is a result of breeding lighter horses into the native heavier draft horses. Historically the most important horse is the British thoroughbred Odin b 1830 whose great-grandchild Veikle Balder is considered "the Hambletonian of the Coldblood trotter." In Norway in the 1870s they started to distinguish between the heavier farm/work horse and the lightertransport/trotter horse (used to transport people) and breeding started to specialize a bit. But the specialization did not last and the most popular horse after 1900, Dale Gudbrand, was quarter Ardenner - with all the typical Ardenner features (big, broad, muscular, short and sturdy legs) and the race again move to a heavier type. But today these heavier influences are to a large extend bred out of importance.
The Norwegian studbook was closed in 1937. Throughout history there have been some Coldblood trotters that have been suspected to have a standardbred sire, one example is Schuvarda (pictured).

On July 9, 1955 the breed broke the 1.30KM barrier (2.24.4MR) when Molyn trotted 2.22.4 at Jarlsberg. Old newspaper clippings from back then talk about how the Coldblood trotters were now going as fast as they could and that any further records should not be expected...

In the 80s things started to really move. Anybody who visited the Elitlopp in the 80s probably remember Alm Svarten, an outstanding horse who usually ran circles around his opponents. In 1987 Alm Svarten had lowered the record to 1.21.5KM / 2.11.1MR.

Atom Vinter (Photo Credit: Unknown)
At the same time a buckskin colt called Atom Vinter ("Nuclear Winter") hit the tracks. His breeder-owner-trainer was an amateur who claimed he just used common sense and hard work to prepare his horse. Atom Vinter was usually given brutal trips, either parked outside the leader or trotting most of the race third over. With an owner who had no fear but also knew how to appeal to the crowd he was extremely popular from 88 to the mid-90s.

Around the same time a good, though not spectacular colt named Elding also hit the tracks. Although a good trotter and one of the better aged ones, when retired to stud the breed completely transformed. Take the influence of Star's Pride, Speedy Crown, Meadow Skipper and Valley Victory, double it, then you have the influence of Elding in today's Coldblood trotter. the only problem with that in such a small breed it has created some inbreeding problems.

Historically Norwegian coldblood trotters have outperformed the Swedish ones but that would all change with the birth of Järvsöfaks in 1994. Unquestionably the best Coldblood trotter in history, he finished 201-16-4 in 234 starts and a world record of 1.17.9KM / 2.05.2MR and also has the record for coldblood trotters in consecutive wins with 42.

In 1990 Elding's first crop hit the tracks and it included Lannem Sjura, a highly talented filly who because of injuries only raced 11 times but finished 9-2-0 in those 11 starts. She became a very good broodmare and her last foal rewrote all record books. Lannem Silje, her last foal (by Åsajerven, a son of Järvsöfaks), unfortunately had to retire earlier this year at the tender age of 6 so she "only" managed 48 starts. In those 48 starts, however, she was 44-3-1, winning absolutely everything. When setting her personal best of 1.18.8KM / 2:06.4MR as a 5 year old she lowered the record for aged fillies by more than 6 seconds (you can hear the commentators laughing in amazement: it is completely unheard of for a 5 year old - and a filly at that - to be this good, they just shouldn't be able to beat older trotters this early). She would usually beat the colts in her crop by 20-30 lengths when she wanted to (this from her 3 year old season - after a fast but somewhat manageable opening lap she just blew everything to pieces, finishing just a second behind her own record and this on a wet and soggy track on a cold November night).

Bred, owned and trained by an older gentleman who has taken Silje around to many of the smaller tracks, the horse and her owner is an extremely popular duo and whenever Silje has come to a local track a few thousand extra spectators have come too - she's done a lot for the sport. She's so superior and spectacular yet also so folksy that one cannot help but love her. And although she hadn't a chance to do it, Järvsöfaks 1.17.9 record would have been history had she not been injured - only a few die hard Swedish fans believe otherwise.

The charm of Lannem Silje is also found in a few of her victories. When she won the Kriterium in 2013 she suffered from teeth and throat problems. When she pretty stopped running with a half a lap to go it was just shock. When somebody came up on her side she responded in spectacular fashion (it cannot be explained, just watch it: just watch the final lap from 1:30 or so - needless to say, this was the one time where having a very experienced driver helped her). And when she broke wildly at the start in Kongepokalløpet in 2014 it finally seemed like she couldn't win ... or so most of us thought. I recall sitting in the restaurant loudly proclaiming "wow, I think she might actually lose this one" 10 seconds into the race. How could I know she would still win by 10 or so lengths while not even breaking a sweat? 

On her Facebook page, Lannem Silje has more than 4500 followers!

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