June 12, 2021 – by Chris Tully for First Tracks Cumberland

CUMBERLAND, ME – With nearly 500 driving wins to her credit, it’s perhaps a stretch to refer to Valerie Grondin as an amateur.  But she has not driven third-party horses professionally, and recorded her last win in 2013 in a Maine Amateur Driving Club (MADC) event. 

Fast forward to Saturday (June 12) at Cumberland, and Grondin expertly handled Gold Star Spider in another $4,200 MADC sprint by putting the pacer right on the engine and never looking back.

Brushing quickly to the front from post three, Grondin dictated fractions of :29.3, 1:01.1, 1:30 and stepped on the accelerator in the final stretch drive to draw off and win by three and a half lengths in 1:59, last quarter in :29.

“It felt great to be in the bike again,” exclaimed Cumberland’s third leading trainer.  Grondin continued, “Winning makes all the long days worth it.  Spider is perfect to drive, he has been with us for four years.”

Gold Star Spider is a seven-year-old stallion by Rock On, trained by Grondin and is owned by Heath Campbell and Gino Martucci.  He paid $7.20 to win.  Wagering favorite Plus One (Joe Burke) finished second.  Kreacher (Benson Merrill) was third.

Grondin and her partner Heath Campbell, together train about 26 horses that are split between the overnight horses at Grondin’s farm in Corinna, and the Maine Stakes horses stabled at Bangor.

Approaching another milestone, Valerie Grondin is just 4 wins shy of 2,000 training wins.  Having earned over $8 million in trainers’ earnings in the last four decades, the Bangor-born conditioner enjoys the racing and camaraderie at the new Cumberland facility.

Quick to share the credit of her success, Grondin points out that all the work gets done “with an excellent crew and involved partners.”  Inspired by her good friend and fellow Maine-based trainer Kelly Case, they bought a horse together for $300 in 1984 and named it I Would, a mare by Frisky Thomas. 

“She went out and won her first five races in a row for Kelly,” Grondin fondly recalls. 

It’s clear that the horse ‘I Would’ turned Valerie Grondin into an ‘I can’ …and so out she went, traveling boldly into the world of Maine harness racing, never looking back.

While Grondin was pleased with the new seasonal mark of 1:59 for Gold Star Spider, she is not ready to rest on her laurels.  “I am just getting back started.  I have put this off too long.  My goal is to get to win number 500!”

Currently sitting on 494 driving victories, Grondin just needs six more to hit 500.  Stay tuned.

The other MADC split was captured by Three Day Forecast and active amateur driver Todd Whitney in 2:00.3.

Following a photo finish, favorite Three Day Forecast held off a late charge by Stonebridge Grand (Joe Burke) to win the $4,200 event by a head.  Flooded with fans for the Blue Seal Feeds winners circle presentation, trainer Ryan Berry held the 10-year-old son of Three Olives for the 36th win of his career.

Berry and Whitney share ownership of Three Day Forecast, who paid $5.40 to win.

Continuing her dedication to the MADC and Cumberland, and returning to make the presentations to the winning amateur connections was Aimee Nichols, Blue Seal and Kent feeds territory sales manager for Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.  Nichols provided ‘swag bucket’ trophies of stable supplies on behalf of the Windham and North Yarmouth Blue Seal Feed stores to both amateur race winning connections.

After three weeks and four divisions, Todd Whitney leads the point standings in the Maine Amateur Driving Club, followed closely by Benson Merrill in second, Charles “Butch” Eaton in third and Joe Burke hits the board in fourth.

In overnight racing news, Andrew Harrington and Dan Delandes both enjoyed driving doubles on the Saturday afternoon card.  In the $6,000 Winners Over Trot, Bruizin (Harrington) returned to Cumberland to capture the event for a second time this season, winning by a half-length over Cherry Crown Jewel (Matt Athearn) in 1:59.3.  Caulfield (Mike Stevenson) finished third.

The strapping seven-year-old son of Musclini is trained by Kim Ireland and owned by Dennis and Deb Foss.  He paid a whopping $32.20 to win.

Live harness racing from Cumberland is presented each Tuesday and Saturday through early August, post time is 2:30 pm.  For more information go to our website: firsttrackscumberland.com