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Harness Racing

There’s an interesting connection behind the top two horses in this year’s Hambletonian

Mikaela Wallin is the caretaker for Joviality S, the 7-2 second choice in the 97th edition of the $1 million Hambletonian, harness racing’s biggest event each year.Mark Hall

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Unlike the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Mikaela Wallin won’t have to choose between family and a lover who also happens to be a rival.

Wallin is the caretaker for Joviality S, the 7-2 second choice in the 97th edition of the $1 million Hambletonian, harness racing’s biggest event each year. Joviality S was trained by her brother, Marcus Melander, for Saturday’s race at The Meadowlands.

However Wallin is also the wife of Lucas Wallin, who trains 9-5 favorite Rebuff.

Lucas Wallin is the trainer for Rebuff, the favorite to win the 97th edition of the $1 million Hambletonian.Mark Hall

It sounds like a recipe for tension, but Mikaela and her family insist there’s none.

“We see each other all the time,” said Mikaela of her husband and brother. “They do talk a lot, like girls. Almost worse than girls, those two.”

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Mikaela and Lucas have been together for eight years, and were married in April. They are expecting a baby boy in November.

Marcus moved to the United States from Sweden in 2013 and opened his own stable the following year, when Mikaela and Lucas followed him to the States.

“Yeah, they started dating when they both got over here and it’s a long time ago,” said Marcus. “I didn’t really know Lucas in Sweden. I knew who he was, but I didn’t really know him.”

Was Mikaela nervous to bring Lucas home to meet Marcus for the first time?

“No, not me. Lucas was probably more nervous,” she said.

“I had to clean his shoes for a couple of weeks and then he accepted me,” said Lucas with a laugh.

“I didn’t really have any thought about [him dating Mikaela], but I didn’t hear any bad things about him,” said Marcus. “He’s a good guy. You know, we train on the same training farm, and we see each other every day so we talk about everything. If someone has an idea, we talk to each other.”

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Not only do Mikaela, Lucas, and Marcus work next to each other, their horses will be neighbors at the Hambletonian — with the Tim Tetrick-driven Rebuff starting from the rail and Brian Sears driving Joviality S from post two.

“She gets angry a lot, just like me,” Mikaela said of Joviality S. “She’s such a laid-back horse, but she has a temperament also. I think that’s what makes her so good, that she likes to fight.”

There’ll be no fighting when The Hambletonian comes up at the dinner table this week.

Trainers Lucas Wallin, left, and Marcus Melander, right, both have horses competing in the 97th edition of the $1 million Hambletonian.Ken Weingartner

“She loves her horses and, of course, she wants both Lucas and her horses to do good,” said Marcus. “The same with me. I’m very good friends with Lucas. If we don’t win, I’d like him to win. No hard feelings there. I hope it will be an honest race and everyone gets their chance.”

“We talk a lot about the horses and everything,” said Mikaela. “Yeah, he gets to hear about [Joviality S] a lot and I get to hear about [Rebuff] a lot, which is great.”

And while Lucas wants Rebuff to win, Joviality S winning could be the next best thing.

“We’ll see if we’re going to sleep in the same house next week,” Lucas said.

The Hambletonian, which has a post time of 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, will be streamed live on The Meadowlands’s YouTube channel and Facebook page, @Meadowlands Racetrack.

Amanda Stellwag, a rising junior at Rutgers University, is writing for the Boston Globe as part of the Clyde Hirt Journalism Workshop held annually in conjunction with the Hambletonian.

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