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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


 By Ken Weingartner, USTA JL Cruze might be 13 years old, but he still acts like a youngster on a daily basis.

“He goes in the field every day, and he loves that,” said trainer Eric Ell, who saw JL Cruze enter his stable in November 2014. “And you can’t hardly get him there without him wanting to go 100 mph when you turn him loose. He just busts across there like a 2-year-old. He’s been doing that ever since I’ve had him. That’s never changed.

“He’s something. He’s been incredible.”

JL Cruze, the 2015 Dan Patch Award winner for best older male trotter, is still winning races nine years after receiving that honor. The son of Crazed-Topcat Hall has two victories this season, upping his career total to 65 in 223 starts. He has banked $31,650 this year, pushing his lifetime earnings to $1.92 million, and could become only the second trotter in history to make at least $100,000 in a season on nine occasions.

Melady’s Monet leads the list of trotters with six-figure seasons, followed by a quartet to have done it eight times: JL Cruze, Arch Madness, Goodtimes, and Grain Of Truth.

“He just likes doing what he does; he likes going to the track and competing,” Ell said about JL Cruze. “I don’t know of any horses that he was butting heads with early in his career that are out there still going. I think he’s the last of the Mohicans. It’s amazing when you think about it.

“Father Time will catch up to him at some point, but I’ll just love watching him for as long as he can go.”

JL Cruze is owned by Ken Wood, Bill Dittmar Jr., and Stephen Iaquinta. The trio bought the gelding for $37,000 at the 2014 Standardbred Horse Sale Mixed Sale. The following year, they watched as he won 16 of 21 races, earned $627,456, and set numerous world records on his way to divisional honors. His victories included the Hambletonian Maturity and a 1:49.4 score in the Graduate Series final.

Last year, JL Cruze won 11 races — the second most of his career — in 33 starts. Only a dozen trotters older than 3 visited the winner’s circle more times in 2023.

“He’s had the same routine since I got him at 3,” Ell said. “I jog the same distance every day, I don’t train him a lot. I guess he likes it because he keeps plugging away.”

On Friday, JL Cruze will meet eight rivals in a $12,500 conditioned trot at The Meadowlands. He will start from post nine with driver Todd McCarthy and is the 5-1 third choice on the morning line. Four-year-old mare Instagram Model is the 5-2 favorite, leaving from post six with David Miller in the sulky for trainer Annie Stoebe. Duly Resolved is 7-2, leaving from post five with Tim Tetrick driving for Jeff Cullipher.

“He still has good gate speed if you want to use it, and he’s good from behind,” Ell said. “He can do it either way.”

JL Cruze heads to Friday’s race off a second-place finish last week at the Big M. It was his second consecutive start at The Meadowlands (he was sixth on April 5) after spending most of the past year-and-a-half competing on the five-eighths-mile ovals at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Bally’s Dover.

“I had to get him off that five-eighths; it was starting to get to him a little bit,” Ell said. “We wanted to take him back to the big track that he loves. He raced a lot better (last week). The first week up there, he thumped on me, which he’ll do at times. We got that straightened out, I hope, and he’ll be there tomorrow night trying again. He’ll be knocking at the door, that’s for sure.”

Ell will look to keep JL Cruze racing at The Meadowlands, even though it’s a trip that takes more than four hours from his Maryland base. The horse will be accompanied by his main caretaker, William Taylor, on the journeys.

“He’s a big part of what (JL Cruze) does,” Ell said about Taylor. “As long as (JL Cruze) is doing OK and competing at The Meadowlands, that’s where he’ll be.”

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