01/19/2015 12:35PM

Bergman: JL Cruze primed for Super Bowl Final

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JL Cruze has been a very pleasant surprise for trainer Eric Ell.

When trainer Eric Ell went to the Harrisburg mixed auction this past November he was looking for a young trotter that would fit at a low non-winners category. His theory was to find a horse that could work his way up the ladder if successful. In JL Cruze, one of the favorites for Saturday’s Super Bowl finale at the Meadowlands, he may have come away with more than he expected for the $32,000 price.

“I’m tickled to death with him,” said Ell of JL Cruze.

Though JL Cruze was defeated last Thursday in the second leg and moves into the final with less momentum, Ell was hoping things would be different.

“He wasn’t himself on Thursday,” said Ell. “The groom told me that he was just standing in his stall like a statue. It was much different than how he was acting the times before.” The trainer was somewhat surprised that JL Cruze had been overtaken in the late stages by Opulent Yankee after cutting the pace, but at the same time saw a little of a silver lining.

“He seems like a much better horse when he’s chasing,” said Ell. “We raced him on the front end at Dover and even though he won I didn’t think he was that good that night.”

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JL Cruze entered the second round of the Super Bowl having won four of his first five starts for his new connections. The gelded son of Crazed has been somewhat of a work in progress for Ell, who has continued to work with the horses’ shoeing to get the optimal results.

As clean-gaited as JL Cruze looks on the racetrack he’s not exactly easy to handle in training. “I can’t turn him the right way of the track,” said Ell. “If you try to go clockwise he gets on the right line so badly that he won’t go through the turn.”

This peculiarity has caused Ell to train JL Cruze the opposite way on his half-mile training surface and has probably kept him from training the horse at the same speed he would normally be doing going counter-clockwise.

JL Cruze looked powerful winning his first two races at the Meadowlands for Ell and driver John Campbell in identical 1:54 2/5 miles. The first of those victories came at the expense of Opulent Yankee - a sharp three-length score. That rival turned the tables in the second Super Bowl leg and goes into Saturday’s rich final as likely the horse to beat.

The victories so impressed his driver that Ell said that Hall of Fame pilot John Campbell expressed a belief that JL Cruze could trot in 1:52 right now.

With just 20 lifetime starts the gelding appears to be gaining traction with each and the maturity has transformed him into a rather unique type. Ell’s desire to go up the ladder could be realized in just a few short months. The Meadowlands late closing program is quite kind to young and inexperienced trotters. After the Super Bowl this Saturday JL Cruze can look ahead to the Charles Singer in February and the Shiaway St. Pat in March for similar opportunities.

The Meadowlands success is a far cry from what JL Cruze was doing as a three-year-old racing primarily against B-level competition on the New York Sire Stakes program. In some ways owners should be thankful that the opportunity exists for young horses to get a reasonable education while having a chance to earn money on the second tier.

For Ell and owners W. Kenneth Wood, William Dittmar Jr. and Stephen Iaquinta there has already been a tremendous return on investment in just a few short months. Much like those heading to the Meadowlands mixed auction on Monday in search of a quality racehorse, the three found what could be a very promising horse in JL Cruze.

For Wood and Dittmar Jr. this could be a déjà vu moment. The pair found another trotting prospect back in 2010 when they plucked Anders Bluestone from a $25,000 claimer at Harrah’s Philadelphia late in the season. The son of Yankee Glide would go on to race 71 times for his connections winning 28 and earning more than $820,000 over the next three years.

“He’s got to go a long way to reach Anders Bluestone,” said Ell of his current project. “But he’s got a good attitude.”

The Super Bowl final has some other interesting horses. Two Hip Dip will enter the final making just his third career start for trainer-owner Nick Salenetri. This son of Glidemaster was unraced at two and three but showed a tremendous burst of speed winning the second leg of the series in 1:54 1/5 with David Miller in the bike.

The well-bred Propulsion was one of two horses to win in both preliminary legs of the series but that shouldn’t come as a major surprise. The four-year-old by Muscle Hill was a $250,000 yearling purchase and is a half-brother to the top mare D’Orsay. Trained by Tony Alagna, Propulsion has won five of his 10 lifetime starts.

Opulent Yankee, a gelded son of Muscles Yankee, is likely to have the home court advantage in that part of his ownership includes Jeff Gural’s Little E LLC as well as Meadowlands general manager Jason Settlemoir.

Opulent Yankee’s 1:53 2/5 mile this past Thursday was the fastest of the preliminary legs. Julie Miller trains him and will likely send out two starters with Blocking The Way joining his stablemate in the final.

The $50,000 Super Bowl final will be one of three late closing finals at the Meadowlands on Saturday night. Joining the trotting event will be the $47,600 Worldly Beauty for pacing fillies and mares and the $56,000 Escort for male pacers.

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