12/19/2016 11:27AM

Bergman: Stratton’s success can ride into 2017

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Derick Giwner
Jordan Stratton had plenty of success with Bit Of A Legend N in the Levy series at Yonkers Raceway.

December is usually a quiet month once all the stakes have run their course. Yet there is still activity at the racetracks that remain open. The 29-year-old Jordan Stratton has been doing what he does in December and that is driving horses at Yonkers Raceway. Stratton of course came to prominence in a major way this year when he captured the Levy Memorial with Bit Of A Legend N.

Over the last two weeks Stratton has been behind another import that may have him looking towards the 2017 Levy in a brand new way.

Provocativeprince N is another arrival from down under owned by Harry von Knoblauch and he too may have the character and talent necessary to reach the top in the coming year.

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“I’m really looking forward to see how he develops,” said Stratton following the horse’s most recent third-place finish at Yonkers this past Saturday.

This was no ordinary third-place finish for Provocativeprince N. Trailing by more than 13 lengths after a very soft opening half, the son of Grinfromeartoear exploded coming wide through the stretch. His final quarter of 26 1/5 was electrifying as was his sub-53 final half on a rather cold evening.

Times can fool the best of us these days but those numbers are quite striking given the cool temperatures.

“I like to race them from behind in their first starts here,” said Stratton. “If you take them to the front right away they may get their feelings bruised.”

Stratton employed the come-from-behind model with Bit Of A Legend N when he came on the scene in early 2016 and by the time the Levy Series had rolled into town he would become a bit of a local legend.

“We’ll find out more about him when we try him on the front end,” said Stratton, well aware that half mile track racing, rather winning over half mile tracks, requires a horse with the ability to hit the front and remain there.

While it’s still too early to predict how high Provocativeprince N will make it in the coming year, Stratton appears to have plenty of potential contenders for the 2017 edition of the Levy scheduled to begin in March.

Roland N Rock, a soon-to-be 5-year-old son of Rocknroll Hanover, has never quite reached the heights that were expected of him when he arrived on the East Coast in 2015 after an undefeated freshman campaign. Lately the fortunes of the horse have changed notably.

“He’s turned right around,” said Stratton. “He’s been very strong finishing over the last month, a different horse.”

Roland N Rock has been a solid closing second flashing 27-second final quarter speed with Stratton aboard while racing against Preferred Handicap company.

“I just realized he’s just a 4-year-old,” said Stratton, “so he may be a horse that could fit in the Levy.”

No conversation with Stratton could begin or end without the mention of Bit Of A Legend N. His epic performance sweeping the Levy and then going on to a brilliant year was not lost on the impact it’s had on Stratton and his career.

“You have to give Pete Tritton all of the credit,” said Stratton, referring to the trainer currently vacationing in Australia with his family.

Bit Of A Legend N finished the season with $723,850 in the bank off the strength of 13 wins in his 28 starts.

“I don’t think he was ever better throughout the year than he was during the Levy series,” Stratton said.

Bit Of A Legend N entered the Levy with just four starts in North America but went on to sweep all five preliminary legs as well as win the final. He captured one of those prelims in a dead-heat with 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit, a horse that likely will be the strongest contender when 2017 eligibles for the series are revealed.

“He was solid at the end of the year,” said Stratton, “but he wasn’t as sharp as those Levy starts.”

Along the way Bit Of A Legend N managed two very solid seconds behind Wiggle It Jiggleit, both over half mile tracks. Bit Of A Legend N finished behind his rival in the Joe Gerrity at Saratoga and then chased him home in vain in the $250,000 Invitational that supported the International Trot at Yonkers.

Though the connections of Bit Of A Legend N attempted a few trips out of New York to test the waters on five-eighths and mile tracks, the results weren’t the same.

“He’s not the same horse on a big track,” said Stratton. “He’s a small horse and he really gets around the turns here well.”

Despite the major stakes victories this season, Stratton will enjoy just his second best season in the total earnings department, finishing with his mounts earning roughly $5.7 million. That number is slightly below the earnings achieved by his horses in 2009. It should be noted that Stratton needed more than 3,500 drives to accomplish the feat in 2009 and just above 2,000 in this year.

With Yonkers set to close for the season on Sunday and reopen on January 8, Stratton plans to be home for Christmas to share the holidays with his brother and family. He also has a planned vacation in Mexico.

Stratton takes very little credit for what his horses have done in 2016, but clearly even the best horses can’t drive themselves and Stratton’s understanding of the half-mile track as well as feel for how to bring imported horses to their peak has as much to do with his and their success this year.

Though the Yonkers driving colony is likely to become even more competitive when the 2017 campaign gets underway, Stratton appears to have a solid foundation to draw from and some potential stars to see him rise up once again.

As Yogi said it, could be déjà vu all over again.