03/23/2016 5:15PM

Harness: Jason Bartlett is the King of the Hilltop

Email
Jason Bartlett leads the nation in purses won for 2016.

Jason Bartlett might not have been thrilled when George Brennan and Brian Sears decided to call Yonkers Raceway their home track several years ago, but it seems to have worked out all right for Bartlett in the long run.

The 34-year-old Bartlett is the leading driver at Yonkers this year, with 152 victories and a 28.4 win percentage. He has been The Hilltop’s winningest driver each of the past two seasons --- just as he was for the three years prior to seeing Brennan take the title in 2011 and 2012 and Sears in 2013.

Nationally this year, Bartlett ranks No. 2 in wins, trailing only Aaron Merriman’s 206 victories, and is No. 1 in purses, with $1.64 million.

“I’m off to a good start,” Bartlett said. “I’m driving for the right people and their horses are in the right classes. It’s a trainer’s game, so it makes my job a lot easier.”

[DRF BETS: Sign up for DRF Bets & wager on your favorite harness tracks - Up to a $200 Signup Bonus + Free Harness Eye PPS]

And the Maine native also credits getting to watch Brennan, who was the sport’s Driver of the Year in 2010 and 2011, and Sears, who was Driver of the Year in 2009, as having been a benefit.

“Driving against George and Brian has helped me out,” Bartlett said, adding with a laugh, “which in the beginning I didn’t think was going to help me out. But it has helped my career tremendously, just watching them and what they do on the track. I had to take a couple steps back to take a few more steps forward.

“Brian is patient, George can make a lot of speed, so I kind of put the two together and I’m doing my own thing. But you know what, Brian can make serious speed when he wants to and George knows the horses. They’re both very smart. George is the ‘Minister of Speed,’ but he knows his competition. I think that’s half the battle.”

Bartlett, who has won 6,205 races in his career and ranked among the Top 10 drivers nationally in five of the past eight years, is getting ready for the second rounds of the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series for older female pacers and the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series for older male pacers.

He will be sitting behind two morning-line favorites in Friday’s Matchmaker divisions; Venus Delight in the first of the three splits and Krispy Apple in the third. Jeff Bamond Jr. trains both mares.

Venus Delight was the 2015 Dan Patch Award winner for best older female pacer. Bartlett drove her in 14 of her 19 races last year, winning the Matchmaker championship and the Artiscape Stakes, and finishing third in the Breeders Crown and Lady Liberty.

“I’d never driven (a Dan Patch Award winner) on a regular basis,” Bartlett said. “The Bamonds gave me that opportunity after they bought her (in August 2014) and we’ve pretty much stayed together. I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s a pretty nice accomplishment.”

The 6-year-old Venus Delight made her seasonal debut in last week’s opening round of the six-week Matchmaker Series and finished second by a nose to Mach It A Par in 1:53 2/5.

“She came first over to a horse (Secrets Out N) that had just won the Open the week before and I think the first start caught up with her about halfway down the stretch and she got a little tired,” Bartlett said. “But I thought she was really good. She’s always going to be a good horse because she takes care of herself. There’s pretty much no end to her, she’s just got to get her trip. She’s got a great attitude. She likes her job.”

Eight-year-old Krispy Apple also finished second in her first-round division of the Matchmaker. She was beaten by a half-length by Al Raza N. Krispy Apple has earned $1.60 million in her career and is the fastest female pacer in Yonkers history thanks to her 1:51 win there last September.

“She’s very versatile,” Bartlett said. “She is quick as a cat off the gate and she can come right back to you. She can race any way --- off cover, on the front, two hole --- it doesn’t matter. She’s a really good horse herself.”

In Saturday’s Levy, Bartlett has morning-line favorite P H Supercam in the fourth of five divisions, and second choice Ideal Cowboy in the fifth.

Other morning-line favorites in the second round are Lucan Hanover, Foiled Again, Mach It So, and Take It Back Terry.

“The series is really good this year,” Bartlett said. “There doesn’t seem like there is one horse that lays over (the rest). It’s great for Yonkers because it’s going to be a very competitive series. It’s going to come down to racing luck and post draws for the five weeks heading to the final.”

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com