04/01/2016 10:25AM

Meadowlands: JL Cruze looks to get up to speed on Friday

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Derick Giwner
JL Cruze is the fastest trotter in Meadowlands history.

Voted 2015 Older Trotter of the Year by the United States Harness Writers Association, JL Cruze will make his first pari-mutuel start since September of last year when he faces six foes in an Open Handicap at The Meadowlands on Friday night.

JL Cruze won 16 of 21 starts in his championship season including a sparkling 12 wins in 14 races (including two seconds) at The Meadowlands. His stellar record was topped by a sparkling 1:49 4/5 win in the Graduate final last July, establishing a world record for trotting speed on a mile track.

One of the reasons JL Cruze stopped racing last September was a virus that was affecting his heart. While it is impossible to say whether he can repeat the freakish speed he displayed in 2015, regular driver John Campbell said the son of Crazed has come back bigger and stronger this year.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time insights from the DRF Harness team this Saturday at 7:00 p.m.]

“I was very happy with the way he trained down and he is much better than he was at the end of last year,” said Campbell. “I’m hoping he gets back to that (1:49 4/5 time). There is no reason to think he can’t.”

Now a 5-year-old, JL Cruze prepped for his comeback with two qualifiers at The Meadowlands. He just nosed out Waiting On A Woman, who he faces on Friday night, in the first qualifier, a 1:54 2/5 win. His next outing was a 12-length romp in 1:54 2/5 where he was urged late in the mile while perhaps bothered by a persistent headwind.

“I was very happy with both qualifiers. The times were a little deceiving since there was a strong headwind both weeks, but I left the (ear) plugs in both times,” said Campbell. “I stretched him out a little more the second time. You kind of have to keep his attention when he is on the lead. He was like that last week as well.”

Installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite from post seven, JL Cruze may find his toughest competition to be 5-2 second choice Opulent Yankee (post five). The Julie Miller trainee has a pair of wins and seconds in his previous four starts against Open competition.

“I will play it by ear,” said Campbell on his strategy for Friday night. “The one thing about him is that he is versatile. He is just as good off the pace as on the lead. I sure want to win with him and I’m going to try to get him in a spot where he can win.”

JL Cruze, who is trained by Eric Ell for owners Kenneth Wood, Bill Dittmar and Steve Iaquinta, will not get much time off after the Friday race. After he was unable to race last week because none of the upper-class events filled, he took the opportunity to enter right back Wednesday (4/6) in a $36,000 Open Preferred Handicap at Dover Downs (race 10).