07/09/2015 9:16PM

Meadowlands: JL Cruze vs. Father Patrick in Graduate final

Lisa Photo
JL Cruze got the better of Father Patrick in their last meeting at the Meadowlands.

The New Graduate Series set out to give a platform for 4-year-olds to transition into aged racing. For some of those 4-year-olds the transition has already been completed. On Saturday night at the Meadowlands, the $250,000 Graduate final for trotters features the 4-year-old that has blossomed into this year’s premier aged performer in JL Cruze. Surprisingly it will be last year’s most dominant sophomore, Father Patrick, seeking redemption in a rivalry he’s currently losing 0 to 2.

“This horse has gained tremendous confidence,” said John Campbell, the Hall of Fame driver who has steered the altered son of Crazed marvelously throughout the season. Learning how to win races for JL Cruze happened throughout the winter in late closing events as he gained experience and marched up the class ladder. Over the last six weeks his ambitious schedule has led him into battle versus Father Patrick on two occasions and last week against the sport’s fastest trotter of all time, Sebastian K. On each occasion it was JL Cruze tracking down his rival.

[MEADOWLANDS: Watch the Graduate Trot Final and Meadowlands Pace elimiantions--Live on DRF!]

“He’s a very gritty horse. He just keeps on coming,” said Campbell, himself impressed with the attitude and power that the Eric Ell trainee has shown during the season.

With $271,138 banked in the first six months of 2015, J L Cruze has won 14 of his 16 starts with two seconds.

On Saturday, JL Cruze landed post six, the worst draw he could have received considering that previous leg winners were guaranteed to draw within the first six posts. Still, the spot does put him inside his main rival, Father Patrick from post seven.

Meanwhile, some have been surprised to see Father Patrick lose at all considering his 4-year-old debut was a crushing victory over former Horse of the Year Bee A Magician in the Maxie Lee at Harrah’s Philadelphia. Since then he’s put up two second-place finishes to JL Cruze with the last one a hard fought battle after racing outside a long way from post 10.

“He’s coming into the race in great shape,” said Jimmy Takter, Father Patrick’s trainer. “We’ve stopped breeding him. I’m not saying that was an excuse for his losses.” Perhaps by lightening the son of Cantab Hall’s workload away from the racetrack it could be addition by subtraction for the speedy Father Patrick. Takter conceded, “That other horse (JL Cruze) is a very talented horse.” Yannick Gingras guides the $2.5 million winning Father Patrick .

Takter could have an ace in the hole if he needs one in Shake It Cerry. The lone mare in the field has won twice in Graduate preliminary action and was recently a locked-in fourth behind Bee A Magician in the Armbro Flight at Mohawk. Last year’s best trotting filly drew post four for the Graduate final, race 10 of 14 on a program that includes a pair of Meadowlands Pace eliminations. With 26 wins in 35 lifetime starts, Shake It Cerry’s win percentage has suffered this year but then again she’s up against male competition, something that was not an issue during her brilliant 2- and 3-year-old seasons.

The Graduate was designed to give experience and that has to be the hope for a few others in the field that hope to rise to the level of the aforementioned 4-year-olds. Opulent Yankee is the only horse in the field to have defeated JL Cruze this year. While those victories did come in January and February, the son of Muscles Yankee remains sharp in July for trainer Julie Miller. Opulent Yankee qualified back nicely for his trip on Saturday with a 1:52 4/5 effort on July 3 at the Meadowlands, defeating among others Market Share. Andy Miller guides Opulent Yankee from post two.

Trainer Ake Svanstedt has been known to peak his horses for the big races and that could be the case for Resolve, a son of Muscle Hill. Resolve has finished third in three preliminary legs of the Graduate and managed to draw post three for the final with Svandstedt in the bike. In his last start on June 19 in a leg of the Graduate, Resolve showed sharp early speed and was also finishing strongly at the wire.

Trainer Ron Burke hopes he can get in the way of the big ones here with Gural Hanover. Matt Kakaley guides the gelded son of Crazed that captured a qualifier in 1:51 3/5 at the Meadowlands on May 30 and most recently finished third behind JL Cruze in the invitational at Mohegan Sun Pocono this past Saturday. Gural Hanover drew post five.

Post time for the Saturday card is 5:30 p.m.